China recently built an outpost in Djibouti. Though that base is located near the US’ Camp Lemonnier in the Horn of Africa, US military officials don’t see it as a threat to Washington’s operations.
The report stated that China, the world’s fourth largest arms dealer, "most likely will seek to establish additional military bases in countries with which it has a longstanding friendly relationship and similar strategic interests, such as Pakistan, and in which there is a precedent for hosting foreign militaries … This initiative, along with regular naval vessel visits to foreign ports, both reflects and amplifies China’s growing influence, extending the reach of its armed forces."
This expansion by China is part of its New Silk Road initiative, also called the Belt and Road initiative, an effort to create an intercontinental network of highways, trade routes, ports and rail lines for economic development. The proposed land and sea networks would make their way through Europe, Asia and Africa and are touted as bringing economic benefits to countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The South China Morning Post quotes PLA arms control adviser Xu Guangyu as saying "Offshore Chinese investment is growing and there are more Chinese companies and citizens active overseas. That will increase with the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ … In the future, China will need at least 10 to 20 ports around the world, in all oceans and continents."
Though this activity could help strengthen China’s global military presence and help develop economic interests, Beijing’s base-building efforts "may be constrained by the willingness of countries to support" China’s People’s Liberation Army in their countries, according to the Pentagon assessment.
The report doesn’t speak to China building new islands in contested regional waters, though Beijing has reportedly reclaimed land in the South China Sea amounting to 3,200 acres.
The new assessment focuses instead on the buildup on Spratly Islands, noting that last year the Mischief, Subi and Fiery Cross Reefs, three of the largest outposts, saw the construction of 24 administration buildings, barracks, fixed weapons positions, communication facilities and fighter-sized hangars by China, each of them with runways 8,800 feet long.
According to the report, the Spratly Islands will be able to house three fighter regiments once China completes construction.
Four smaller outposts have also seen infrastructure build-up, including communications facilities and land-based guns.
"China has used coercive tactics, such as the use of law enforcement vessels and its maritime militia, to enforce maritime claims and advance its interests in ways that are calculated to fall below the threshold of provoking conflict," the assessment read.