Two strategic rivals – the US and China -- are about to become neighbours in the East African desert. China is constructing its first overseas military base in Djibouti — just a few km from Camp Lemonnier, one of the Pentagon’s largest and most important foreign installations. The base’s construction is a milestone marking Beijing’s expanding global ambitions — with potential implications for the United States’ longstanding military dominance. China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy is also reflected in its construction plans in POK and clearly standing by Pakistan on Kashmir. In fact, now it's offering to play a “constructive role” to resolve the Kashmir issue.
China has dispatched troops to Djibouti on the Horn of Africa to set up its first overseas military base, which it says will help Beijing contribute to peace in Africa and the world.
Two ships carrying soldiers and military equipment left the southern port of Zhanjiang on Tuesday, following a farewell ceremony by the People’s Liberation Army for the units in charge of the new base, Efe news reported.
Djibouti, a small country in the Horn of Africa, is situated on the north-west edge of the Indian Ocean where China has increasingly been sailing its warships and sending submarines, causing concern in India.
The base will support China’s military operations in Africa and Asia as part of its international humanitarian missions, escorting ships to avoid piracy and peacekeeping, the Army said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said the base will be “used for the better fulfilment of the national obligation of China and for the escort mission and humanitarian aid”.
“China’s defence policy is defensive in nature. This has not been changed,” Geng said.
“It will enable China to make a greater contribution to peace and stability in Africa and the whole world.”
After it showed interest in opening such a base in 2015, Beijing has reiterated many times that the facility would not be for military expansion but to provide logistics support to international activities and protection of maritime routes.
Djibouti already hosts military bases set up by the US, France and Japan, which support warships escorting convoys carrying humanitarian aid to different countries in the region and guard the waters against maritime piracy, apart from other objectives.
China also said it was ready to play a “constructive role” in improving India-Pakistan ties over Kashmir, where the “situation has attracted the attention of the international community”.
Beijing, which said conflict along the Line of Control (LoC) was not conducive to the South Asia region, however, did not say anything on Monday’s terror attack on Amaranth Yatra pilgrims in Kashmir.
“Situation in Kashmir has attracted a lot of attention (of the) international community,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said here.
“The conflict near the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir will not only harm the peace and stability of both the countries but also the peace and tranquillity of the region,” he added.
“China is willing to play a constructive role in improving relations between India and Pakistan.”
“We hope that relevant sides can do more things that are conducive to peace and stability in the region and avoid escalating the tensions.”
China has publicly maintained neutrality over the Kashmir issue and talked about its “constructive role” earlier too.
However, the state-run media and Chinese think tank experts have suggested that Beijing could help its ally Pakistan in disputes with India over Kashmir.
This week a Chinese expert said the way India was helping Bhutan in Doklam, China too can help Pakistan by sending its army in Kashmir.
Indian and Chinese troops have been engaged in a standoff in Doklam in Sikkim sector which has led to rise in tensions between both sides.
China said troop withdrawal by India from Doklam remained the precondition to resolve the border crisis in the Sikkim sector.
Beijing also dismissed Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar’s remarks that differences over the border between India and China occurred in the past also and were resolved.
Geng Shuang said the trespass by Indian troops in Doklam was different from the “frictions in the undefined sections of the boundary” between India and China.
Geng said what happened in Doklam was a dispute.
Jaishankar, who on Tuesday was at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore to deliver a lecture, said: “differences should not become disputes”.
Gang said: “China has pointed out many times that the illegal trespass of Indian border troops of the mutually recognised borderline is different in nature from the frictions in the undefined sections of the boundary.
“The Sikkim section has a special historical background and this is only defined boundary between India and China. And this is totally different from the undefined boundary in the east, middle and west part.
“According to the 1890 convention, the Sikkim section has been recognised by both China and India and this convention is effective for both countries.
“We again request India to withdraw the border troops to the Indian side of the boundary and properly settle this dispute at an early date.”
China will cut down its present military force of 2.3 million, the world’s largest army, to below one million, the biggest troop reduction in the People’s Liberation Army’s history.
“This is the first time that active PLA Army personnel would be reduced to below one million,” said a report in a social media outlet run by PLA Daily.
The article on structural reform in the military said: “The old military structure, where the army accounts for the vast majority, will be replaced after the reform.”
In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping had announced a reduction of 300,000 troops in the PLA.
According to the report, the number of troops in the PLA Navy, PLA Strategic Support Force, and the PLA Rocket Force would be increased, while the PLA Air Force’s active service personnel would remain the same.
“The reform is based on China’s strategic goals and security requirements. In the past, the PLA focused on ground battle and homeland defence, which will undergo fundamental changes,” said the WeChat article.
China has cut down its defence spending in the past two years, with the military budget in 2017 remaining seven per cent, lowest hike in more than a decade.
Xi wants a lean but modernised armed forces.
China has become a major sea power and its disputes are more on seas than land. Of the 14 neighbours, China has land disputes only with India and Bhutan.
According to the Chinese Defence Ministry, PLA had about 850,000 combat troops in 2013.
“This reform will provide other services, including the PLA Rocket Force, Air Force, Navy and Strategic Support Force (mainly responsible for electronic warfare and communication), with more resources and inputs, and the PLA will strengthen its capability to conduct overseas missions,” Xu Guangyu, a senior adviser to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, was quoted as saying by Global Times.
“The PLA must be capable of spotting overseas threats and destroying hostile forces thousands of kilometres away before they enter our 12 nautical mile territorial waters,” Xu said.
“China’s overseas interests are spread around the world and need to be protected. These are beyond the army’s current capabilities,” said Xu.
The PLA structure should also fit China’s international status, Xu added. (IANS)