Top Chinese general in Africa amid talk of base

People's Liberation Army chief of staff Fang Fenghui (centre).
People's Liberation Army chief of staff Fang Fenghui (centre). PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING • A senior Chinese military officer is visiting Horn of Africa country Djibouti, where he inspected a Chinese warship participating in anti-piracy patrols, China's Defence Ministry said, following a report that China wants a military base there.

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

The Chinese government would neither confirm nor deny the report.

Both the United States and France 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.

People's Liberation Army chief of staff General Fang Fenghui visited the Chinese warship Sanya while it was replenishing supplies in Djibouti, China's Defence Ministry said late on Sunday.

Gen Fang praised the performance of Chinese service personnel involved in the patrols, saying they showed how China was assuming its role as a responsible major country, the ministry said.

Gen Fang was accompanied by PLA Air Force deputy chief Zhang Jianping, the statement added. It made no mention of any Chinese base plans.

In an effort to quieten 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 Rear-Admiral Wu Shengli, who urged the nation to set up navy supply bases overseas for the anti-piracy fight. Admiral 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.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2015, with the headline 'Top Chinese general in Africa amid talk of base'. Print Edition | Subscribe