BEIJING • China has announced it would establish its first overseas military outpost and unveiled a sweeping plan to reorganise its military into a more agile force capable of projecting power abroad.
The outpost, in the East African nation of Djibouti, breaks with Beijing's longstanding policy against emulating the United States in building military facilities abroad.
The Foreign Ministry refrained on Thursday from describing the new installation as a military base, saying it would be used to resupply Chinese navy ships that have been participating in United Nations anti-piracy missions.
Yet by establishing an outpost in the Horn of Africa - more than 7,700km away from Beijing and near some of the world's most volatile regions - President Xi Jinping is leading the military beyond its historical focus on protecting the nation's borders.
Together with the plan for new command systems to integrate and rebalance the armed forces, the two announcements on Thursday highlight the breadth of change that Mr Xi is pushing on the People's Liberation Army, which for decades has served primarily as a lumbering guardian of Communist Party rule.
A presence in Djibouti would be China's first overseas logistics facility to service its military vessels since the Communists took power, said Mr David Finkelstein, director of China studies at CNA, an independent research institute in Arlington, Virginia.
China has been trying to assume a more proactive foreign security policy, as it seeks to take on a greater global role commensurate with its position as the world's second-largest economy.
In the Gulf of Aden to the east of Djibouti, Chinese naval forces involved in anti-piracy patrols have held their first joint drill with Nato ships carrying out the same mission, China's Defence Ministry said yesterday.
The exercise took place on Wednesday, the ministry said in a statement, showing pictures of Chinese and Nato officers chatting on the bridge of a ship and simulating a commando raid.
The exercise will help improve communications between ships on anti-piracy duties so that China and Nato can together maintain maritime security and stability in the Gulf of Aden, the ministry added. It gave no other details.
China, whose merchant ships and oil tankers are heavy users of the waters off Yemen and Somalia, has been an enthusiastic participant in the anti-piracy patrols.
NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS