China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has despatched its first troop contingent to Djibouti ahead of the official establishment of the East Asian country’s first military support base in a foreign country.
Yuzhao-class (Type 071) amphibious ship Jinggangshan and semi-submersible auxiliary ship Donghaidao departed the South Sea Fleet base at Zhanjiang on 11 July carrying a contingent of PLAN marines following a ceremony attended by PLAN commander Vice Admiral Shen Jinlong and Political Commissar Admiral Miao Hua.
The deployment of the marines suggests that the PLAN facility is about to become operational. The troops are most likely being deployed to provide security for the base, or possibly as a reserve for PLAN ships on counter-piracy operations to call on should they be required.
About 80 marines were visible on Jinggangshan’s flight deck for the ceremonial departure, although it is not known whether this is the whole contingent or if more are embarked. The Type 071 is assessed to be capable of accommodating around 650 troops, as well as transporting armoured vehicles and other equipment.
The logistics facility is aimed at supporting China’s military and humanitarian operations in the region, according to a November 2015 statement by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA).
"The construction of the relevant facilities will help China's navy and army further participate in UN peacekeeping operations, carry out [counter-piracy] escort missions in the waters near Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, and provide humanitarian assistance," said a MoFA spokesperson at the time.
The facility has been established adjacent to the new Doraleh Multi-Purpose Port (MPP) that has been constructed by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) and was opened on 24 May. It is also adjacent to an oil storage terminal.
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