China officially opened on Tuesday its first overseas mission, the same day as the country’s army marked its 90th anniversary, state media said.
China is building the military base in the Horn of Africa’s Djibouti.
Chinese military personnel, officials and guests attended a flag-raising ceremony and military parade to mark the occasion, the official Xinhua news agency reported. State radio said more than 300 people attended the ceremony, including deputy Chinese naval commander Tian Zhong and Djibouti’s defense minister.
The logistics base is the first of its kind for Beijing, which will use it to support “naval escorts in Africa and southwest Asia, (United Nations) peacekeeping and for humanitarian support,” according to a previous China defense ministry statement.
China began construction of the “defensive” logistics base in Djibouti last year. It will be used to resupply navy ships taking part in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions off the coasts of Yemen and Somalia, in particular.
The Chinese navy has long assisted anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden, as well as UN peacekeeping efforts throughout Africa.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is overseeing an ambitious military modernization program, including developing capabilities for China’s forces to operate far from home.
Djibouti’s position on the northwestern edge of the Indian Ocean has fueled worry in India that it would become another of China’s “string of pearls” military alliances and assets ringing India, including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
Djibouti is at the southern entrance to the Red Sea on the route to the Suez Canal. The tiny, barren nation sandwiched between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia also hosts US, Japanese and French bases.
Ships carrying personnel for the Djibouti base left China last month.
There has been persistent speculation in diplomatic circles that China would build other such bases, in Pakistan for example, but the government has dismissed this.
Beijing has made extensive infrastructure investments throughout the African continent as it seeks to gain access to natural resources and new markets.
Chinese banks have been major funders of at least 14 such projects in Djibouti, valued at 14.4 billion dollars in total, including a railway line that will halve transit times from Djibouti to Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa.