Shailesh Kumar, National Defence
New Delhi, 04 October 2015
Supreme Commander of Indian Armed Forces, President Ramnath Kovind is on his first overseas visit to the African country Djibouti. This is first ever visit by any Indian head of a state To Djibouti.
Why President choose to visit this tiny country of 9,000 square mile landmass; where only 400 people of Indian diaspora live. The answer lies in geostrategic location of Djibouti. Djibouti located at the horn of Africa is now base to world’s most contentious and conflicting militaries. US, France, Japan, Germany and latest being of China. China last week conducted massive fire drill in Djibouti.
In disguise of a logistic base being set up to tackle piracy in Gulf of Aden, 7,700 km away from its Beijing, Chinese builds a discreet military base in Djibouti en route to the strategically important Suez Canal, at the mouth of the Red Sea to create a choke point at Bab el-Mandeb in response to its ‘Malacca dilemma’ in Indian ocean.
Chinese understand the strategic importance of Bab el-Mandeb strait as who controls the Horn of Africa controls the world economyo. Almost all trade between the European Union and China, India, Japan or rest of Asia passes through the Bab el-Mandeb straits. About 30 per cent of the world’s oil and natural gas from the Persian Gulf moving to west passes through this route only. Around 40 per cent of Chinese imports passed through the Gulf of Aden waterway near Djibouti by 2008.
China was worried if India’s Iron Curtain falls in Indian ocean at Strait of Malacca choking its Sea Lanes of Communications (SLOCs) in response to China’s String of Pearls; China can now launch counter attack by choking Indian supply route at Bab el- Mandeb strait thus neutralizing its ‘Malacca dilemma’. Beijing could use the military base to project its power into North Africa, as well as to strengthen its position in the Indian Ocean by prolonging their patrolling hauls in Indian ocean.
Once a colonial power, France still deploys its biggest overseas forces in Djibouti. After 9/11 attack, America also established Camp Lemonnier—its only permanent military base in Africa—in order to combat terrorism in Yemen and the Horn of Africa. Japan’s only foreign military base is also located in the capital Djibouti and is now set for expansion to counter China’s increasing influence in the region. While troops from Germany and Spain are hosted by the French, Italy has its own base.
By building a miliitary base, China intends to break the American-French-Japan hegemony in the region as all these nations already have their military bases in Djibouti. China has ambitious plans to become a global maritime power. For the purpose Beijing signed a military agreement with Djibouti allowing the Chinese navy to use Djibouti port in February 2014. Djibouti a small nation with population of 90,000 mostly rely on rent income out of its leased military bases.
China has firmly established strategic relation with Djibouti through billions of dollars of investment in its port and construction of a rail line to neighboring Ethiopia. It is firmly consolidating its One Belt- One Road project while encircling India with naval bases in Indian Ocean Region to be used in times of hostilities as it has to favorably settle its huge disputed border with India.
Two years on, we see a major progress in the light of President Kovind’s visit to Djibouti. Once I asked a former Navy Chief why does India also plan a military base in Djibouti? He said, it is not India’s policy to establish a military base on foreign land. I leave it there to you if India should change its policy over overseas military bases. If you like the story, give thumbs up, share it and do subscribe if you havn’t yet. I would eagerly read your valuable comments.