Chinese troops head back into the Djibouti desert for live-fire drills

Expect more frequent and advanced exercises down the track from military personnel at China’s only overseas base, analysts say

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 November, 2017, 7:01pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 November, 2017, 10:38pm

Troops from China’s only overseas military base have conducted another round of live-fire drills – exercises that analysts say could become more regular and advanced in the future.

The drills in Djibouti took place at the African nation’s national shooting range, People’s Daily reported late on Friday.

Tanks went on manoeuvres in the desert and soldiers held target practice, according to footage released by state broadcaster CCTV.

The drills mainly covered gunnery training and use of communication equipment, it said.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy said the exercise was to test run strategies.

Live-fire show of force by troops from China’s first overseas military base

Beijing-based military analyst Zhou Chenming said he expected more complex drills down the track.

“The overseas troops will engage in regular military exercises just like troops serving [in China]. But their practice should soon have a different focus, rather than basic shooting training, because their mission in Djibouti is to protect China’s interests in Africa, as well as peacekeeping,” Zhou said.

The Chinese troops first arrived in the northeastern Africa nation in July, one month ahead of the official opening of China’s first overseas military base.

In September, the troops held their first live ammunition drill.

The establishment of the base, which is located west of Djibouti City, the capital, is a sign of China’s growing military and diplomatic assertiveness. Djibouti already hosts military bases for the United States, Japan and France.

China offers loans to Djibouti as they vow to establish closer ties

Beijing has played down the military use of the base, claiming it will be used for logistics purposes.

The Chinese government has said the base will offer better support for the country’s peacekeeping and humanitarian missions in the waters off nearby Somalia and Yemen.

Zhou added that there were many limitations and challenges for Chinese troops overseas because they had to work with local military personnel and communities to prepare for crises, and so their preparation would require different training than troops at home.

Beijing-based military expert Li Jie said regular drills could be expected as China would need a well-trained army overseas.

“Many unexpected things can happen – no matter how big or small,” Li said. “The situation in an overseas military base is much more complicated than that faced by local armed forces.

“Apart from monitoring the sea, the troops have to be alerted of challenges in the region, especially instability in neighbouring African countries.”

China’s Djibouti military base: ‘logistics facility’, or platform for geopolitical ambitions overseas?

On Thursday, China vowed to establish a strategic partnership with Djibouti, as the nation’s president Ismail Omar Guelleh held talks with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

Both leaders repeated their commitment to deepening ties and cooperation.

They emphasised Djibouti’s location at a strategic choke point at the Red Sea, near the important maritime artery that is the Suez Canal.