Major Communication Breakdown During Chinese Live-Fire Exercises in Djibouti – 11/28/17

On 23 November, the Chinese military conducted live-fire exercises with ZTL-11 amphibious assault vehicles at the Maryam Training Area in the Republic of Djibouti. These exercises were closely followed by Western militaries based in Djibouti. This is not because these militaries currently see the Chinese military as an immediate threat in the region. Rather, it is because they view the Chinese military as another force with which they have “to share a common operating space.” Western militaries therefore perceive that it is in their strategic interest to keep a close eye on any Chinese military activities on the continent.

In this context, it is perhaps not surprising that reports of what actually transpired during the live-fire exercises are beginning to trickle out. Yesterday, foreign military officials revealed that they were not only surprised that the Chinese military conducted the exercises outside of the normal hours at the range. They also felt that the Chinese military did not have the proper authorization to conduct the exercises in the first place. This led to intense speculation over what statement the Chinese military was trying to make with these exercises.

Earlier today, new information came to light that casts a shadow over these concerns. According to a foreign military official, the Chinese military was provided authorization to conduct these exercises by the Djiboutian Government. Afterwards, the Djiboutian Government attempted to notify the French military prior to the exercises. However, there was a “technical issue that delayed the reception of the fax.” So, the French Forces in Djibouti were not aware that the Chinese military had the authorization to conduct the exercises until the last 24 hours. This was problematic. The French Forces in Djibouti are ultimately responsible for overseeing the Maryam Training Area. So, other Western militaries were in the dark about whether the Chinese military had the authorization to conduct the exercises until this morning.

If the latest reports are true, then this coordination problem not only provides a powerful indictment of the current status of the range coordination process. It also exposes the day-to-day challenge of trying to coordinate the military activities of the many foreign military forces operating in Djibouti. It is therefore in the best interest of the Djiboutian Government and the overseas military bases in Djibouti to start working toward developing a new mechanism for addressing these problems. Of course, this will be difficult in light of the many competing interests of the foreign military forces in Djibouti. The Djiboutian Government and the overseas military bases in Djibouti will therefore need to be extremely creative when trying to work out a legally valid solution to these problems.

Michael Edward Walsh is the Director of the Overseas Military Bases in Africa Initiative at the Islands Society. Separately, he is a Research Fellow for African Studies at The Johns Hopkins University SAIS. This article is derived from his ongoing doctoral research on counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa and Southern Arabia.

Image Credit: compacflt via Flickr CC

Islands Society Told of Communications Breakdown During Recent Chinese Live-Fire Exercises in Djibouti – 11/28/17

The Islands Society can confirm that a foreign military officer has shared new information that the Chinese military was provided official authorization to conduct live-fire exercises at the Maryam Training Area, Djibouti. However, the French military did not receive the notification of authorization because of a technical issue that delayed the reception of a fax sent by the Djiboutian Government until earlier this morning.

Reported Unauthorized Use of Djiboutian Range Fuels Speculation on Chinese Intentions in Africa – 11/27/17

Last week, the Chinese military conducted live-fire exercises at a range in the Republic of Djibouti. News of these exercises made headlines across China and around the world. Images of the soldiers and tanks participating in the exercises were also widely shared on social media.

According to media reporting, Chinese military officials maintain that the purpose of these exercises was to put their strategies to the test. They also point out that these exercises are consistent with their stated commitment to ensure that their soldiers stationed in Djibouti conduct regular military exercises on par with their colleagues stationed back home. Meanwhile, Chinese military experts suggest that these exercises were not just a way to showcase the Chinese military on the world stage. They may also be a prologue to more complex drills to be carried out later this year.

Any live-fire exercises by the Chinese military will be closely followed by Western militaries in Djibouti. This is not because Western militaries see the Chinese military as an immediate threat in Eastern Africa. Rather, it is because Western militaries view the Chinese military as “an opposing force” with which they have “to share a common operating space.” It is perhaps not surprising then that reports of what actually transpired during the live-fire exercises are beginning to trickle out. For example, a foreign military official recently revealed that the Chinese military was observed using the range outside of their scheduled permit for use. According to the foreign military official, this may have been an intentional affront to the French military who manages the ranges. If so, then the Chinese military may have been trying to make the statement that they have effectively replaced the French military as the dominant military force in the country.

