On Monday April 18, 2016, China officially broke ground on its first naval base in Djibouti, Africa, a country which has also been the home of the United States (U.S.) African intelligence-gathering base for the past 15 years. The Chinese base will be encroaching upon a major U.S. military installation with 4,000 troops and has the largest drone installation base outside of Afghanistan.
Djibouti may be a proving ground for China’s foreign policy as the nation looks to further expand its influence in Africa. China has participated in anti-piracy missions off the coast of Somalia since 2008 and increased those missions in 2010. Chinese President Jinping donated $100 million to the African Union (AU) and said it was to help build a standby force as well as an emergency response and quick response force.
American Ambassador to Djibouti Tom Kelly warns that Djibouti is the forefront of U.S. national security policy in Africa and raised concerns of Chinese military efforts to intercept American intelligence.
The U.S. also has to deal with Djibouti president Ismali Omar Guelleh, viewed by many locals as a dictator, who curtails free speech and human rights, makes arbitrary arrests, and uses torture on opposition. Guelleh may be increasing his ties to China following the Chinese purchase of the Port de Djibouti for $185 million. Chinese investment has also establish a $4 billion dollar railway project from Djibouti to Ethiopia; and is expected to Djibouti $20 million per year for the Djibouti naval base over the next decade.
Djibouti has been a critical base of operations for not just the U.S. but for many nations throughout the world. The U.S. in its counter-terrorism efforts has relied on Djibouti to launch its drone and Special Forces teams. Djibouti serves as a major logistical hub as it is located along one of the most critical shipping lanes in the world where the Red Sea empties into the Indian Ocean, and right across from the Arabian Peninsula.
The Obama administration has aggressively expanded drone and military operations against terrorists in Africa. The U.S. based Camp Lemonier is critical in combating jihadists that operate in the region.
Nigeria’s Boko Haram and Somalia’s al-Shabaab are two groups often targeted in the attacks. Al-Qaeda based groups in the Arabian Peninsula have also been targeted by drones. The primary targets for drones are usually Somalia and Yemen.
China foresees a much different strategic value in Djibouti according to the Chinese Communist Party’s first public military “White Papers” that were released in May 2015. The papers stated China would, “endeavor to seize the strategic initiative in the military struggle, proactively plan for military struggle in all directions and domains, and grasp the opportunities to accelerate military building.”
China claims that its military base in Djibouti is not part of an aggressive military expansion, but the U.S. should be very leery of Chinese true intentions, which are likely to involve fare more regional influence for China than just maritime missions.
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