Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Expanding Influence: Big China in Little Djibouti

Expanding Influence: Big China in Little Djibouti


In early May, Djibouti, a small African country located at the critical juncture between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, made headlines for a surprising reason: the United States demarched the People’s Republic of China for shining military-grade lasers at American pilots while they were flying aircraft. These incidents mark just another chapter in China’s constant attempts to harass and aggravate American military personnel across the globe.

Djibouti is home to Camp Lemonnier, the only permanent American military base in Africa, which houses some 4,000 personnel. Originally controlled by the French, Lemonnier is now home to the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa.

According to reports, around ten such incidents have occurred in the last few weeks, and in the most recent incident, two pilots flying a C-130 suffered minor eye injuries while trying to land at the American base. The injuries to the pilots are what sparked the official demarche, which is a formal diplomatic complaint.

On May 3, 2018, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said, “They are very serious incidents. . . . We have formally demarched the Chinese government and we’ve requested the Chinese investigate these incidents.” The U.S. had determined that the lasers originated from the Chinese base, which is only a few miles away from the American one.

However, the Chinese Ministry of Defense quickly responded with the following statement: “We have refuted the false accusations through official channels. The Chinese side has consistently abided by international law and the laws of the local country strictly, and is committed to safeguarding regional security and stability.” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying doubled down saying, “You can remind the relevant U.S. person to keep in mind the truthfulness of what they say, and to not swiftly speculate or make accusations.”

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