China is negotiating a military base in the strategic port of Djibouti, an historic development that would see the US and China each have bases in the small nation that guards the entrance to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. President Ismail Omar Guelleh says that discussions are “ongoing” and that Beijing is “welcome”.
Djibouti is already home to Camp Lemonnier, the military headquarters used by US Special Forces for covert, anti-terror and other operations in Yemen and in Africa. France, the former colonial master, and Japan also have bases in the port, which is used by many foreign navies to fight piracy in neighbouring Somalia.
Djibouti’s president said China, a major trading partner for both Djibouti and its landlocked neighbour Ethiopia, is welcome.
“France’s presence is old, and the Americans found that the position of Djibouti could help in the fight against terrorism in the region,” Guelleh told AFP. “The Japanese want to protect themselves from piracy, and now the Chinese also want to protect their interests, and they are welcome.”
China refused to confirm or deny on Monday that it was establishing a military base in the Horn of Africa.
“Maintenance of peace and stability in the region is in line with the interests of related countries,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters. “It’s also the common aspiration of Djibouti, China and other countries in the world.”
China signed a security and defence agreement with Djibouti in February 2014. But a Chinese military base in Djibouti, the first in Africa, “would definitely be historic”, according to David Shinn, a former US ambassador to Ethiopia.
The US was reportedly angry about the conclusion last year of the China-Djibouti defence deal last year. But Shinn predicts that the US will take it in its stride.
“They might be a little concerned about what this (expansion well beyond the western Indian Ocean) means for the future,” he said in an interview from Washington. “But as far as a base in Djibouti, particularly a modest base, is concerned, I’d be surprised if there was great unhappiness about it.”
China is reportedly considering a permanent military base in Obock, Djibouti’s northern port city.
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