When India is thinking about tackling China's aggressive designs in the Sikkim sector, the Dragon took the game a step further by setting up its first overseas military base in Djibouti, the tiny country in the Horn of Africa region. This move by the Chinese, although claimed to be serving humanitarian and peacekeeping purposes, is a strategic masterstroke against two of its main competitors in international politics – the US and India.
China has chosen to make a base in Djibouti, a poor but relatively stable country (both aspects going in favour of Beijing) and strategically significant country with which the Chinese had made "friendly negotiations" in the recent past. Djibouti is close to one of the world's busiest trade route and harbouring a base there will certainly bolster the Chinese position in matters pertaining to the world economy.
A move to match the Americans outside its 'comfort zone'
But even more than that, China has made the move to match the Americans who have been running its major military base in the same country since the early 2000s in the form of Camp Lemonnier. The US has other outposts and airfields in the African continent belonging to its allies but the base in Djibouti is considered the only full-scale military one which serves the US Africa Command or US AFRICOM.
The Chinese have decided to open its overseas base in Djibouti as a counterstrike to the US's adventurism in its backyard like the South China Sea. In fact, another West Asian regional power Saudi Arabia, too, has decided to set up a base in Djibouti to counter Iran's influence in the region. It will also help Riyadh to keep a close watch on the ties that Somalia, a neighbour of Djibouti, with Qatar with which it is at serious loggerheads at the moment.
For China, Djibouti presents an excellent opportunity to make its first moves towards emerging as a world power. Its ambition has been facilitated by the Americans' diminishing stature in world politics in the era of President Donald Trump.
Moreover, at a time when the Chinese have locked horns with a number of countries, particularly the neighbours, the very opening of an overseas base gives a tremendous boost to Beijing's plans of having worldwide presence.
And the Chinese are doing it in style. They have not reached out to Djibouti with hard power, unlike the Americans, and are trying to more influence than dominate a strategic region. For the Americans who are doing things half-heartedly in foreign relations now, this could be a decisive moment of losing clout.
Chinese move also looks to make String of Pearls against India stronger
The Chinese move is also aimed at India, its second biggest strategic competitor. Just when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is trying to secure India's interests in the strategic Indian Ocean Region by taking into confidence countries like Mauritius and Seychelles and some others adjoining the Indian Ocean (PM Modi made a four-nation visit to Africa this time last year specifically for this purpose), China's re-emphasis on the String of Pearls to encircle India from west to east will make South Block worried.
It would also be seen as China's expansionism in the northwestern zone of the Indian Ocean as a counter to the proximity between India, US and Japan as the annual Malabar Exercise suggests. The Chinese have pulled the string joining Gwadar port in Pakistan, Djibouti, Marao atoll in Maldives, Hambantota port in Sri Lanka and Chittagong port in Bangladesh to contain India from west to south and east. New Delhi needs to think out a countermove fast for Beijing never falls short of innovation.