Tuesday, 26 January 2016

CHINA: Building Military Base in Djibouti

China and Djibouti have reached consensus on building logistical facilities in the African state for the use of China's military. The news confirms reports that have been swirling since may 2015, when Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh said his country was in discussions with the Chinese over a possible military base. China's Foreign Ministry confirmed the negotiations for the first time in November 2015.

The two countries have also sealed three economic deals: one establishing a free trade zone in Djibouti; one increasing Djibouti's role as transshipment hub for trade between China and rest of the world; and one regarding a legal framework what would allow Chinese banks to operate in Djibouti.

The trade agreement emphasize that Djibouti's strategic location at the intersection of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden is attractive for China far more than military reasons. In fact, the country is ideal spot for inclusion of China's 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which will stretch from China to the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Aden, and up the Red Sea through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean. Egypt is already on board for the project; Djibouti is another natural hub for the ''Belt and Road''.

The newly agreed-upon free trade zone and the use of Djibouti as transshipment center both point to such role. If the Maritime Silk Road unfolds as planned, increased trade through the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea will mean more need for anti-piracy missions (China has been active in anti-piracy operations in the region since 2008)-which makes it even more crucial for China to have resupply facilities nearby. While the Maritime Silk Road and its overland twin are military initiatives, it is easy to see how military strategy will follow economic investment. Djibouti, soon to be home to China's first overseas military facility, is a prime example.

Friendly relations/ties between China and Djibouti have been evolving in recent years. Economic ties have developed rapidly, reflecting above all Beijing's growing investment in Ethiopia. The renovated Addis-Djibouti railway will directly link Ethiopia both to the Doraleh container port and a vast new Chinese-funded and constructed port facility in Khor Ambado. Both sides lie just to the west of Djibouti's capital city. China has also obtained an equity stake in the the state-run port authority, and recently agreed to construct a new civilian airport.

Djibouti's small economy is essentially a gateway: the vast majority of Addis Ababa's fast growing trade flows transit through Djibouti's new container and oils terminals. China's reconstruction of the 460-mile railway to Addis Ababa is almost complete. from this year, this will further boost trade ties and amplify current flows of foreign direct investment-notably Chinese and Turkish-into both countries.

China is not the only country, attracted to build military bases or economical trade in Djibouti because of its strategically important position and its stable and secure government. The matter fact is that Djibouti has set of regional and international partners.

Djibouti shared extensive linguistic and trade link not only with Ethiopia, but also with Somaliland and Somalia, where it also contributes troops to the the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISCOM). Being culturally and geographically close to Yemen, Djibouti has received both evacuated foreign nationals and Yemenis fleeing the current fighting. Many now take refuge in the small northern port of Obock, and the country has become a significant hub for humanitarian assistance to Yemen. Djiboutians also have substantive, albeit fractions, economic ties with the United Arab Emirates, Dubai Ports World manages their container port, which currently the subject of complex litigation.

Internationally, Djibouti's main partners include key Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Arab League states. Djibouti hosts the United States' only permanent military base in Africa: AFRICOM's Camp Lemonier. The base currently has almost 4,000 U.S. personnel, with its lease having been renewed last year for a further 10 years. Visiting Djibouti on May 6 2015, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry underscored the expansion of U.S. bilateral ties and Djibouti's central role in multilateral operations. The latter encompass broader anti-terror operations-including drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia-and a range on anti-piracy initiatives.

Djibouti is also the operational base for the European Union anti-piracy mission EUNAVFOR. In April 2015, NATO opened a liaison office there. In 2011, Japan chose Djibouti as the location of their first-ever post 1945 overseas military facility, where 600 troops now complement Tokyo's maritime and civil operation program. With a Japanese-funded anti-piracy headquarters now overshadowed by a vast Chinese port and free-trace zone construction site, Djibouti is fast consolidating its role as the world's foremost multinational maritime laboratory.

Amid such diversified alliances, it is easy to overlook the fact that Djibouti remains France;s largest military base in Africa. As a platform for Franco-American and NATO military cooperation, it still eclipses Chad-host to France's Barkhane force in the Sahel. Alongside persistent French military and diplomatic ties, elite Djiboutians maintain their links to the francophone world, including Quebec, which hosts a significant Djiboutian diaspora.

China's latest military base building project and trade links with Djibouti, is the latest of China's intensive campaign of visiting the African continent. China's irruption onto the African scene has been the most dramatic and important factor in the external relations of the continent--perhaps in the development of Africa as whole--since the end of the Cold War, because European-American influence in the continent is waning. ''The African leaders have married China, the most attractive bride on the world market, and now the West is complaining about its unwanted rival'',

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
Researcher/World Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: Agence France Presse-photo of: Chinese Foreign Minister & Djibouti President-Beijing-March 13 2015.