The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China will soon take control of a dual-use port facility in Djibouti. Designed to serve both military and civilian functions—thus the moniker of dual use—the naval installation will serve China’s national interests in the western Indian Ocean region and can be used as a platform for operations in the Middle East and Africa.
This is the first overseas military base for the People’s Republic. The PLA has historically focused its efforts at protecting China’s borders, which made the military an army-, not naval-, dominated force. This base, estimated to be finished in early 2017, demonstrates that the PLA is increasingly interested in the maritime domain. Once a bloated organization tied down by inefficiency and poor strategic planning, the PLA is becoming increasingly more efficient, technologically competitive and strategically prepared.
The base being constructed in Djibouti is evidence of this. The position of the base is strategically sound and does not substantially risk stoking regional tensions due to its existence. More than anything, the PLA base in Djibouti reveals where Beijing plans to deepen its footprint and that it is increasingly ready to shoulder the risks that follow from such an act.
Djibouti might seem too far afield from the Chinese homeland to make sense as Beijing’s first foreign military installation. Logistically, Djibouti is a difficult location, but from a political and strategic vantage there are few better locations anywhere in the world…..