BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s Defense Ministry on Thursday declined to confirm a report that it was in talks for a military base in Horn of Africa country Djibouti, though it said all countries had an interest in regional peace and stability.
In May, Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh told Agence France-Presse of the talks, adding that Beijing’s presence would be welcome in the former French colony, which borders Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia.
The United States and France both already have bases in the country and its port has been used by foreign navies, including China’s, participating in the fight against Somali pirates.
Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun, asked about the report at a monthly news briefing, said the two countries had a traditional friendly relationship.
“Over the past few years both countries’ friendly cooperative relationship has kept on developing, and in all areas there is practical cooperation,” Yang said, in comments broadly in line with Foreign Ministry remarks last month on the same topic.
“What needs to be explained is, maintaining regional peace and stability accords with all countries’ interests, and is the joint desire of China, Djibouti and all other countries in the world,” Yang added.
“China is willing to, and ought to, make even more contributions in this regard,” he said, without elaborating.
In an effort to damp fears about Chinese plans connected to its increasingly modern and confident military, Beijing has repeatedly said it does not want military bases abroad.
In 2009, Chinese officials distanced themselves from comments by a rear admiral, Wu Shengli, who urged the nation to set up navy supply bases overseas for the anti-piracy fight. Wu is now China’s naval chief.
Chinese ships have undertaken anti-piracy operations off Somalia since late 2008, and in early 2010 Beijing agreed to join the multi-nation effort to protect shipping in the Gulf of Aden and nearby stretches of the Indian Ocean.
Experts have said China is likely one day to have to overcome its discomfort about overseas military bases, as its forces are drawn into protecting the growing interests of the world’s second-largest economy.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez