China has emerged as a major source of finance for investment in Africa. The Asian country has built Africa's first transnational electric railway between Djibouti and Ethiopia.
China has emerged as a major source of finance for investment in Africa. The Asian country has built Africa's first transnational electric railway between Djibouti and Ethiopia.

China sent its troops last week to Djibouti, a tiny nation in the Horn of Africa to establish its first overseas military base.

Beijing says this base will be used for peacekeeping missions. But world powers are not so sure. Some are concerned that China's move is a sign of its expansionist ambitions in Africa.

Here's more on China's military plans in Djibouti:

What's the military base for?

China says the naval base, which is expected to have the capacity to house 10,000 troops, will be used for peacekeeping missions.

According to Beijing it will be used to support "naval escorts in Africa and southwest Asia, United Nations peacekeeping and for humanitarian support," the Chinese Defence Ministry said in a statement.

The naval base is located a few miles away from the US military base in Djibouti. (AP)
The naval base is located a few miles away from the US military base in Djibouti. (AP)

Why Djibouti?

China's not the first country to choose Djibouti as home for a military base. The African nation has long gotten significant attention from world powers due to its geography.

Firstly, the country is located on the Bab el Mandeb strait, a vital waterway that links the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden. This strait is at the southern entrance to the Red Sea, en route to the Suez Canal, one of the world's biggest shipping lanes.

In 2015, roughly 900 million metric tonnes of goods passed through the canal and the strait. This number included almost 10 percent of the world's maritime oil trade.

China is an export-oriented economy so it has an interest in securing sea lanes. Half its oil imports go through the Gulf of Aden. (AP Archive)
China is an export-oriented economy so it has an interest in securing sea lanes. Half its oil imports go through the Gulf of Aden. (AP Archive)

Navies of many countries that seek secure trading routes use Djibouti's port to reach the Red Sea.

Djibouti hopes to become a continental maritime cargo hub in East Africa, in order to help build its economy.

Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh's administration is aiming to turn Djibouti into a
Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh's administration is aiming to turn Djibouti into a "new Dubai" competing for business with overcrowded African ports such as Mombasa in Kenya. (AFP)

The country is a relatively stable state in the volatile Horn of Africa.

Djibouti sits between Eritrea and Somalia, the two unstable countries.

Many Eritreans have fled, due to the country's repressive policies, while Somalia is still recovering from a war.

Hence Djibouti has positioned itself as a safe haven that connects neighbouring countries, such as landlocked Ethiopia, to the world.

The Chinese-built 750 km railway links Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa to Djibouti. It was inaugurated last year. (Reuters)
The Chinese-built 750 km railway links Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa to Djibouti. It was inaugurated last year. (Reuters)

What else is China doing in the region?

The country's military has long participated in anti-piracy missions in the Aden Gulf and UN peacekeeping missions throughout Africa.

In 2015 China committed to providing 8,000 troops to the UN peacekeeping standby force. That equates to 20 percent of the 40,000 total troops committed by 50 nations.

But China also has other interests besides military ventures.

Chinese President Xi Jinping's foreign policy is bent on strengthening China's commercial links and increasing its soft power by making investments in more than 60 countries around Africa, as well as Europe and the Middle East.

The Horn of Africa is a strategic target for Xi's foreign policy. This is because it struggles with a series of problems – weak infrastructure, unemployment and poverty – which China's believes it can help solve.

China's state-run
China's state-run "China Daily" launched an African edition in 2012. This move highlighted China's growing presence on the continent. (Getty)

In return for its help, China gains friendship and influence, which eventually increase its prestige in the international arena.

The country built Africa's largest industrial park in Ethiopia to help the African nation become a manufacturing hub.

In 2012, China funded the construction of the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia. This move was also interpreted as a symbol of the Asian giant's push to stay ahead in Africa and gain greater access to the continent's resources.

Surpassing the United States in 2009, China became Africa's largest-trading partner. Sino-African relations already span finance, aid, health and education cooperation and trade. (AFP)
Surpassing the United States in 2009, China became Africa's largest-trading partner. Sino-African relations already span finance, aid, health and education cooperation and trade. (AFP)

Why are world powers concerned?

But world powers, especially the US, see China's move as a form of military expansionism into Africa.

China's base is located just a few miles away from the Camp Lemonnier, the US' largest and only permanent base in Africa.

Beijing said that "China is not doing any military expansion and does not seek a sphere of influence." But these words have not assuaged Washington's scepticism.

The base "along with regular naval vessel visits to foreign ports, both reflects and amplifies China's growing influence, extending the reach of its armed forces," the US Department of Defence said in a report.

Authors: Mucahid Durmaz, Zeynep Sahin

Source: TRT World