China has dispatched troops to Djibouti on the Horn of Africa to set up its first overseas military base, which it says will help Beijing contribute to peace in Africa and the world.
Two ships carrying soldiers and military equipment left the southern port of Zhanjiang on Tuesday, following a farewell ceremony by the People's Liberation Army for the units in charge of the new base, Efe news reported.
Djibouti, a small country at the Horn of Africa, is situated on the northwest edge of the Indian Ocean where China has increasingly been sailing its warships and sending submarines, causing concern in India.
The base will support China's military operations in Africa and Asia as part of its international humanitarian missions, escorting ships to avoid piracy and peacekeeping, the Army said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said the base will be "used for the better fulfilment of the national obligation of China and for the escort mission and humanitarian aid".
"China's defence policy is defensive in nature. This has not been changed," Geng said.
"It will enable China to make a greater contribution to peace and stability in Africa and the whole world."
After it showed interest in opening such a base in 2015, Beijing has reiterated many times that the facility would not be for military expansion but to provide logistics support to international activities and protection of maritime routes.
Djibouti already hosts military bases set up by the US, France and Japan, which support warships escorting convoys carrying humanitarian aid to different countries in the region and guard the waters against maritime piracy, apart from other objectives.