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Home » Military » Djibouti welcomes China to build a military base [TRANSLATION]
Djibouti welcomes China to build a military base [TRANSLATION]

Djibouti welcomes China to build a military base [TRANSLATION]

Djibouti welcomes China to build a military base

吉布提欢迎中国来建基地

Published 2013-03-11 on the Global Times’ Chinese-language website

By Global Times Special Correspondents to Djibouti Jiang Anquan and Zhang Jianbo

Looking out the window as the plane descends into Djibouti International Airport you can see military planes from Western countries at a short distance away. Some are parked while some are preparing to take off or have just landed. This was the first time that we, the Global Times’ special correspondents to Djibouti, had heard the roar of fighter planes and the sound irritated our ears.

We came face-to-face with some German soldiers as soon as we arrived at the Sheraton Hotel where we were to stay. We later also saw some of Japan’s self-defense forces.

Vendors on the streets and taxi drivers yelled out “Ni hao,” “Sayonara” and “Hwan-yeong” in succession as soon as they saw us or other Asians. A local driver Abbas told us that this was part of Djibouti’s policy of balanced diplomacy — everyone who visits is treated as a guest and care is taken not to offend anyone.

Djibouti is located in the Horn of Africa, and is a country with an area of only 23,000 square kilometers and a population of about 820,000 — about the same as the average Chinese county. Besides being small, Djibouti is also poor and is one of the least developed countries in the world.  It is lacking in natural resources and its agricultural industries are backward. Deserts and volcanoes take up 90 percent of Djibouti’s total surface area. In addition, there are less than 4000 farmers in the country and it is not self-sufficient in grain production.

As soon as you travel a short distance away from Djibouti’s capital city, all you see is a vast gravel desert with volcanic rocks scattered across it. No noticeable plants are visible besides thorn-filled acacia trees. Therefore, even the small number of Djiboutians who want to chew khat (a plant similar to marijuana that has a stimulant effect) have to import it from Ethiopia.

Fortunately for Djibouti, even though it is small and poor, it occupies a strategically important position. Djibouti is located in a key area on the west coast of the Gulf of Aden, with its northern part facing the Mandab Strait where the Red Sea enters the Indian Ocean. Djibouti is also a good natural harbor with calm and deep water. Most importantly, unlike Somali, Djibouti has a secure and stable government that has had only two presidents since it gained independence from France in 1977. The Somali and the Afar, the two largest ethnic groups in Djibouti, together make up almost 90 percent of the country’s population, and they get along in harmony.

Djibouti navy soldiers salute in front of China's hospital ship Peace Ark at the port of Djibouti in this photo dated Sept. 29, 2010.

Djibouti navy soldiers salute in front of China’s hospital ship Peace Ark at the port of Djibouti in this photo dated Sept. 29, 2010. The ship provided medical services to Djiboutians. Image by Xinhua.

Many countries have been attracted to build military bases in Djibouti because of its strategically important position and its stable and secure government. First was France, its former colonizer. France and Djibouti have signed a defense agreement and France continues to operate several military bases in the country. A Djiboutian scholar told us that France recognizes the importance of its bases in Djibouti now more than ever following its deployment of troops to Mali, and is now preparing to increase its troops and investment in Djibouti.

Second was America. The US set its eyes on Djibouti as part of its War on Terror following the events of 9-11, and established the only US military base in Africa there. When the US was in the process of setting up its Africa Command [which is now in Germany], Djibouti actively invited the US to consider setting up the headquarters of its Command in Djibouti. The military base in Djibouti not only allowed the US to have a foothold in East Africa and the hinterlands of Africa, but also played an important role in the US attack on Somalia’s Al-Shabaab militants and the US’ toppling of Gaddafi’s regime. Several years ago, Japan also established its first overseas naval military base in Djibouti using the pretext of trying to curb the increasingly rampant piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

Besides hosting the military bases of these countries, Djibouti is also important as a maintenance and resupply base for many countries’ escort ships. The berths in the country’s harbor are full of ships,and arrangements for ships that want to dock in them must be made well in advance. In the past four years, the ships in China’s escort fleet have docked in Djibouti more than 50 times.

The port of Djibouti is the country’s economic lifeline, and the fees that it collects from military bases are another important source of income. Djiboutian scholars revealed to the Global Times that France pays about 30 million euros (~$39.06 million) per year in fees for the right to maintain military bases in the country, while the US pays $30 million and Japan pays a sum that is no less than what is paid by France and the US. These funds can accomplish a lot in a country that only has a population of 820,000. As a result, Djibouti pursues a policy of balanced diplomacy in which “everyone who visits is treated as a guest and care is taken not to offend anyone.”

While interviewing the commander of the Djibouti navy Colonel Abdourahman Aden Cher, we mentioned that in the 15th century, the Chinese admiral Zheng He had sailed to the West [of China] and came to Africa and to Djibouti with friendly intentions and no intentions of invading it. When he heard this, Colonel Abdourahman Aden Cher first seemed deep in thought, perhaps thinking that we were casting aspersions on Western countries because of their historical invasion of Djibouti. He then suddenly said, “The US and France are also guests of Djibouti. They have their own role to play and we cooperate well.”

