Djibouti, is a poverty stricken country situated in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Ethiopia in the west and south, Eritrea in the north, Somalia in the southeast and by the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden at the east. What makes Djibouti so special when compared to its neighbours in Africa?
Somalia has been a hotbed of terrorism and sea pirates for years. Yemen which is always in conflict is just 20 miles across the Red sea. These crises have warranted international responses and the need for military bases nearby.
Djibouti hosts Camp Lemonnier the largest American permanent military base in Africa, which is home to more than 4,500 personnel. Djibouti also hosts military bases of France, Italy and Japan. Each country paying millions of dollars per annum to the tiny nation for hosting them, providing Djibouti with security from its hostile neighbours and in turn the developed countries can enjoy an uninterrupted shipping trade without being effected by Somalian pirates.
More than half of China’s petroleum imports sail through the Suez canal, Across Africa Chinese companies are investing tens of billions of dollars in railways, ports, factories, Airports and mines. Most of the infrastructure projects in Djibouti have been built by Chinese companies. There are millions of Chinese citizens who live and work in Africa, have come to expect that the government will look out for their interests. Building a base will not only give China a huge advantage in terms of military logistics but also it will strengthen China’s image at home and abroad. Thus China’s decision to establish an overseas military installation in Djibouti comes as little surprise to all the players involved.
Why is the U.S not happy with this scenario?
U.S knew China would build a base in Djibouti but U.S didn’t expect the Chinese installation in such close proximity to Camp Lemonnier, the largest U.S foreign installation. The area leased to the Chinese for building their new military installation is twice the area of Camp Lemonnier. The new Chinese installation will also have access to a new airport built by a Chinese company.
U.S is not happy with the growing friendship between Djibouti and China. They believe China has a growing leverage in Djibouti’s government thanks to the various infrastructure projects it’s involved in. The Djibouti government is very happy with the Chinese in the country. They believe that China will provide revenues and act as a major detractor to Djibouti’s neighbours who want to annex Djibouti.
The Chinese have however downplayed the concerns saying that the base is only a support facility and will be mainly used to provide rest and rehabilitation for the Chinese troops taking part in missions in the Gulf of Aden and waters of Somalia. But the Americans are not convinced that Beijing does not have ulterior motives.
The US pays 64 million annually in rent for its base in Djibouti and the Chinese will bring in more than 100 million dollars for theirs, in addition to their ongoing infrastructure projects so it is not difficult to see why Djibouti is enjoying its lucrative role as the landlord of global powers.
The two countries keep dozens of ICBM’s pointed at each other’s cities. Their ships and fighter jets occasionally face off in the South China Sea. With no shared border, China and the United States mostly circle each other from afar, relying on satellites and cyber warfare. Very soon both the rivals are about to become neighbours in a little African nation of Djibouti. The Naval arms race has just heated up.