The Chinese troops have reached their new military base in Djibouti, a mostly French- and Arabic-speaking country of dry shrublands, volcanic formations and Gulf of Aden beaches. The region is popularly known as the ‘Horn of Africa’.
In 2011, the Asian giant started the construction work of its first overseas military base in Djibouti after considering the strategic and military importance of the terrain. Djibouti’s proximity to edgy regions in West Asia and Africa makes it strategically important for many countries to set up military bases there. China’s People’s Liberation Army has described the development as a ‘landmark move’, saying that it will expand the Asian giant’s ability to ensure global peace.
China wants to increase its influence in the entire Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Although Beijing has claimed that the new base will help Chinese troops ensure global peace, one of the main objectives of the move is to put neighbouring India under tremendous pressure. Earlier, China adopted the ‘String of Pearls’ policy to corner India in its own backyard. Apart from buying an island from Maldives, the communist nation set up ports in Myanmar’s Coco Islands, Chittagong (in Bangladesh), Hambantota (in Sri Lanka) and also in Pakistan’s Gwadar.
In 2016, China announced that it was building a logistic hub in Djibouti to stabilise the region. Beijing said that Chinese troops would use the port during anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. However, the global community was well aware of the fact that China was basically building a naval base in Djibouti.
So far, the Asian superpower has failed to convert ports in Maldives, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan to its naval bases. Beijing developed those ports to boost the commercial infrastructure in South Asia (read India’s neighbourhood). (But) in Djibouti, the Chinese people set up a full-fledged military infrastructure.
At a time when India is facing difficulty on its security front with border standoff, China’s move of sending PLA personnel to guard its first overseas military base in Djibouti ignites concerns in India. By setting up the naval base in the African country, China has stepped up activity in the IOR that India considers within its sphere of influence. New Delhi is closely monitoring the development, as it feels the move is part of Beijing’s strategy to encircle the Indian subcontinent with the help of military alliances in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Interestingly, China sent troops to Djibouti after India, Japan and the US kicked off their joint maritime exercise “Malabar” in the Bay of Bengal on July 10. Although the Indian officials have rubbished reports that the trilateral naval exercise is being targeted at Beijing, the Chinese media have reported that the exercise might be a concern for them as the IOR is considered economically important for the largest Asian economy.
With India buying two islands from Mauritius and Seychelles for the same purpose, the tug of war between India and China over their strategic dominance in the IOR has intensified the already-bitter Asian rivalry.