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China’s Military Support Facility in Djibouti: The Economic and Security Dimensions of China’s First Overseas Base

Erica DownsJeffrey BeckerPatrick deGategno
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Key findings

China’s establishment of an overseas military facility in Djibouti marks a fundamental shift in China’s foreign and security policy.

  • China’s leaders have long used its lack of overseas military facilities as a means to differentiate its economic expansion from that of Western countries and have often equated an overseas military presence with neo-colonialism and American “hegemony.”
  • Beginning with the 2008 decision to participate in Gulf of Aden counterpiracy operations, Beijing has increasingly involved its military in its pursuit of China’s national interests in the region.
  • The establishment of this military support facility indicates that Beijing sees a long-term role for its military in protecting Chinese interests overseas.

China and Djibouti’s relationship has strengthened in recent years because the two countries have complementary economic and security ambitions.

  • Djibouti is a small, mostly barren country on the Horn of Africa. Geography is its main source of competitive advantage.
    • It is a comparatively stable country in an otherwise volatile region.
    • It occupies a strategically important position next to the Bab el- Mandeb, a critical maritime chokepoint.
    • It serves as the main port for landlocked Ethiopia, East Africa’s largest and fastest growing economy.
    • It has sought to leverage its geography to generate currency by leasing land to multiple foreign militaries.
  • Djibouti aspires to be a commercial hub—the Singapore of East Africa. To achieve this objective, it requires a dramatic expansion of its infrastructure.
    • Djibouti has sought financing for large infrastructure projects from various banks and international financial institutions—to include Chinese banks and state-owned enterprises.
  • China is seeking opportunities to expand its presence in East Africa for several reasons. Specifically, it wants to:
    • Find new markets for construction companies as demand for infrastructure projects within China slows
    • Showcase Chinese standards and technologies in overseas projects to attract new business opportunities
    • Improve China’s military expeditionary capabilities in order to better safeguard its citizens and assets in the region
    • Support President Xi Jinping’s “One Belt, One Road” economic initiative.
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DISTRIBUTION STATEMENT A. Approved for public release: distribution unlimited. PUBLIC RELEASE. 6/15/2017

Details

  • Pages: 84
  • Document Number: DIM-2017-U-015308-Final3
  • Publication Date: 6/5/2017
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