People's Liberation Army Support Base in Djibouti

The People's Liberation Army Support Base in Djibouti is a military base operated by China's People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), located in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. It is the PLAN's first overseas military base and was built at a cost of US$590 million.[1] The facility is expected to significantly increase China's power projection in the Horn of Africa and the Indian Ocean, as well as the PLAN's blue water capabilities.[2][3][4] The People's Liberation Army Navy has used the base to conduct anti-piracy operations off of the coast of Djibouti and around the Horn of Africa. It is also expected to take part in activities such as intelligence collection, non-combat evacuation operations, peacekeeping operations support and counterterrorism.[5][6] As of 2017, the base commander is Liang Yang.[7]

People's Liberation Army Base in Djibouti
Near Balbala in Djibouti
Naval Ensign of China
Naval Ensign of China
Coordinates11° 35′ 24.83″ N, 43° 3′ 47.23″ E
Area0.5 km2
Site information
OwnerCentral Military Commission
Operator People's Liberation Army Navy
Controlled byPeople’s Republic of China
Site history
BuiltMarch 2016 (2016-03)
In useAugust 1, 2017 (2017-08-01)
Garrison information
Liang Yang
Occupants1,000-2,000 Navy Personnel
People's Liberation Army Support Base in Djibouti
Literal meaningChina People Liberation Army in-Djibouti Support Base

Djibouti is strategically situated by the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, which separates the Gulf of Aden from the Red Sea and guards the approaches to the Suez Canal. The Chinese base is located by the Chinese-operated Port of Doraleh to the west of Djibouti City. To the south of the city are several other foreign military bases, including Camp Lemonnier (United States Navy),[8] Base aerienne 188 (French Air Force),[9] and the Japan Self-Defense Force Base Djibouti.[10][11]


Map of Chinese oversea military bases.[12]
  Countries with a Chinese base
  Countries that China has probably approached to host a base

Negotiations for China to create a strategic base in Djibouti began with President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh in approximately 2015.[13] Negotiations were concluded in January 2016, with China and Djibouti having "reached consensus" on the construction of naval facilities, and in March 2016, construction of the naval base began.[14][15][16]

On July 11, 2017, the People's Liberation Army Navy dispatched ships from the South Sea Fleet in Zhanjiang to open the base officially.[17][18] The base was formally opened on August 1, 2017.[19][20] The first live fire exercises were conducted on September 22, 2017.[21]

Around May 2018, China began constructing a large-scale pier (over 330 meters in length or 1,120 feet) at the base, and appeared to be fully completed after 18 months from a satellite photo taken in December 2019. Satellite analysis show that China may be building a second pier or quay as to increase the naval capacity of the base.[22][23]

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, beginning in April 2020, the People's Liberation Army Navy began taking precautions to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak at the base by enforcing stricter entry and exit controls as well as deploying additional medical personnel to the base. The precautions also were adopted at other military bases in China.[24]


China has stated that the facility will serve primarily to support military logistics for Chinese troops in the Gulf of Aden, and also other activities that are a net positive for maritime public goods, including peacekeeping, humanitarian and disaster relief operations in Africa.[2][25][26] It also bolsters the Chinese navy's efforts to prevent piracy on high seas, and allows easy access for the PLAN warships into the Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean.[2][4][27][28]

China views its facility in Djibouti as consistent with its obligations under its 2015 National Security Law, which calls for protection of strategic energy supply channels (in clause 28) and citizens abroad (in clause 30).[29] Based on its experience in evacuating 35,000 Chinese citizens from Libya in 2011 and over 600 from Yemen in 2015, China sought a more permanent presence in the region to facilitate evacuations if necessary in the future.[29] However, China avoids the terms "military base" or "naval base" and prefers the term "support facility" or "logistic facility".[26] This implies a different approach to naval power projection.[30]

The heavily fortified base is 0.5 square kilometres (0.2 sq mi) in size and staffed by approximately 1,000-2,000 personnel, and has an underground space of 23,000 square meters.[31][32][33] The base has a 400m runway with an air traffic control tower, as well as a large helicopter apron.[34] The base also houses the PLA Support Base Hospital in Djibouti.[35]

A pier finished construction in December 2019. The 1,120 foot pier is reported to be long enough to be able to fit the PLAN's two new aircraft carriers and other warships or at least four nuclear powered submarines.[23]

Tensions with foreign militariesEdit

The presence of a Chinese base in close proximity to a US base has created geopolitical tensions. The United States had blocked a Russian base in 2014[citation needed] and started a US$1 billion upgrade of Camp Lemonnier[citation needed]. US government officials were "blindsided" by Djibouti's approval of a Chinese base just two years later.[4] Djiboutian President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh claimed that the United States had a "fixation" about the Chinese base and complained "incessantly" that the Chinese were hampering their operations. He also said that the Japanese were even more worried than the Americans. Guelleh said that the Chinese would have no problem cohabiting with Western powers if they didn't "spy constantly" on the Chinese.[33]

