In Djibouti, China may station aircraft carriers, large warships, and submarines, a move that would have profound security implications for the Indian Navy.
Detailed information about the base appears in the US Department of Defence’s annual report on China. Sunday’s report comes less than four months after MEDIA published high-resolution satellite images of the base, including a large Chinese Navy landing ship. China’s amphibious assault forces are based on this.
“In late March 2022, a FUCHI II class (Type 903A) supply ship Luomahu docked at the 450-metre pier for resupply; this was the first reported PLA Navy port call to the Djibouti support base, indicating the pier is now operational,” according to the US Department of Defence’s China Military Power Report for 2022.
According to the report, the pier could accommodate aircraft carriers, large combatants, and submarines of the PLA Navy.
It is not the first time the United States has raised the possibility of China deploying aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean. “There is nothing to prevent them from sailing in the Indian Ocean today,” Admiral Harry Harris Jr. told MEDIA in 2017.
China has developed three aircraft carriers since then, each with incrementally greater capabilities. Two aircraft carriers are being operated by the Indian Navy, the made-in-Russia INS Vikramaditya and the INS Vikrant, which is still several months away from being fully operational.
“PLA Navy Marines are stationed at the [Djibouti] base with wheeled armoured vehicles and artillery, but they are currently dependent on nearby commercial ports due to a lack of experience using its recently operational pier on the base.”
Moreover, PLA forces deployed in Djibouti “have interfered with U.S. flights by lasing pilots and flying drones, and PRC (People’s Republic of China) has attempted to restrict Djiboutian sovereign airspace over the base”, the report states.
According to the US military, Chinese forces deployed in the region used lasers to temporarily blind or impair US fliers in the region. US drones have also been targeted by these attacks.
In Djibouti, Beijing appears to have just begun identifying and acquiring land in countries where it can expand its military presence.
The US report asserts that the PRC is very likely already considering and planning additional military logistics facilities to support naval, air, and ground forces projection beyond Djibouti. Additionally, it must establish a presence in the Indo-Pacific beyond the artificial islands it has illegally constructed in the South China Sea.
Dredgers have been spotted off Cambodia’s Ream naval base, where the PRC is funding construction work and deeper port facilities that are necessary for docking larger military ships, according to a US report.
Over 14 years ago, China established a standing naval patrol off the Horn of Africa. It was initially questioned whether the Chinese Navy would be able to deploy so far from home, but they were able to demonstrate their capability of keeping ships on station for six to nine months. When the base in Djibouti is fully operational, China will be able to permanently position warships there.
”The Persian Gulf is 8,400 km from Hainan, the nearest Chinese base, and the Horn of Africa is 8,800 km from Hainan,” says former Indian Navy Chief Admiral Arun Prakash (retired).
According to him, China is simply achieving its objectives in its Defence White Papers of 2015 and 2019, which were to create ‘strategic strong points’ in areas that serve as forward bases for the deployment of military forces overseas.
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