China will have its first African naval logistics base by the end of 2017, in Djibouti, on one of the world’s busiest shipping corridors. The objective of this base will be to support the fight against piracy and terrorism, securing the Gulf of Aden alongside international forces from countries including the United States, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, and Japan.

Djibouti occupies a key geographical location at one of the world’s crossroads, where the Red Sea meets the Indian Ocean, and where major sea-lanes link Asia with Africa, the Middle East and Europe.  Several of the world’s navies operate with the United States to keep these sea-lanes open and combat piracy.  So, in addition to the U.S. Camp Lemonnier, we also host French and Japanese military bases.

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Over the past few years, China has been increasingly active in our region, working with the US and others as part of this anti-piracy alliance and in support of UN-mandated humanitarian and peacekeeping work across the continent. Indeed, the Chinese navy has completed twenty missions in the Gulf of Aden, and Chinese naval vessels taking part in these operations use port facilities in Djibouti for supply and service.  In recent weeks, we have concluded a 10-year agreement with the government of China to establish a naval logistical hub in Djibouti to support these operations and make it easier for China to continue its important, burden-sharing role.

Some commentators have questioned our decision to allow China to establish this new naval base.  Our response is, we welcome China’s engagement with anti-piracy and humanitarian work in our region.   It is an important contribution to the multilateral effort.  And we want to do what we can to facilitate it. We consider China to be another strategic ally, alongside the U.S. and other forces, in the fight against terrorism and piracy, which are significant threats to the international community and the global economy.

The United States and the Republic of Djibouti have been allies since Djibouti became independent from France in 1977.  We supported the United States in the First Gulf War and in 2001 after the World Trade Centre and Pentagon attacks.  And we are working closely with the United States in the fight against al-Shabaab.  The United States also conducts anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and maintains a 4000 personnel-strong permanent military base, its only one in Africa, in Djibouti at Camp Lemonnier. 

When President Guelleh met President Obama last year they agreed a 20-year extension to the Camp Lemonnier base lease, securing our partnership for the foreseeable future. Obama said at the time:

Camp Lemonnier is extraordinarily important not only to our work throughout the Horn of Africa but throughout the region.  And we very much appreciate the hospitality that the Djiboutians provide…We look forward to deepening cooperation that benefits the people of Djibouti as well as the people of the United States of America.

The security of the region is imperative for the wider relationship with the US. The country’s governments have long understood and supported African economic development as a key underpinning of Africa’s broader ambitions for our people. Obama’s administration in particular has set economic growth at the heart of its Africa strategy.  Earlier this year, Monde Muyangwa, director of the Africa Programme at the Woodrow Wilson Center, quite rightly said of the president:“He’s the first U.S. president to really view Africa not just through a humanitarian lens, but through the lens of economic opportunity.”  We welcome this approach.  Djibouti of course has to build economic relationships with the East as well as the West. Indeed, Chinese merchant ships also use the Bab el Mandeb shipping strait which the Chinese forces will help to protect.  But there is no reason that these relationships cannot sit comfortably alongside each other and work for everyone’s benefit.  

We remain absolutely committed to our relationship with the United States, and place the highest value on the United States contribution to stability in our region.

Youssouf is minister of Foreign Affairs for the Republic of Djibouti.