China willing to do more in Horn of Africa

Beijing (AFP) - China is ready to make a greater contribution to peace and stability in the Horn of Africa, Beijing said Monday after Djibouti's president told AFP negotiations over a Chinese military base were under way.

"Maintenance of peace and stability in the region is in line with the interests of related countries," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters.

"It's also the common aspiration of Djibouti, China and other countries in the world," she said at a regular briefing in Beijing. "China is willing to, and also should, make more contributions to this end."

Hua was responding to questions about an AFP interview with the tiny Horn of Africa nation's President Ismail Omar Guelleh, who said that Beijing's presence would be "welcome" and discussions over a military base in his country were "ongoing".

China does not have any acknowledged overseas military bases at present, although commercial contracts to build or manage Indian Ocean ports have raised concerns it is seeking to establish a "string of pearls" in the region.

Djibouti is already home to Camp Lemonnier, the US military headquarters on the continent, used for covert, anti-terror and other operations in Yemen and in Somalia and elsewhere across Africa.

France and Japan also have bases in the port, a former French colony that guards the entrance to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, and which has been used by European and other international navies as a base in the fight against piracy from neighbouring Somalia.

China is already financing several major infrastructure projects in Djibouti estimated to total more than $9 billion (8 billion euros), including improved ports, airports and railway lines to landlocked Ethiopia.

"France's presence is old, and the Americans found that the position of Djibouti could help in the fight against terrorism in the region," Guelleh said in last week's interview.

"The Japanese want to protect themselves from piracy - and now the Chinese also want to protect their interests, and they are welcome," he said.