The Chinese Navy will soon establish its first overseas support base in Djibouti, as ships carrying military personnel for the base left Zhanjiang in southern China's Guangdong Province for the Horn of Africa country on Tuesday.
The base will enable China to better fulfill its international obligations in conducting escort missions, peacekeeping and humanitarian aid in the Gulf of Aden and the waters off Somalia, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular press briefing on Wednesday.
Since 2008, China has conducted 26 escort missions for Chinese and foreign ships in the Gulf of Aden and the waters off the Somali coast, where international shipping is under constant threat from piracy.
During their missions, the Chinese escort vessels encountered lots of difficulties in troops' rest and reorganization as well as food and fuel supply, Geng said, adding that Djibouti had provided logistics service to the Chinese vessels many times.
China and Djibouti agreed on the establishment of a Chinese logistics base in 2015 through "friendly negotiations," he noted.
Geng stressed that the base would contribute to the economic and social development of Djibouti and enable China to "make new and greater contributions to maintaining peace and stability in Africa and the world."
According to the Chinese Navy, the base will be conducive to overseas tasks including military cooperation, joint exercises, evacuating and protecting overseas Chinese and emergency rescue, as well as jointly maintaining security of international strategic seaways.
Located in the Horn of Africa, Djibouti is surrounded by Eritrea in the north, Ethiopia in the west and south, Somalia in the southeast and the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in the east.
Though a small country with a population of less than a million, it is an important hub along international maritime trading routes, leading northward to the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal and eastward to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.
With roads connecting East and West Africa, Djibouti is also a "hub for the whole region," the country's Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssouf told CGTN, underscoring the strategic importance of the Chinese base's location.
China will be the fourth country to have a base in Djibouti, which currently hosts military personnel from the United States, France and Japan.
Commenting on future relations between Chinese troops and those of other countries in Djibouti, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said in March that the Chinese side would properly handle their relations and conduct international cooperation with military personnel of other countries in maintaining regional peace and stability.
The base will support "non-war military actions" such as peacekeeping, disaster relief and evacuation in order to protect Chinese interests and promote regional peace and stability, he added.
Seven hundred Chinese peacekeepers are serving under a force of 12,000 blue helmets in the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
Not military expansion
During Wednesday's press conference, Geng refuted a question on whether China is seeking military expansion overseas by setting up the base, stressing that the nation would never change its defensive national defense policy and path of peaceful development.
In March 2016, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters that China would "try to build some infrastructure and strengthen support" in key regions to better protect the country's growing interests overseas.
"China will never go through the expansion path of the traditional powers, nor will China pursue hegemony," he stressed. "We want to explore a path with Chinese characteristics that both follows the trend of the times and is welcomed by all parties."
The establishment of the support base in Djibouti is "not only reasonable, but also in line with international practice," Wang said.