Magazine article New African

China and Japan Take Military Rivalry to Djibouti: Japan Plans to Open Its First Overseas Military Base since the Second World War Next Year in the Small but Strategic African Country of Djibouti, but China Is Not Best Pleased, Reports Peter Feuilherade

Magazine article New African

China and Japan Take Military Rivalry to Djibouti: Japan Plans to Open Its First Overseas Military Base since the Second World War Next Year in the Small but Strategic African Country of Djibouti, but China Is Not Best Pleased, Reports Peter Feuilherade

Article excerpt

DJIBOUTI, A MEMBER OF THE Arab League, and Somalia's northern neighbour at the southern end of the Gulf of Aden, is fast becoming a preferred place for foreign military bases. Already the US has one there; and the former colonial master, France, has had one there for a long time. European Union naval units have a permanent military presence in Djibouti too. Now, here comes Japan. Ostensibly, the $40m base planned by Japan will be the HQ for Japanese forces involved in counter-piracy operations.

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The move has attracted surprisingly little comment in the global media. But it has raised hackles in the Chinese capital, Beijing. China, which has discussed the idea of setting up a permanent naval base in the region but ruled it out for the time being, views Japan as second only to America as a threat to Chinese naval power. Tokyo had previously approached Yemen and Oman, as well as Kenya, to host Japanese naval units.

Piracy

In April this year, the Japanese navy confirmed that it expected to open its new base in Djibouti.

"This will be the only Japanese base outside our country and the first in Africa ... We are deploying here to fight piracy and for our self-defence. Japan is a maritime nation and the increase in piracy in the Gulf of Aden, through which 20,000 vessels sail every year, is worrying," Keizo Kitagawa, captain of Japan's navy force and coordinator of the Djibouti deployment, told the French news agency AFP.

Japan has chosen Djibouti for its suitable air and seaports as well as political stability, Kitagawa said. The new base will include an airfield for Japan's Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft and a permanent port facility.

Japanese naval units, including missile destroyers and maritime patrol planes, have been operating in the Gulf of Aden since 2009. Japan currently has a small number of forces in accommodation rented from the US at Camp Lemonier, the large US military base situated near Djibouti's airport.

The camp, the only US military base in Africa, is occupied by the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, a counter-terrorism force deployed there after the 11 September 2001 attacks. It is home to about 2,000 US personnel.

Djibouti's strategic importance in controlling access to the Red Sea has ensured a steady flow of foreign assistance since it gained independence from France in 1977. …

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