"Given China's quest to have a truly international navy, the Chinese navy's first overseas base is unlikely to be its last," analysts Jeffrey Becker and Erica Downs of the Center for Naval Analyses concluded in an article published Wednesday at East Asia Forum.
In July 2017, Chinese officials celebrated the opening of the first "logistical" naval base in Djibouti, Sputnik News reported.
According to the authors at the Virginia-based CNA, China's massive investment in Africa and the roughly 1 to 2 million Chinese citizens living on the continent create a mandate for protecting Beijing's foreign interests.
Still, the analysts don't pretend to have a crystal ball from which they derive exact predictions of where future bases will be. In a sense, the Djibouti base "was a long time coming," the duo said, due to the presence of the PLA-N's anti-piracy task force in the Gulf of Aden since 2008. The three-ship, 16,000-sailor task force has operated on an "almost continuous" basis in the maritime region. At some point, ship engines need to be refueled and the shelves aboard the ships need to be restocked.
The US experts gushed over the strategic rationale behind the base in Djibouti, offering no reasons why the naval base could possibly present any risk of backfiring on Chinese interests.
In terms of actualized and potential security benefits of the PLA-N facility in Djibouti, the experts cite the base's utility as an anchor for protecting China's commercial trading routes between Asia and Europe, coordinating security efforts for Chinese citizens living in African countries vulnerable to terrorist attacks and safeguarding Chinese assets on the African continent.
The experts' main thesis is that the Djibouti facility should be thought of as a testing ground or "laboratory" that Chinese naval strategists will study in order to determine the best locations for future Chinese overseas naval bases.
"Just as China launches pilot programs for economic reforms in select locations or with a handful of companies before implementing such reforms nationwide, China's navy will likely incorporate the lessons it learns in Djibouti about using an overseas base to safeguard overseas Chinese citizens and assets into its calculus about future base locations and facilities," the experts said.