A mini-flotilla of Chinese naval vessels packed to the gills with military personnel just shoved-off from the southern port city of Zhanjiang, located 200 miles southwest of Hong Kong.
What makes this particular military operation unique is that the estimated 1,000 Chinese Marines are headed to the Horn of Africa to set-up the first overseas Chinese military base in recent memory.
Unlike the centuries old conquest of the nearby Ryukyu Islands, or unsuccessful attempts to invade the Home Islands of Japan, the Chinese have succeeded in establishing a full-time, fully Chinese-staffed military base in the strategically vital East African nation of Djibouti.
Djibouti is on the western side of the straits of Bab el Mandeb, separating the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden, which leads in the Indian Ocean.
As reported by the everything naval Jane’s;
China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has despatched its first troop contingent to Djibouti ahead of the official establishment of the East Asian country’s first military support base in a foreign country.
PLAN amphibious assault ship Jinggangshan departs Zhanjiang, in China’s Guangdong Province, on 11 July bound for China’s military support base in Djibouti. (Xinhua)
Yuzhao-class (Type 071) amphibious ship Jinggangshan and semi-submersible auxiliary ship Donghaidao departed the South Sea Fleet base at Zhanjiang on 11 July carrying a contingent of PLAN marines following a ceremony attended by PLAN commander Vice Admiral Shen Jinlong and Political Commissar Admiral Miao Hua.
The deployment of the marines suggests that the PLAN facility is about to become operational. The troops are most likely being deployed to provide security for the base, or possibly as a reserve for PLAN ships on counter-piracy operations to call on should they be required.
Just so no one’s confused, “People’s Liberation Army Navy” is correct. All branches of the Chinese military begins with the three words “People’s Liberation Army”.
While the Beijing government hasn’t announced how many troops are actually headed to Africa, the United Press International reported in 2011 when the amphibious dock landing warship Jinggangshan was first launched, the vessel “can carry 1,000 soldiers, helicopters, armored fighting vehicles, boats and landing craft, a report in the China Daily said.”
As to why in the world the Chinese would establish a military presence in such a strategic region, the Chinese news service Xinhua reports;
The base will ensure China’s performance of missions, such as escorting, peace-keeping and humanitarian aid in Africa and west Asia.
The base will also be conducive to overseas tasks including military cooperation, joint exercises, evacuating and protecting overseas Chinese and emergency rescue, as well as jointly maintaining security of international strategic seaways.
In the meantime, Britain’s The Daily Mail notes that if the Chinese Marines ever get a hankerin’ for some pizza or Kentucky Fried Chicken, the answer could be just a short walk down the road;
That move has some in the US military concerned – not just because it’China’s first step towards international military power, but because the new base is located just four miles from US Camp Lemonnier.
One of the largest US military bases abroad, it is home to 3,000 military personnel and contractors.
Although Djibouti is only 200 square miles bigger than New Jersey, it is home not just US and Chinese bases, but also to French and Japanese bases.
It was also agreed at the start of the year to allow Saudi Arabia to open a base on its land.