China military in talks for logistics 'facilities' in Djibouti

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's military is in talks with the Horn of Africa country Djibouti to build logistics "facilities" to support Chinese peacekeeping and anti-piracy missions, the foreign and defence ministries said on Thursday (Nov 26).

In May, Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh told French media his government was in talks with China about a military base, adding Beijing's presence would be welcome in the former French colony, which borders Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the facilities would mainly provide logistics services to resolve issues related to fuelling, rest and reorganisation of troops and food supplies.

"The construction of the relevant facilities will help China's navy and army further participate in UN peacekeeping operations, carry out escort missions in the waters near Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, and provide humanitarian assistance," he told a daily news briefing.

"It will help China's military further carry out its international responsibilities to safeguard global and regional peace and stability."

Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian, speaking at a monthly news conference, largely repeated the foreign ministry comments, but added China wanted to play a greater role in ensuring regional peace and stability.

"Maintaining regional peace and stability accords with the interests of both countries," Wu said. He did not provide any other details.

Earlier this month, a senior Chinese military officer visited Djibouti where he inspected a Chinese warship participating in anti-piracy patrols.

The United States and France both already have bases in the country and its port has been used by foreign navies, including China's, participating in the fight against Somali pirates.

In an effort to dampen fears about Chinese plans connected to its increasingly modern and confident military, Beijing has repeatedly said it does not want military bases abroad.

In 2009, Chinese officials distanced themselves from comments by a rear admiral, Wu Shengli, who urged the nation to set up navy supply bases overseas for the anti-piracy fight. Wu is now China's naval chief.

Chinese ships have undertaken anti-piracy operations off Somalia since late 2008, and in early 2010 Beijing agreed to join the multi-nation effort to protect shipping in the Gulf of Aden and nearby stretches of the Indian Ocean.

Experts have said China is likely one day to have to overcome its discomfort about overseas military bases, as its forces are drawn into protecting the growing interests of the world's second-largest economy.