Chinese Navy soldiers observe from China's amphibious landing ship Changbaishan during an escort mission in the Gulf of Aden, Aug 26, 2014. (Photo/Xinhua)
Beijing confirmed on Thursday its construction of "military supporting facilities" in Djibouti, the first of its kind for China in Africa.
"China is negotiating closely with Djibouti in the construction of military supporting facilities," Wu Qian, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, said during a monthly news conference in Beijing.
He explained the aim is to "provide better logistics and safeguard Chinese peacekeeping forces in the Gulf of Aden, offshore Somalia and other humanitarian assistance tasks of the UN".
The East African country of Djibouti is on the Gulf of Aden, bordering the Red Sea and across from Yemen. It currently hosts military forces from the U.S., France, Italy, Japan and Pakistan.
Foreign media reported that David Rodriguez, a commander with U.S. Africa Command, asserted that China has signed a 10-year deal with Djibouti to build a military base there.
Wu sidestepped the details of the contract and stressed the necessity of building such a facility in the Horn of Africa.
"China has sent a total of 21 escort fleets, more than 60 ships, to carry out escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and off Somalia since 2008 in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions," Wu said. "The fleets are facing practical difficulties, such as places for soldiers to rest and supplies of food and fuel, so it is really necessary to find a nearby place to provide efficient logistics," he added.
The largest foreign military base in Djibouti is U.S. Camp Lemonier that, according to its website, is a navy led installation hosting approximately 4,000 U.S. military personnel, and "provides, operates and sustains superior service in support of combat readiness and security of ships, aircraft, detachments and personnel for regional and combatant command requirements".
Liu Hongwu, director of the School of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University, said building military supporting facilities was just a start for China to carry out security cooperation with the African Union.
Security cooperation will be a key area in future cooperation between China and the African Union, since for many years African countries have asked China to take part in their security processes, Liu said, and there is a tendency for China to strengthen its security cooperation abroad, especially with Africa.
Carrying out such cooperation makes sense as China has a major economic presence in Africa, Liu added.
China is Africa's largest bilateral trading partner, with trade volume in 2014 surpassing $200 billion, almost three times U.S.-Africa trade.
In September, China promised to set up a United Nations permanent peacekeeping force of 8,000 troops and would provide $100 million to the African Union to create an immediate response unit capable of responding to emergencies.
Wu also said at the news conference that China confirmed a deal to buy Su-35 fighter jets from Russia.