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China’s New Network of Indian Ocean Bases

China's New Network of Indian Ocean Bases

By: David Brewster

Putting ‘String of Pearls’ Theory into Practice

As per the recent reports from Pakistan, China is about to construct a naval and air base near Gwadar. This would be China’s second base in the Indian Ocean and indicates that it may be moving fast to establish a network of military bases across the region.

China’s first overseas base at Djibouti

In July 2017, China opened its first (and so far only) foreign military base at Djibouti. The base includes a naval port and a large helicopter base as well as accommodation for 10,000 troops. Its establishment was a big step for Beijing which had long decried foreign bases as the domain of Western imperialists.

But a base at Djibouti makes a lot of sense for China, for several reasons. It was a relatively uncontroversial move given the existing presence in Djibouti of French, US and Japanese forces (soon to be joined by the Saudis). Djibouti makes a convenient hub for supporting China’s anti-piracy operations in the Arabian Sea and Chinese–UN peacekeeping operations in Africa. It would also be a good staging point for civilian evacuations and in time would be handy for supporting Chinese military interventions across Africa and the Middle East.

China’s first colony on the Indian Ocean

The Djibouti base is only the first step in what is likely to become a network of Chinese bases across the Indian Ocean. Many analysts had long thought that the next Chinese naval base would be established at Gwadar. The port city is on track to become a major waypoint in China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the Indian Ocean node of a new overland pathway to western China.

China’s Gwadar Plans

China’s plans for Gwadar are ambitious. There are reports that it is planning to build accommodation for up to 500,000 Chinese nationals in Gwadar within five years, and it seems likely they will be accompanied by a large contingent of Chinese marines. This would overwhelm Gwadar’s existing population of around 100,000 people, effectively making Gwadar China’s first colony in the Indian Ocean.

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