NEW DELHI/BEIJING: After it stunned the world last year with its own disclosure that it had sent submarines into the Indian Ocean, China has thrown the Asia-Pacific another curve ball with the revelation that it is looking to set up a naval base in the strategically located Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.
This time though the revelation has come too soon for Beijing’s liking.
It was Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh who himself declared recently that discussions were underway with the Chinese for a naval base at Obock in the former French colony, a country the US already has a base in.
It has never been easy to pierce the veil which China uses to zealously guard its defence and military expansion and the discussions with Guelleh have not been any different. China has refused to confirm or deny media reports merely saying that it is looking to contribute more in efforts to maintain regional peace and stability.
In reply to a query from TOI last week, senior People’s Liberation Army Navy officials said the “official position” was that China was not looking for any military base. This journalist was part of an international media delegation of Jefferson Fellows, brought together by the Honolulu based East-West Center to meet PLA officials over recent developments in South China Sea including China’s ongoing reclamation in the Spratly islands. While other officials made a case for a meatier Chinese navy presence in the Indian Ocean region, especially in light of their anti piracy operations which extend right up to the Gulf of Aden, the top official who briefed the delegation insisted that only the official position be taken note of – that China was not acquiring a military base yet.