Why China is acquiring foreign military bases

News: USA recently convinced UAE to stop China from secretly constructing a military facility at an Abu Dhabi port. 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.

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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.

Which countries is China targeting for its foreign military bases?

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.

What are the reasons behind China’s pursuit of acquiring foreign military bases?

Background: 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.

This policy changed as China 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.

What are the features of the Chinese strategy of establishing foreign military bases?

Dual-use facilities: China’s focus was on building dual-use facilities rather than explicit military bases on foreign soil.

Construction of ports & BRI: 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.

What are the similarities and differences b/w Chinese and Indian positions on foreign military bases?
SimilaritiesDifferences
In the second half of the 20th century, India, like China, opposed foreign military bases in Asia and the Indian Ocean.China opposed foreign bases due to their direct security implications. Its rejection was political and contextual.

India’s opposition was based on an ideological principle of its non-aligned foreign policy

In the 21st century, like China, India also began to recognize the need for military access to strategic locations in the Indo-Pacific.

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.

Source: This post is based on the article “Why China is acquiring foreign military bases” published in The Indian Express on 23rd Nov 2021.

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