In an opinion article for the Global Times, Su Tan suggests that last week’s live-fire exercises aroused concern because of “persistent speculation over China’s intentions.” Unfortunately, the Chinese Government has done very little to assuage concerns over the intentions of the Chinese military in this part of the world. Moreover, the People’s Liberation Army Security Base in Djibouti remains shrouded in secrecy since it opened in August. And, the Chinese military has been aggressive in their interactions with their American counterparts since their first live-fire exercise in September. In this context, last week’s live-fire exercises were bound to fuel further speculation over China’s intentions in the region. The reported use of the range outside of their scheduled permit of use only adds more fuel to that fire.

Michael Edward Walsh is the Director of the Overseas Military Bases in Africa Initiative at the Islands Society. Separately, he is a Research Fellow for African Studies at The Johns Hopkins University SAIS. This article is derived from his ongoing doctoral research on counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa and Southern Arabia.

Note: This article was re-distributed by the DefenceWeb – Africa’s Leading Defence News Portal.

Image Credit: unmissmultimedia via Flickr CC

Islands Society Launches Base Tracker for Chinese Military Base in Doraleh, Djibouti – 11/25/17

Today, the Islands Society has launched a base tracker for overseas military base of the People’s Republic of China in Doraleh, Djibouti. The tracker provides the general public with a way to observe changes in and around the Chinese base over time through targeted geo-spatial imagery. Moving forward, the geo-spatial imagery will be updated as new imagery becomes available.

To view the new Base Tracker, click here.

About the Islands Society

The Islands Society is a “Top-Rated” American 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Its mission is to inspire and empower islanders to participate in foreign affairs and overseas engagements in order to affect positive change in their local communities. The nonprofit therefore develops and implements projects that are designed to help islanders realize their full potential on the world stage.

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Image Credit: Michael Edward Walsh / Google Earth via Creative Commons

Islands Society Confirms Expansion of Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti – 11/24/17

The Islands Society can now confirm that the Japanese Government has renewed the land lease contract for the Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti. This includes not only the original plot of land but also an additional plot of land to the north-east of the current base. The additional land measures approximately 3 hectares. And, the effective date of the renewal is 20 November 2017.

Press Release Confirming the Expansion of the Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti

Note: DefenceWeb recently published an in-depth article on the expansion of the Japan Self-Defense Force Base by the Director of the Overseas Military Bases Initiative at the Islands Society. Please find it here.

The Official Blog of Ambassador David Shinn Features Articles by Michael Edward Walsh – 11/24/17

On 24 November 2017, The Official Blog of Ambassador David Shinn featured a number of articles by Michael Edward Walsh that were originally published on the Africa Security Monitor as part of the Overseas Military Bases in Africa Initiative.

Website: The Official Blog of Ambassador David Shinn

About Michael Edward Walsh
Michael Edward Walsh is a research fellow for African Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Separately, he is also president of the Islands Society and director of the Overseas Military Bases in Africa Initiative. Over the last decade, Mr. Walsh’s work has appeared in dozens of international news outlets and think tank publications. He has also received a number of awards, including the Vivian Award from the National Press Club and a Certificate of Appreciation from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

About the Islands Society
The Islands Society is a “Top-Rated” American 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Its mission is to inspire and empower islanders to participate in foreign affairs and overseas engagements in order to affect positive change in their local communities. The nonprofit therefore develops and implements projects that are designed to help islanders realize their full potential on the world stage.

Website
Facebook
Twitter

Image Credit: Department of State via Flickr CC

DefenceWeb Features Analysis of Japanese Military Base in Djibouti by Michael Edward Walsh – 11/24/17

On 24 November 2017, DefenceWeb published analysis on the upcoming expansion of the Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti by Michael Edward Walsh. The report was also featured on the Africa Security Monitor as part of the Overseas Military Bases in Africa Initiative.

Downloadable Copies: Islands Society & DefenceWeb

About Michael Edward Walsh
Michael Edward Walsh is a research fellow for African Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Separately, he is also president of the Islands Society and director of the Overseas Military Bases in Africa Initiative. Over the last decade, Mr. Walsh’s work has appeared in dozens of international news outlets and think tank publications. He has also received a number of awards, including the Vivian Award from the National Press Club and a Certificate of Appreciation from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

About the Islands Society
The Islands Society is a “Top-Rated” American 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Its mission is to inspire and empower islanders to participate in foreign affairs and overseas engagements in order to affect positive change in their local communities. The nonprofit therefore develops and implements projects that are designed to help islanders realize their full potential on the world stage.

