China dispatched troops to set up its first military base overseas on Tuesday.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing the base would enable China to make "new and greater contributions" to peace in Africa and the world and would benefit Djibouti's economic development. "This base can support Chinese Navy to go farther, so it means a lot", according to CNN.
"It's not about seeking to control the world", said the editorial. The stated aim of the base is to buttress China's peacekeeping efforts on the continent, as well as providing ongoing support to ships under threat from pirates in the region. However, it is not only the U.S. who might be feeling the threat of China's presence in Djibouti; the new military base also means China has a number of military alliances surrounding India, who are one of China's geopolitical rivals on the Asian continent.
Mattis also discussed the issue of China's growing influence in Djibouti with officials of the African country.
In 2015, China detached three navy ships from the anti-piracy patrols to rescue Chinese citizens and other foreign nationals from fighting in Yemen. To that end, over the past two years, China has cut down its defence spending with the military budget in 2017 standing at 7 percent, the lowest hike in more than 10 years.
But while China may downplay the importance of moving the amphibious transport dock and mobile landing platform vessels to Djibouti, the significance of establishing its first permanent overseas military facilities in such a strategic location is undeniable. Djibouti is a small country that covers 23,180 square kilometers of land with a population of 774,389, in the Horn of Africa right at the entrance of the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden.
The People's Daily cites an article published by the PLA announcing that "the old military structure, where the army accounts for the vast majority, will be replaced after the reform".
Elsewhere in Djibouti, the USA military operates the Chabelley Airfield, from which the Pentagon stages drone airstrikes, likely into Somalia and across the Bab el-Mandeb Strait into Yemen, according to the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College in NY.
According to Reuters, China had started the construction of the base in Djibouti a year ago.