According to Chinese prosecutor Jian Jiamin, the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force sent divers to approach a Chinese warship while it was docked at the base, who were detected and driven off.[7][36]

In 2018, the United States Department of Defense issued a NOTAM reporting instances of laser attacks against pilots flying near the base, injuring two airmen.[37] The Chinese Defense Ministry called the accusations "untrue" and asked the United States "to not swiftly speculate or make accusations."[38] China, in turn, complains low-flying American aircraft have conducted spy missions near its base.[29]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Zhou, Laura (April 17, 2017). "How a Chinese investment boom is changing the face of Djibouti". South China Morning Post. Archived from the original on May 18, 2017. About half an hour's drive west of the restaurant, a Chinese military base is surreptitiously taking shape near the dusty construction site of the China-funded, US$590 million Doraleh Multipurpose Port.
  2. ^ a b c Paice, Edward (May 30, 2017). "Djibouti Wins Jackpot – Renting Out Desert for Military Bases". The Cipher Brief. Archived from the original on August 6, 2017. Retrieved May 30, 2017.
  3. ^ Huneke, Douglas (April 19, 2017). "The Ghost of Zheng He: China's Naval Base in Djibouti". University of California, Berkeley. Archived from the original on May 18, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c Jacobs, Andrew; Perlez, Jane (February 25, 2017). "U.S. Wary of Its New Neighbor in Djibouti: A Chinese Naval Base". The New York Times. Retrieved May 17, 2017.
  5. ^ Sun, Degang; Zoubir, Yahia H. (July 4, 2021). "Securing China's 'Latent Power': The Dragon's Anchorage in Djibouti". Journal of Contemporary China. 30 (130): 677–692. doi:10.1080/10670564.2020.1852734. ISSN 1067-0564. S2CID 229393446.
  6. ^ Sucui, Peter (May 11, 2020). "China's Naval Base in Africa Is Getting Bigger. Is a Network of Bases Next?". The National Interest. Retrieved November 20, 2020. So far China's military involvement in the Horn of Africa has mainly consisted of anti-piracy missions, but it is believed it could support other key missions including intelligence collection, non-combat evacuation operations, peacekeeping operations support and counterterrorism.
  7. ^ a b Chan, Minnie (September 25, 2017). "Live-fire show of force by troops from China's first overseas military base". South China Morning Post. Archived from the original on September 26, 2017. Retrieved September 25, 2017.
  8. ^ "Remote U.S. base at core of secret operations". Washington Post. October 26, 2012. Retrieved April 5, 2015.
  9. ^ "Les forces françaises stationnées à Djibouti". Retrieved January 14, 2017.
  10. ^ "防衛省、ジブチの自衛隊拠点を来年度拡張 基地建設の中国に対抗". Newsweek日本版 (in Japanese). Retrieved April 26, 2017.
  11. ^ Pieper, Dietmar (February 8, 2018). "Geopolitical Laboratory: How Djibouti Became China's Gateway To Africa". Spiegel Online.
  12. ^ "Base instincts". The Economist. Vol. 443. May 7, 2022. p. 36.
  13. ^ Agence France-Presse (May 9, 2015). "China 'negotiates military base' in Djibouti". Al Jazeera. Archived from the original on May 18, 2017. Retrieved May 17, 2017. China is negotiating a military base in a strategic port of Djibouti, the president said, according to the AFP news agency. [...] "Discussions are ongoing," President Ismail Omar Guelleh said in an interview in Djibouti, saying Beijing's presence would be "welcome".
  14. ^ Chappell, Bill (January 21, 2016). "China Reaches Deal To Build Military Outpost In Djibouti". NPR. Archived from the original on May 18, 2017. Cementing a deal that has been hinted at for months, China is moving forward to build what's believed to be its first overseas military facility, in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti. The outpost is meant to bolster the Chinese navy's efforts to prevent piracy. [...] He added that China and Djibouti have "reached consensus" on building the facilities, a plan that Chinese officials spoke about publicly last fall.
  15. ^ "Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei's Regular Press Conference on January 21, 2016". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China. January 21, 2016. Archived from the original on May 18, 2017. China and Djibouti consulted with each other and reached consensus on building logistical facilities in Djibouti, which will enable the Chinese troops to better fulfill escort missions and make new contributions to regional peace and stability.
  16. ^ Vinayak Bhat, Col (October 30, 2020). "Construction fast-tracked at China PLA's first overseas base in Djibouti". India Today. Retrieved November 20, 2020.
