Modern China is an already recognized emerging superpower, which ever-increasing global role is becoming more relevant on the international scene. Concept of Rejuvenation of Chinese nation announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 implies the superiority of China in the economy, international politics, and military. Enhancing military, especially navy, capabilities and reforming armed forces are millstones of this concept. Throughout its history, China has shown greater interest in building a strong army, ignoring the navy by comparison. Currently, the development of China’s geopolitical and economic maritime activities is a priority. Recently, Chinese leaders often use rhetoric in defense of China’s national interests and have characterized the initial 20 years of the 21st century as a “period of strategic opportunities” [Xu, 2014]. Last published White Paper on National Defense (2015) commits People’s Liberation Army (PLA) maintain safeguarding country’s interests in such a “new areas” as cybersecurity, space program development, and maritime forces. In 2017, China launched a national program targeting to elevate Chinese military to the “world class” level in 2049 [Zhao, 2017]. China’s military development attaches high priority not solely to enhance the high-quality of the army, but also to the improvement of the navy and aviation in order to slender the hole between China and different countries. Therefore, China’s defense funding is growing year by year. In 2018, China’s military spending reached $228, 2 billion and ranked the second after the United States, which military budget amounted $ 597, 2 billion last year [SIPRI, 2017].
After implementing a “going out” strategy in the global economy and policy since 2000, China became one of the major and most dynamic global investors. In practice, China is expanding its military presence outside mainland China. The system of building military cooperation is as follows: visits by the PLA, as well as requests for military logistics and access, a treaty on the basing of military bases, usually in those countries to which China has provided economic investments, loans to civilian infrastructure, and especially in significant seaports as strategically important locations [U.S. Department of Defense, 2018]. Thus, the national interests of China going beyond the framework of its own state and “going outside” also. China has demonstrated aggressive policy on China South Sea issue challenging the United States position at the region; also, Beijing opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti, supporting naval port in Pakistan’s Gwadar and has a military presence in Tajikistan border. On January 2019, Chinese PLA official stated that additional overseas military bases are possible [Zhao, 2019]. China justifies the opening of military bases abroad by protecting its national interests of foreign investments security, goods transportation, and anti-terroristic actions. China is pursuing a military presence based on a restructuring of the military course and the proliferation of its global economic interests, which adds claims to the PLA positions in the far sea points to protect Chinese citizens, investments and significant sea connectivity. It is obvious that China intends to expand access to overseas ports in order to prepare proper logistical protection for organizing the expansion of activities in seas over long distances. According to the White Paper on National Defense, the soldiers were instructed to uphold China’s national interests and support the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative (2013) connecting Europe and Asia, and, as a result, protect the country’s assets abroad. China allegedly concerns on investments security issue, after the military conflict in Libya in 2011, when the Chinese companies’ projects were frozen, and the damage estimated at $ 20 billion.
Obviously, China is preparing the stage for its soldiers to expand their remit of military operations. As a new global power, Beijing is developing its naval presence in the strategic regions of China for the creation of naval bases. The location of China’s foreign military bases is determined in countries that need external economic assistance, such as already established base in Djibouti. Beijing officially opened its first foreign military base in Doral, Djibouti in August 2017. The opening of the base was preceded by China’s civil infrastructure development of ports at Doral in 2013. According to the Chinese authorities, the base in Djibouti supports the PLA’s opposition to pirates, humanitarian aid and disaster relief and Peace Operations. The base is operated by a mechanized infantry company of the Marine Corps of the PLA, with at least eight combat infantry vehicles. The military base is equipped with barracks, underground facilities, tarmac highways and eight hangars for helicopter operations and unmanned aerial vehicles. The construction of a 450-meter pier in July 2018, which in mid-2019 will be able to set at least four ships, was also launched [U.S. Department of Defense, 2018]. This military unit of the PLA is capable of non-combatant evacuations in the Gulf of Aden, various small-scale military operations. Deployment in Djibouti is not accidental. The country has a strategically important location, linking the international trade artery through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and the Suez Canal. China transports goods worth $ 1 billion to Europe through this strait daily. In addition, the way that transporting 10 million barrels of world oil is very significant for China, as a large oil-importing country. To date, 47% of China’s imported oil comes from the Middle East transported through this strait [Kokarev, 2017]. It should be noted that American, French, Italian and Japanese military bases also represented in Djibouti, which once again underlines the strategic importance of the geographic location of this state. Chinese base, together with regular visits of armed service vessels to foreign ports, expands the coverage of the Chinese military, reflective the growing influence of China.