Website
Facebook
Twitter

Image Credit: OMBAI

USC Center on Public Diplomacy Features Analysis of Djibouti Regional Training Center by Michael Edward Walsh – 11/24/17

On 15 November 2017, the USC Center on Public Diplomacy published analysis on the Djibouti Regional Training Center (DRTC) by Michael Edward Walsh. The report was also featured on the Africa Security Monitor as part of the Overseas Military Bases in Africa Initiative.

Downloadable Copies: Center on Public Diplomacy & Islands Society

About Michael Edward Walsh
Michael Edward Walsh is a research fellow for African Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Separately, he is also president of the Islands Society and director of the Overseas Military Bases in Africa Initiative. Over the last decade, Mr. Walsh’s work has appeared in dozens of international news outlets and think tank publications. He has also received a number of awards, including the Vivian Award from the National Press Club and a Certificate of Appreciation from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

About the Islands Society
The Islands Society is a “Top-Rated” American 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Its mission is to inspire and empower islanders to participate in foreign affairs and overseas engagements in order to affect positive change in their local communities. The nonprofit therefore develops and implements projects that are designed to help islanders realize their full potential on the world stage.

Website
Facebook
Twitter

Image Credit: IMO UN via Flickr CC

The Expansion of the Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti – Michael Edward Walsh

Last year, Japanese officials revealed that the Japanese Government would lease additional land to expand the Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti. According to media reporting at the time, the expansion of the base is intended to serve as a counterweight to the expanding strategic footprint of China in Africa and the Middle East. The Japanese Government still plans to lease additional land to expand the Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti. In fact, the Japanese Government hopes to finalize a lease on the additional land within a week or so. However, the Japanese Government does not intend to build on this land until the next fiscal year. This is due to cyclical budgetary constraints. Once the lease is finalized, it will be interesting to see whether the expansion of the base will lead to a further expansion of the functions of the base. At the end of the day, the Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti serves as an important mechanism for advancing the normalization agenda of the Abe Administration. The expansion of the base therefore not only provides an opportunity to further expand the functions of the base. It also provides an opportunity to further reform Japanese security policy.

The Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti

The Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti is the first Japanese overseas military base since World War II. Opened on 5 July 2011, the base is located on the northwest side of the Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport. Unlike the French Naval Base of Djibouti, the Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti does not provide docking for naval ships. It is also considerably smaller than the American and French expeditionary bases at Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport. However, the base does provide the Japan Self-Defense Force with direct access to a joint civilian/military-use airport. It also provides the Japanese Self-Defense Force with easy access to the American, French, and Italian expeditionary bases. This is useful in supporting multinational operations.

Overseas Military Bases at Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport (Source: OMBAI)
The Function of the Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti

The Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti was specifically designed to support counter-piracy operations in the immediate vicinity of the Gulf of Aden. The primary function of the base remains to provide support for counter-piracy operations. However, the Japanese Government now supports counter-piracy operations beyond just the immediate vicinity of the Gulf of Aden. In fact, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces regularly conduct counter-piracy operations in a block of the Indian Ocean south of the island of Socotra Island, Yemen and east of the Puntland State of Somalia. These operations are in support of Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151).

Approximate Location of Expanded Japanese Counter-Piracy Operations South of Socotra Island, Yemen (Source: OMBAI)
The function of the base has also expanded beyond support for counter-piracy operations. In recent years, the Japanese military has used the base to support peacekeeping operations in South Sudan. The Japanese military has also used the base to support the emergency evacuation of Japanese citizens from South Sudan. More recently, the function of the base expanded to support for multilateral non-combat exercises. In fact, the base was used to a joint-nation noncombatant evacuation operation (JN-NEO) exercise less than two months ago. This exercise was initiated by the Japanese Government. And, it marked the first time that the base has supported this kind of activity.

The Expansion of the Japan Self-Defenses Force Base in Djibouti

The Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti was not designed to support current operational demands on the base. That is one of the main reasons why the Japanese Government is pursuing the lease of additional land that can be used to expand the base. According to foreign military officials, the Japanese Government has already identified an approximately 3-hectare parcel of land that they intend to lease. This land is part of an empty lot adjacent to northeast side of the current base. The Japanese Government has largely settled on the terms for the lease. In fact, the Japanese Government is close to finalizing the lease with the Djiboutian Government. The Japanese Government hopes to be able to do so in the next week or so. However, the Japanese Self-Defense Force is not in a position to immediately build upon the additional land due to cyclical budgetary constraints. For this reason, it is unlikely that the base facilities will be expanded before the next fiscal year.