  17. ^ Gao, Charlotte (July 12, 2017). "China Officially Sets Up Its First Overseas Base in Djibouti". The Diplomat. Archived from the original on July 12, 2017. In the early morning of July 11, China held an official ceremony in the port of Zhanjiang, south China's Guangdong province. The commander of China's People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), Shen Jinlong, "read an order on constructing the base in Djibouti, and conferred military flag on the fleets." Then Shen ordered, "Set off!" and the ships carrying Chinese military personnel departed the port, reported Xinhua.
  18. ^ An, ed. (July 11, 2017). "China sets up base in Djibouti". Xinhua News Agency. Archived from the original on July 12, 2017. Ships carrying Chinese military personnel departed Zhanjiang in southern China's Guangdong Province on Tuesday to set up a support base in Djibouti.
  19. ^ Blanchard, Ben (August 1, 2017). Perry, Michael (ed.). "China formally opens first overseas military base in Djibouti". Reuters. Retrieved August 1, 2017. China formally opened its first overseas military base on Tuesday with a flag raising ceremony in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, the same day as the People's Liberation Army marks its 90th birthday, state media said.
  20. ^ "China's first overseas military base opens in Djibouti". August 2, 2017.
  21. ^ Headley, Tyler (December 4, 2018). "China's Djibouti Base: A One Year Update". The Diplomat. Archived from the original on December 6, 2018. The opening ceremony on August 1, 2017 was followed a month and a half later with live fire exercises.
  22. ^ Binnie, Jeremy (May 23, 2018). "China building pier at Djibouti base". Jane's Information Group.
  23. ^ a b H I Sutton (May 10, 2020). "Satellite Images Show That Chinese Navy Is Expanding Overseas Base". Retrieved August 29, 2020.
  24. ^ Chan, Minnie; Ng, Teddy (April 24, 2020). "Chinese and US militaries on Covid-19 alert in Djibouti as rivals face common threat". South China Morning Post. Retrieved November 20, 2020. "In some circumstances, the requirements will be stricter – for example, the entry and exit controls at the Djibouti base are more stringent," he said. "There are medical personnel in the base who are also trained to take care of and test for Covid-19 [the disease caused by the coronavirus], and there are facilities for that.
  25. ^ Blanchard, Ben (July 11, 2017). "China sends troops to open first overseas military base in Djibouti". Reuters. Retrieved November 20, 2020.
  26. ^ a b Panda, Ankit (March 9, 2016). "After Djibouti Base, China Eyes Additional Overseas Military 'Facilities'". The Diplomat. Archived from the original on March 10, 2016. Retrieved January 15, 2022.
  27. ^ Zhang, Tao, ed. (April 12, 2016). "PLA's first overseas base in Djibouti". China Military Online. Archived from the original on May 18, 2017. Retrieved May 17, 2017.
  28. ^ Huang, Kristen (May 13, 2017). "Chinese defence adviser says Djibouti naval facility is a much-needed 'military base'". South China Morning Post. Archived from the original on May 14, 2017. China is constructing a naval base in Djibouti to provide what it calls logistical support in one of the world's busiest waterways. The defence ministry said in a statement last year that the facility was mostly for resupply purposes for anti-piracy, humanitarian and peacekeeping operations.
  29. ^ a b c Murphy, Dawn C. (2022). China's rise in the Global South : the Middle East, Africa, and Beijing's alternative world order. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. p. 232. ISBN 978-1-5036-3060-4. OCLC 1249712936.
  30. ^ "U.S. Vs. China: Military Bases and Commercial Ports Reveal Strategies to Extend Global Reach".
  31. ^ Cabestan, Jean-Pierre (May 16, 2020). "China's Djibouti naval base increasing its power". East Asia Forum. Retrieved November 20, 2020.
  32. ^ Lin, Jeffrey; Singe, P.W. (July 13, 2017). "China just deployed to its first overseas base". Popular Science. The base—roughly half a square kilometer—is reported to be staffed by about a battalion-size formation, or about 1,000 personnel.
  33. ^ a b Soudan, François (April 4, 2017). "Personne d'autre que les Chinois n'offre un partenariat à long terme à Djibouti". Jeune Afrique (in French).
  34. ^ Bhat, Vinayak (September 27, 2017). "China's mega fortress in Djibouti could be model for its bases in Pakistan". Printline Media Pvt. Ltd.
  35. ^ Liu, Wenping; Su, Zhihong. Li, Jiayao (ed.). "Chinese naval doctors carry on "Bright Eyes Operation" in Djibouti". China Military.
  36. ^ Lo, Kinling (August 2, 2017). "Japanese frogmen approached Chinese warship at Djibouti, state media say". South China Morning Post. Retrieved September 25, 2017.
  37. ^ Zhen, Liu (May 2, 2018). "US warns airmen to beware of laser attacks near China's military base in Djibouti". South China Morning Post. The military issued a Notice to Airmen, later reproduced on the US Federal Aviation Administration's website, that there had been multiple events "involving a high-power laser" just 750 metres (2,400ft) from China's base in Djibouti.
  38. ^ Nebehay, Stephanie. "U.S. warns on Russia's new space weapons". Reuters.
11°35′25″N 43°03′47″E / 11.59023°N 43.06312°E / 11.59023; 43.06312