China is set to install "a few thousand" troops and staff at its first ever overseas military base, the first permanent overseas deployment by Chinese armed forces.
The new naval facility will sit in the same city as America's own sprawling African military headquarters in Djibouti, the Horn of Africa country where the US has a 4,500-strong base running counter-terrorism operations across the region. Japan, which also has its only overseas military base in Djibouti, already faces a tense stand-off with China over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
The move underscores concerns that China, historically inward-looking and non-interventionist, is making a policy shift to assert itself as a global military power. Djibouti occupies a vital strategic position at the southern entrance to the Red Sea from the Indian Ocean, with 30 per cent of the world's shipping passing close by.
China has already vowed to near-quadruple its contribution to global peacekeeping operations, to 8,000 troops, and is explicitly building up aircraft and submarine capabilities in pursuit of what it frames as a new responsibility to help assure global peace and stability.