• The vessel supports China's overseas detachment operations 
  • It also conducts anti-piracy missions and monitors Western warships
  • The pier at Djibouti is large enough for China's aircraft carriers

In a highly strategic development, a Chinese warship was spotted for the first time at Beijing's new military base in Djibouti. Though the construction of the base began at Djibouti's Doraleh Port in March 2016, Chinese warships had not docked there until now.

Satellite images identified the vessel as a PLA Navy Type-903A replenishment ship Luomahu (907), said defense analyst H I Sutton. According to him, the vessel has been supporting China's overseas detachment operating in the region and belongs to the "Escort Task Force."

These vessels conduct anti-piracy missions but also monitor Western warships in the area. "The detachment is made up of destroyers and frigates but larger combatants may follow in the future. Large amphibious warships have also been deployed on occasion," said the analyst.

He added that the pier at the new base is large enough for China's aircraft carriers, though none has ventured into the Indian Ocean yet. This is also China's first overseas base and a strategic one, considering it is situated at the mouth of the Red Sea with easy access to the Arabian Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean.

The presence of the vessel at the base assumes significance because Djibouti is also home to Camp Lemonnier, the most extensive and permanent U.S. military base in Africa. The facilities are used by many Navies, including the EU and NATO countries.

According to reports, the Chinese base resembles a "medieval fortress" and is heavily guarded. Not only is the base designed to be highly defendable, resembling those in a war zone, it also boasts "Hesco" style barriers with razor wire along the top. There are also guard towers, a moat and walls, as well as bunkers and a heliport. It is garrisoned by Chinese marines with armored vehicles.

The Chinese presence in the Djibouti base will enable the PLA to use it as a staging post for deployments to the Mediterranean. According to U.S. Africa Commander Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, this is a matter of great concern. "They are literally everywhere on the continent. They are placing a lot of bets down. They are spending a lot of money," Townsend had said earlier.

This comes as reports add that China is planning another military base either in Equatorial Guinea or the Solomon Islands as a second base in Africa will help project Beijing’s power directly toward North America and Europe.

Map of Djibouti
Map of Djibouti AFP / Tupac POINTU