Jan. 22, 2020
The PLA Beyond Asia: China’s Growing Military Presence in the Red Sea Region
China’s establishment of a military base in Djibouti in 2017 was an important “first” for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which had
never operated a base on foreign territory. It was also a milestone in a gradually expanding PLA presence in the Red Sea region. Over the previous decade, China deployed peacekeepers to conflicts in the oil-producing states of Sudan and South Sudan, conducted anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, and increased its military diplomacy throughout the area. By the time the Djibouti base opened, the PLA was already maintaining a presence of more than 2,000 personnel in the region—far more than in any other area outside the Indo-Pacific. While PLA capabilities have remained largely concentrated in Asia, its Red Sea presence showcased an increasing ability to project power to other regions and suggested that additional deployments may occur as China seeks to defend its overseas interests. The PLA role in the region has also entered the Chinese popular imagination: the navy’s evacuation of Chinese and foreign citizens from Yemen in 2015 was the basis of Operation Red Sea, one of China’s top grossing films of 2018.