Empty Lot Partially Sought by the Japanese Government (Source: OMBAI)

The Politics of the Japan Self-Defenses Force Base in Djibouti

If the expansion of the Japan Self-Defenses Force Base in Djibouti moves forward, it will be interesting to see whether the expansion of the base will be followed by an expansion of the functions of the base. As pointed out in a separate article, Japanese military activities in Eastern Africa are a significant element in Abe’s “historical mission” to amend the Japanese Constitution. In recent years, the Abe Administration has used counter-piracy operations in the Western Indian Ocean, peacekeeping operations on the African continent, emergency evacuation operations from Africa countries, and multilateral exercise in Djibouti to advance incremental changes in Japanese security policy. The Japanese Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti enables these kinds of activities in Africa and the Middle East. The base therefore serves a higher political purpose. It is an important mechanism for advancing the normalization agenda of the Abe Administration. In this light, the expansion of the base not only provides an opportunity to further expand the functions of the base beyond support for counter-piracy operations. It also provides an opportunity to further normalize Japanese security policy beyond the reforms that have already taken place.

Michael Edward Walsh is a Research Fellow for African Studies at The Johns Hopkins University SAIS. He is also the Director of the Overseas Military Bases in Africa Initiative at the Islands Society. This article is derived from his ongoing doctoral research on counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa and Southern Arabia.

Note: An edited version of this article was re-published by DefenceWeb – Africa’s Leading Defence News Portal.

A Fieldnote on How the American Military Views the Chinese Military in Djibouti – Michael Edward Walsh

The Chinese military on August 1 formally opened its first overseas military base in Doraleh, Djibouti. According to the Chinese government, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) base in Djibouti will be used to support peacekeeping and humanitarian missions in Africa and the Middle East. However, there are strong indications that the base will also be used to facilitate surveillance activities across the region and beyond. The Chinese base therefore raises significant operational security concerns for U.S. military officials stationed at U.S. military installations in Africa and the Middle East. Some even worry that the Chinese base “could provide a front-row seat to the staging ground for American counterterror operations in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa.” Nevertheless, officials stationed at Camp Lemonnier—the U.S. naval expeditionary base in Djibouti—do not appear to view the Chinese military as a strategic threat to the U.S. military in the Horn of Africa, and see it in a more nuanced light.

The Current Situation

Over the past three months, I have been conducting field interviews with U.S. military officials stationed at Camp Lemonnier as part of my doctoral research on counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa. Those interviews reveal that, rather than a strategic threat, those officials view the PLA as an opposing force with which the U.S. military has to share a common operating space. The U.S. military is therefore trying to find ways to increase cooperation with their Chinese counterparts. However, little progress has been made to date. To some extent, this is because Chinese military officials have been overly aggressive in their interactions with their U.S. counterparts. Until that changes, U.S. military officials express doubt that they can make much progress on achieving that increased cooperation in the Horn of Africa region.

The Short View

Over the past few months, U.S. military officials acknowledge that there have been a number of interactions between officials at Camp Lemonnier and Chinese military officials at the PLA base in Djibouti. However, these interactions have been strictly limited to the most senior officials. On the U.S. side, they have typically been limited to three senior military officials. Because of the aforementioned aggressive behavior, the U.S. military now requires two or more senior U.S. officials to be present during any interactions with their Chinese counterparts. In addition, according to the interviewed U.S. officials, Chinese military officials have also been responsible for a number of unspecified “probing attempts” against the U.S. base. These attempts have significantly increased since the first live fire military drills at the PLA base a few weeks ago. Based on these observations, U.S. military officials are doubtful that their Chinese counterparts are interested in promoting increased cooperation with the U.S. military in the Horn of Africa region.

The Long View

Based on my field interviews, it appears that U.S. military officials are genuinely committed to finding ways to promote increased cooperation with their Chinese counterparts. However, it also appears that the officials are increasingly frustrated by the way that Chinese military officials approach their interactions with their U.S. counterparts. It therefore appears unlikely that there will be a major breakthrough in military-military cooperation between China and the United States in the Horn of Africa region in the near-term. Nevertheless, such cooperation could be possible in the long-term if Chinese military officials demonstrate less-aggressive behavior.

Note: This article was first published by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.