IN CRISP white uniforms and standing to attention beneath a fluttering red flag with five golden stars, the sailors on board the People’s Liberation Army ships setting sail for Djibouti on July 11th represent a significant step for China. When they arrive they will open the Middle Kingdom’s first military base abroad since the Korean war.
It is a canny first foray. China has prepared the ground with low-key deployments of blue-helmeted troops to UN operations in places such as South Sudan. And it has placed the base in a country that is likely to cause the least offence.
America already has a large airfield and naval station in Djibouti. From there it conducts counter-terrorism operations, and watches the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, both much used by smugglers trafficking drugs, weapons and people. And China’s main regional rival, India, cannot argue that the installation represents a significant projection of power into an ocean it regards as its own. The base will…
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