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China Expands Reach with Military Base in East Africa

Djibouti is both close to trouble spots in Africa and on an important shipping route where the Red Sea meets the Indian Ocean.

Djibouti is both close to trouble spots in Africa and on an important shipping route where the Red Sea meets the Indian Ocean.

China plans to build its first overseas military base in the east African nation of Djibouti.

Experts say the move is part of a global economic strategy and reflects growing ties with Africa.

China says the naval base in Djibouti will be a logistics and supply center. It is China’s first overseas military installation.

The United States, France and Japan also have bases in Djibouti. The small East African country is close to areas of conflict in Africa like Somalia and the Sahel, the southern border area of the Sahara Desert. It is on the Gulf of Aden, which is an important global trade route linking the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean.

Peking University professor of international relations Wang Dong says the installation will be needed to protect China’s shipping routes. He says it will be used for resupply.

China has increased its military activity in Africa over several years. The nation deployed U.N. peacekeeping troops to South Sudan this year. China has provided ships to anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden since 2008. But, the country’s foreign policy has been based on non-interference in other countries' internal affairs.

Alex Vines is head of the Africa program at London-based Chatham House. He says the Chinese are experimenting with this new base.

“They still want to emphasize that China is different from other powers in Africa, so it’s not like France, that has military bases in various places, or the U.S. that has a military base at Camp Lemonnier. So they’re framing this as just a naval facility. In effect, though, this is about Chinese experimentation, longer term, how will African governments react?”

Alexander Neil is a senior fellow at the Institute for Strategic Studies Asia office in Singapore. He says the Chinese are enlarging their footprint in Africa in other ways.

China has been developing a foreign trade and investment strategy known as “one belt, one road." It refers to setting land and maritime trade routes. It is like a modern-day version of the historical Silk Road between China and the West that existed more than 500 years ago.

Neil says in the past, China only sought to extract raw materials from Africa. In a shift, he says, China has been building infrastructure, providing interest-free loans and building business ties and partnerships.

Every three years, China has doubled its financial support for Africa: from $5 billion in 2006 to $10 billion in 2009 and then to $20 billion in 2012. When Chinese President Xi Jinping was in South Africa last week, he promised $60 billion in loans and aid to Africa.

That followed announcements of $156 million in emergency food aid for drought-stricken nations. And a further $60 million for an African Union military rapid-response force was also promised.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Jill Craig wrote this report for, with reporting from Shannon van Sant. Mario Ritter adapted their stories for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

strategy –n. a plan or method aimed at reaching a goal usually over a long period of time

logistics –n. things that must be done to plan, organize and supply a complicated activity that involves many people

installation –n. a place used for training soldiers or keeping military supplies and machinery

emphasize –v. to give special attention to

footprint –n. an area where a group or country has materials and influence

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