Erica S. Downs, Jeff Becker
China may use its military facility in Djibouti for more than just logistics, and the facility could be the first of many overseas outposts for China’s military.
On September 22, Chinese troops staged their first live-fire exercises at China’s first overseas military base, which opened in Djibouti on August 1. Ever since Beijing publicly acknowledged in November 2015 that China was building a logistical support facility in Djibouti, the home of the only permanent U.S. military installation in Africa, much ink has been spilt detailing China’s growing involvement in the Horn of Africa nation. The conventional wisdom holds that China has spent billions of dollars building infrastructure in Djibouti, which might prompt the government to prioritize China’s interests over those of the United States and other countries with a military presence in Djibouti. Moreover, it is suspected that China will use its military facility in Djibouti for more than just logistics, and that this facility will be the first of many overseas outposts for China’s military.
This article examines four key elements of the generally accepted view of China’s activities in Djibouti. Some are accurate; others are less so. The amount of money Chinese firms have spent in Djibouti is just a fraction of what the headlines routinely state. Although this money has engendered considerable goodwill toward China in Djibouti, it is simply too soon to tell whether and to what extent China will be able to translate its financial largesse into influence. Meanwhile, as some analysts suspect, China’s logistics facility in Djibouti probably will be used for more than just refueling and resupplying Chinese navy ships conducting counterpiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. Moreover, while it is likely that Djibouti will not be China’s only military outpost abroad, it may be some time before China establishes another one given China’s cautious approach to Djibouti.
Assumption: China has provided billions of dollars for the development of infrastructure in Djibouti.
Fact: No, the amount of money that China has provided for infrastructure projects in Djibouti is just a fraction of what is often reported in the media.