According to Bloomberg, China has a presence or potential base in Shri-Lanka, Pakistan, Tanzania, Mauritius, Maldives and Myanmar [Tweed, et al, 2018]. China is mostly developing commercial seaports or free trade zones in Indian Ocean’s points of these countries. Also, supporting these countries with finalized contracts for conventional arms and army sales. In case of implementation of these suggestions, the balance of power within the strategic both for the United States and for China Indo-Pacific region may look completely different.
In February 2019, the Washington Post published information on Chinese troops presence in Central Asia based on photo and interview in Tajikistan. The military site in Tajikistan is located a few miles from the passage to the Vakhan corridor of Afghanistan. However, the object was not officially recognized by the Chinese or Tajik governments [Shih, 2019]. Russian analysts also do not deny the possibility of the creation of military bases by China in Central Asia [Goble, 2019]. Such activity of China in the region is due to the desire to increase its influence in the neighboring region and the so-called “strategic hinterland”, and also to ensure that terrorist groups will not be able to restrict China’s intercontinental trade with Europe. However, this project is definitely challenged by the recent increasing synophobia in Central Asia.
In conclusion, the Chinese military strategy also goes through new transformations and evolutions, which correspond to the country’s economic capacity and global relations’ trends. China, being one of the largest and most dynamic investors in the world, produces military activities in regions where China’s interests meet challenges and threats. As a result of the increasing role of China in the global arena, there is a redistribution of spheres of influence between China and the existing global players. Zhang Heng from the Academy of Military Science PLA described current Chinese defense policy as “China has gone from an emphasis on passive defense to an emphasis on active defense” [Zhang, 2013]. China may initiate the creation of additional military bases in countries with which it has similar strategic interests and friendly relations and in which there is a precedent for a large deployment of Chinese investment. However, this will depend on the willingness of countries to maintain a military-based PLA presence.
Goble Paul (2019). China Will Have Military Bases in Central Asia Within Five Years, Russian Expert Says. Retrieved from https://jamestown.org/program/china-will-have-military-bases-in-central-asia-within-five-years-russian-expert-says/. Accessed on 6.04.2019.
Shih, Gerry (2018). In Central Asia’s forbidding highlands, a quiet newcomer: Chinese troops. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/in-central-asias-forbidding-highlands-a-quiet-newcomer-chinese-troops/2019/02/18/78d4a8d0-1e62-11e9-a759-2b8541bbbe20_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.bd789ee26334. Accessed on 9.04.2019.
SIPRI (2017). Retrieved from https://chinapower.csis.org/military-spending/SIPRI. Accessed on 6.04.2019.
Tweed David, Adrian Leung (2018). China Is Making a Bold Military Power Play. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2018-china-navy-bases/?cmpId=flipboard&utm_content=buffer199d4&utm_medium=social&utm_source=linkedin.com&utm_campaign=buffer. Accessed on 6.04.2019.
U.S. Department of Defense (2018). Assessment on U.S. Defense Implications of China’s Expanding Global Access. Retrieved from https://media.defense.gov/2019/Jan/14/2002079292/-1/-1/1/EXPANDING-GLOBAL-ACCESS-REPORT-FINAL.PDF. Accessed on 8.04.2019.
Xu, Jian (2014). Rethinking China’s Period of Strategic Opportunity. Retrieved from http://www.ciis.org.cn/english/2014-05/28/content_6942258.htm. Accessed on 7.04.2019.
Zhang, Heng (2013). Characteristics of Chinese Military Culture: A Historical Perspective Institute. Retrieved from http://isdp.eu/content/uploads/publications/2013-heng-chinese-military-culture.pdf. Accessed on 6.04.2019.
Zhao, Lei (2017). PLA to be world-class force by 2050. Retrieved from http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2017-10/27/content_33756453.htm. Accessed on 6.04.2019.
Zhao, Lei (2019). Additional overseas PLA bases ‘possible’. Retrieved from http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201901/10/WS5c368814a3106c65c34e390b.html. Accessed on 6.04.2019.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Azhar Serikkaliyeva graduated from China Studies Department of the Faculty of Oriental Studies in Al-Farabi Kazakh National University in 2008. She completed master education in 2010 by presenting her master thesis namely ‘Chinese strategy of peaceful rising and current sino-kazakh relations ’. She holds a Masters in Area Studies from al-Farabi Kazakh National University. Azhar Serikkaliyeva started doctorate process in 2010 and completed it in 2014 by presenting her PhD thesis ‘Chinese social and economic activity at the SCO’. During academic career she has published more than 20 scientific p