China Foreign Military Base

Indian Express

GS 2: India and its neighbourhood


  • China’s growing interest in acquiring foreign military bases has been reported for more than a decade. Beijing opened its first foreign military base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa in 2017. It is said to be building its second foreign military base at Ream, Cambodia.
  • It has become more engaged since 2008 when it participated in the multinational anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden.
  • Through acquiring foreign military bases, China is trying to assert its primacy in Asia and the Indo-Pacific region while pushing out the US and India. A permanent naval presence in the Indian Ocean will profoundly alter India’s security environment.


  • The recent US annual report on Chinese military power cites several countries that People’s Liberation Army is targeting for military bases.
  • In Bay of Bengal: Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka are candidates from the Bay of Bengal
  • To the West of India: Namibia, Seychelles, Tanzania, and the UAE.
  • Pakistan is likely to emerge as the most important vehicle for Chinese naval power projection in the Indian Ocean, with significant implications for India’s military planning.

Reasons behind this:

  • In the past, Communist China claimed that it had no interest in projecting power to distant seas or foreign military bases. China also actively campaigned against the foreign military presence in Asia.
  • As a defensive power in the second half of the 20th century, China’s priority was to fight off external threats to its sovereignty and consolidate its communist revolution. India also opposed foreign military bases in Asia and the Indian Ocean.
  • In the 21st century, India began to recognize the need for military access to strategic locations in the Indo-Pacific. China changed its policy to rose rapidly to become a great power in the 21st century.

– Due to its vast globalized economy and growing reliance on foreign markets and resources, a need was felt within the Chinese security establishment to secure its regional and global interests.

– In the 1970s, China valued the US role in containing Soviet social-imperialism and latent Japanese militarism. Today, China wants to establish primacy in Asia and its waters by expanding its military reach and is trying to push America out of Asia once again.

Hence, China started establishing foreign bases.

Strategy of China:

  • China’s focus was on building dual-use facilities rather than explicit military bases on foreign soil.
  • China’s dual-use approach benefited immensely from its expansive foreign port construction and the more recent Belt and Road Initiative to build infrastructure across the Indo-Pacific.
  • Cultivating special relationships with the political elites, as well as strengthening ties with the military establishments in a potential host country.
  • Arms transfer, and military diplomacy, are also an integral part of China’s pursuit of foreign bases.
  • There is a downside to the presence of foreign forces on the continent. For instance, the African security landscape has become overcrowded by a multiplicity of foreign security and military activities.
  • The competition among some of the world’s powers has been heightened by the increasing presence of Asian powers.

Efforts by India:

  • India is another Asian nation that has increased its naval presence in Africa. The country has established a network of military facilities across the Indian Ocean to counter China’s rising military footprint in the region.
  • It also wants to protect its commercial sea lanes from piracy.
  • India has ongoing deployments that monitor developments in the Horn of Africa and Madagascar. The country also plans to establish 32 coastal radar surveillance stations with sites in the Seychelles, Mauritius, and other locations outside Africa.


  • As the world’s second-largest economy, a great trading power with a rapidly growing navy, and a massive geopolitical ambition, China is bound to get, sooner than later, a permanent naval presence in the Indian Ocean that will profoundly alter India’s security environment.
  • In such case, Delhi’s efforts included negotiating arrangements with friendly states in the Indian Ocean, as well as developing deeper strategic partnerships with the US and its regional allies.
  • But India is still a long way from matching the speed and intensity of Chinese military diplomacy in its near and extended neighbouhood.
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