For the first time in modern Chinese history, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is setting up a joint military base on foreign soil. On July 11, 2017, the Chinese Navy dispatched two ships—the Jingangshan and the Donghaidao—to Doraleh, Djibouti.
Doraleh is the first overseas base for the PLA, making this the first deployment of China’s military forces there. Djibouti is a pretty strategic location, too, given its placement on the Horn of Africa near the Indian Ocean entrance to the Red Sea.
The base—roughly half a square kilometer—is reported to be soon be staffed by about a battalion-size formation, or about 1,000 people.
As a logistics hub, it could support Chinese naval task forces making voyages to Europe through the Suez Canal, or supervise the evacuation of Chinese nationals from nearby countries. It is also likely to initially support Chinese anti-piracy operations and African peacekeeping missions,
The Jingangshan (pennant number 999) is a Type 071 amphibious warfare landing platform dock (LPD), and is likely carrying Chinese marines, other personnel and vehicles to the Djibouti base. Chinese marines are likely to provide base security, as well as carry out engineering work to put the finishing touches on the base.
The Donghaidao (pennant number 868) is a heavy-lift, semi-submersible logistics ship used to accommodate oversized cargo like non-seaworthy ships and infrastructure equipment. Vice Admiral Shen Jilong, commander of the PLAN, oversaw the task force’s departure from the city of Zhangjian, Guangdong province.
Notably, the Chinese base is in close proximity to Camp Lemonnier, a U.S. naval base used for staging aerial, drone, and Special Force missions in East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and Persian Gulf.
As Chinese global interests and expeditionary capabilities grow in an increasingly complex world, Doraleh is unlikely to remain the only Chinese overseas base.