On the day before we visited the Colonel, Japan and Djibouti signed an agreement in which Japan donated two patrol boats to Djibouti. However, when we asked the Colonel about the collaboration between the Djiboutian navy and foreign navies, he did not mention this.

Djibouti also has close relations with China. In our interviews with Djiboutians, many of them mentioned that the former president of Djibouti Hassan Gouled Aptidon gave property in the country to China before he retired. Colonel Abdourahman Aden Cher told us that he knew that the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th Party Congress Work Report mentioned China’s goal to become a maritime power and said that he welcomes China to build its own base in Djibouti.

A Chinese person in Djibouti sighed and said to us: “The ability of a small country like Djibouti to walk the tightrope of balancing the interests of the world’s major powers while achieving its own interests and developing deserves recognition.”

 2013-03-11 07:28 环球时报

 【环球时报赴吉布提特派记者 蒋安全 张建波】飞机降落在吉布提国际机场,目光转向窗外,便可看到不远处西方国家军队的飞机,有停着的,也有正准备起飞或刚降落的。专门赴吉采访的《环球时报》记者第一次如此近距离听到战斗机起飞时的轰鸣,耳朵颇有点受刺激。记者来到下榻的喜来登酒店,迎面便碰到一群德国士兵。后来还见到一些来自日本的自卫队员。街头的商贩或出租车司机见到东方面孔的人,会用中文“你好”、日语“再见”、韩语“你来啦”一起乱叫一通。当地司机阿巴斯告诉记者,这就是吉布提,来的都是客,谁也不得罪,因为吉奉行平衡外交。

  吉布提位于非洲之角,是一个只有2.3万多平方公里的小国,人口近82万,相当于中国的一个县。除了小,吉布提还穷,它是世界上最不发达国家之一,自然资源贫乏,农牧渔业也很落后。吉布提境内沙漠和火山约占全国面积的90%,全国农民不到4000人,粮食完全不能自给。走出首都吉布提市不远,视线内能看到的就只有戈壁、火山岩,除了带着利刺的合欢树,很难找出再有什么让你印象深刻的植物。所以,连不少吉布提人每天要嚼上一小把的卡特草(类似大麻的有兴奋作用的草)也要从埃塞俄比亚进口。

  好在天无绝人之路,又小又穷的吉布提有着极为重要的战略位置,它位于亚丁湾西岸,扼红海进入印度洋的咽喉要冲曼德海峡,并且有风平浪静的深水天然良港。更重要的是,与同在非洲之角的索马里不同,吉布提是一个安全稳定的国度,1977年独立以来只经历过两位总统。吉布提两大民族伊萨族与阿法尔族人口加起来接近全国总人口的90%,两个民族和睦相处。

  因为有重要战略位置和安全稳定的政局,吉布提吸引了不少国家在这里建立军事基地。首先是它曾经的宗主国法国,法吉两国间签有防务协定,法国在吉保留了多处军事基地。当地一名学者对记者称,法国对马里用兵之后,越发感到吉布提基地的重要性,正准备加大在这里的投入和部署。其次是美国,“9·11”事件之后,美国在反恐战争中相中了吉布提,这里成了唯一建有美军基地的非洲国家。美国在建立非洲司令部时,吉方曾主动欢迎美方考虑将其设在吉布提。吉布提基地不仅让美有了向东非和非洲腹地辐射的落脚点,还在打击索马里“青年党”武装,推翻卡扎菲政权方面起到重要作用。几年前,借口打击亚丁湾海域日益猖獗的海盗活动,日本在吉布提建立首个海外军事基地,除了这些国家外,吉布提更成为多国护航舰艇休整补给的重要地点,港口相关泊位排满了预约。4年来,中国护航编队的舰只也在该港停靠过50多次。

  港口是吉布提的经济命脉,而出租军事基地更是一笔重要的收入。当地学者向《环球时报》记者透露,法国每年支付给吉约3000万欧元,美国是3000万美元,而日本的费用不会少于法美。这些钱对只有82万人口的国家来说能做很多事。所以,吉奉行平衡外交政策,“来的都是客,谁也不得罪”。

  在采访吉海军司令阿卜杜拉曼时,当记者说起历史上郑和当年下西洋来到非洲、来到吉布提,没有带来侵略,只有带来友好时,他似乎想多了,可能担心记者在影射西方国家当年对吉的侵略,便马上说,“美法也是吉布提的客人,他们扮演着自己的角色,我们合作得很好”。此外,就在我们拜访海军司令的前一天,日本方面同吉海军签订了赠送两艘巡逻艇的合同。但当记者问起吉海军与外军的合作情况时,阿卜杜拉曼对我们介绍有关巡逻艇的情况时却讳莫如深。

  吉方对中国也非常友好,在采访中,许多吉方朋友提到老总统古莱德退休前把一部分房产赠送给中国的故事。阿卜杜拉曼司令对记者表示,他知道中共十八大报告提出了建设海洋强国的目标,也欢迎中国到吉建立自己的基地。一个当地华人对记者感慨:“像吉布提这样一个小国,能在世界大国之间走钢丝、玩平衡,得到实际的利益,获得了发展,很值得玩味。”

 

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About Tendai Musakwa

Tendai Musakwa is a Zimbabwean journalist and researcher. Currently based in Shanghai, Tendai regularly translates Chinese news articles and microblog posts for the China Africa Project.