Djibouti, which is at the head of the Horn of Africa region, is the country with the smallest surface area in the African continent. However, its closeness to the Middle East region, its location in the Bab-ül Mandeb Strait, and its importance in energy passage routes carry this country to an important point in the eyes of the great states. China is one of the states that care and invest in the Horn of Africa country in question. Diplomatic relations between China and Djibouti started on 8 January 1979. The reform and opening-up policy implemented by China in the last 41 years and the relations it has developed with African countries such as Djibouti are a natural result of the integration of the Beijing administration into the world. Therefore, the relations between the sides give ideas about the impact of the Beijing administration on the African continent.
Cooperation between the two countries has progressed smoothly for 41 years. As the political trust in the relations deepens, the mutual ties have also strengthened. As a matter of fact, the sides signed an agreement in 2017, which started a new era between the two countries and aimed to establish a strategic partnership. Following the aforementioned agreement, the Beijing administration established a military base in Djibouti, and this base became the first official base outside of China’s borders. At the same time, China’s establishment of a military base also shows that it is in search of a new and permanent military presence beyond its borders. In addition, Djibouti is one of the African countries that signed an agreement with China in the context of the Belt-Road Project.
China-Djibouti relations should be examined in the context of Beijing administration’s economic interests and policies towards the Middle East and North Africa region. Considering China’s relations with Djibouti, it can be said that the Belt-Road Project had an accelerating effect in the course of relations. Djibouti is seen as a commercial center by Beijing due to China’s overseas investments and economic interests in the African continent.
The first reason for the issue is the strategic location of Djibouti. Because Djibouti, located on one of the busiest maritime routes in the world, is one of the most critical places for China’s economic interests. Considering that Beijing has a trade of more than 1 billion dollars with European Union (EU) countries in a day, a significant part of this trade passes through the Gulf of Aden, and that at least 40 percent of China’s total oil imports are made through the Indian Ocean, the aforementioned country’s importance, in the eyes of Beijing, can be better understood. Djibouti has a geographic location that controls access to both the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean; it also connects the Asia-Pacific, the Persian Gulf, and the Horn of Africa region. It is possible to define Djibouti, which is at the gateway to the Red Sea, as an important center that allows the passage to North Africa and the Middle East regions.
The second reason is that in the Belt-Road Project, which started to be implemented in 2013, Djibouti becomes a logistics center on the trade routes extending from China to the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden; from there, to the Mediterranean via the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. In addition, China wants to build a railway line from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, to Djibouti, which costs 3.4 billion dollars. The investment in question plays an important role in maximizing Djibouti’s strategic position in the context of the Belt-Road Project.
The third reason is that Djibouti is at an important point in terms of ensuring China’s energy security. Although only 3% of Beijing’s crude oil imports and only 4% of natural gas imports pass through the Bab-ul-Mandeb Strait, China, with its military base in Djibouti, facilitates the passage of oil and natural gas through the strait and ensures that these imports are protected.
The last reason why Djibouti is an important center for China is that most of the $14.4 billion worth infrastructure projects in the country are financed by Chinese banks. In other words, the Beijing administration has important economic interests in the aforementioned country.
After China established a military base, Djibouti became the center of attention of Western states. However, some Western actors already have bases in this country. But China’s establishment of a military base means that a new player is involved in the game. This has attracted the attention of Western actors. Although it is foreseen that China will want to increase its influence in the country through the mentioned base, the Beijing administration currently states that the base provides logistical support and protection to Chinese trade ships and officials that use the Gulf of Aden.
Actually Djibouti; hosts the military bases of Western states such as the United States of America (USA), France, and Italy. However, these countries are not interested in investing in Djibouti. The USA, which is the country with the highest number of soldiers in Djibouti with 4,000 soldiers, established a base in the region, using the terrorist activities in Yemen as an excuse, and acted in line with its geopolitical interests. France, on the other hand, has 1000-people military unit; it has the second largest union in the country. At the same time, Djibouti is the country where France has the most troops in Africa.
Obviously, Western states pay rent to Djibouti for bases; but do not invest in it. However, China is making infrastructure moves in the context of the Belt-Road Project. Of course, the Beijing administration is doing this in the name of its economic interests. However, investments also create opportunities for the development of Djibouti. This is welcomed by Djiboutian decision-makers. Thanks to Chinese investments and aid in the country, economic growth exceeded the 5 percent band and was recorded as 6.7 percent in 2017. There has been a noticebla increase in infrastructure projects, started in 2015, many of which were financed by loans from China, and this situation has been a decisive factor in Djibouti’s economic growth.
China also has future projects related to Djibouti. Djibouti International Free Trade Zone is planned to be implemented with a 3.5 billion dollars worth project that is planned to be built on a land of 4,800 hectares. As a matter of fact, the first leg of the project in question was opened in 2018. When the project is completed, Djibouti, strengthening its position as a trade center, will become the largest free trade zone in Africa. Moreover, it is planned to create more than 50,000 jobs for the people of Djibouti by 2025. For this reason, the approach of the Djiboutian government and its people towards China is extremely positive, unlike the Western powers. However, the number of people who are afraid of becoming dependent on China is not few. Because the question of how to repay the loans taken from China is quite thought-provoking.
As a result, Djibouti, which controls access to the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea through the Bab-ül Mandeb Strait, is at a strategic point within the scope of security policies in North Africa and the Middle East. This has increased the importance of Djibouti in terms of trade and security. Because of this importance, the country in question has been a place where great powers such as the USA, France, and China have their troops. Therefore, it can be said that one of the main playgrounds of the increasing USA-China rivalry in Africa can be Djibouti. As a result of this struggle, it can be stated that Djibouti’s place in world politics will come to the fore. In the current situation, despite various concerns, China’s influence in the country is much higher than that of other Western states, especially the USA.
The articles on our website are the personal opinions of the author and may not reflect the institutional view of Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Research (ANKASAM).
 Konu hakkında detaylı bilgi için bkz. “Message de bienvenue”, Ambassade de la Republicue Populaire de Chine en Republicue de Djibouti, http://dj.china-embassy.org/fra/dszc/t369988.htm, (Date of Accession: 17.10.2021)
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 Yu Jincui, “The truth behind China’s presence in Djibouti”, Global Times, https://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1135256.shtml, (Date of Accession: 19.10.2021)