China forges strategic ties with Djibouti after opening base

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, on Thursday. (Reuters)
Updated 23 November 2017
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China forges strategic ties with Djibouti after opening base

BEIJING: China on Thursday offered loans to Djibouti, the site of its first overseas military base, as the Horn of Africa state’s leader told President Xi Jinping he considered himself a great friend of the Asian giant.
With a population of less than one million, Djibouti has long punched above its weight, thanks to a strategic location on the Gulf of Aden, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes linking Europe to Asia and the Middle East.
China formally opened the base, which it calls a logistics facility, on Aug. 1, the 90th birthday of the People’s Liberation Army. Djibouti also hosts large US and French bases.
Djibouti was politically stable, Xi told its president, Ismail Omar Guelleh, at a meeting in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.
“China sets great store by its relations with Djibouti,” he added.
Guelleh, who has been in power since 1999, said he considered himself a “great friend of China’s” and could not count the number of times he had visited.
“Djibouti is known for being a country of peace, exchanges and meetings,” Guelleh said.
“I would like to recall the geostrategic position of Djibouti and its importance in this part of the world as an island of stability for Asia, Africa and the Middle East.”
The two, who did not mention the military base in comments to reporters, later oversaw the signing of a framework pact for preferential loans.
Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong declined to reveal the amount of loans offered, saying he could not remember.
“In this area both countries have always had good cooperation,” Chen told reporters.
Xi and Guelleh did discuss the military base, Chen added.
“What I want to stress is that China building a logistics base in Djibouti benefits China to even better fulfil its naval protection, peace-keeping, disaster relief and other international work,” he said.
The base will be used to resupply navy ships participating in peacekeeping, humanitarian and anti-piracy missions off the coasts of Yemen and Somalia, in particular.
The Chinese base is just a few miles from Camp Lemonnier, the US’ only permanent base in Africa.
A Pentagon report said the strategically-sited camp, “along with regular naval vessel visits to foreign ports, both reflects and amplifies China’s growing influence, extending the reach of its armed forces.”
China also has deep economic interests in Djibouti.
Last week, China’s POLY-GCL Petroleum Group Holdings Ltd. signed a memorandum of understanding to invest $4 billion in a natural gas project in Djibouti.
In January, the government launched construction of a project billed as Africa’s largest free trade zone, as part of China’s massive Belt and Road infrastructure initiative stretching to Asia, Europe and beyond.


Thai boys rescued from cave mourn diver who died

Updated 15 July 2018
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Thai boys rescued from cave mourn diver who died

  • The health ministry said the overall condition for the players and coach was normal
  • Saman was widely hailed as a hero but the boys, aged 11 to 16, were only told about his death on Saturday

CHIANG RAI, Thailand: The 12 boys and their coach rescued from a Thai cave mourned the death of an ex-Navy SEAL who died while taking part in the mission, the health ministry said Sunday.
The “Wild Boars” football team are recovering in hospital following 18 days spent inside the Tham Luang cave after entering on June 23 and getting trapped by monsoon floodwaters.
Doctors say they are in good health following a successful three-day operation which ended July 10 when teams of Thai Navy SEALs and international cave diving experts hauled the last five members of the team to safety.
But the lead-up to the final phase of the mission was met with tragedy when volunteer and former Navy SEAL diver Saman Kunan died on July 6 while installing oxygen tanks along the twisting passageways of the cave.
Saman was widely hailed as a hero but the boys, aged 11 to 16, were only told about his death on Saturday after a medical team said they were strong enough mentally to handle the news, though many wept after hearing it.
“All cried and expressed their condolences by writing messages on a drawing of Lt. Commander Saman and observed one minute of silence for him,” Jedsada Chokdamrongsuk, permanent secretary at the health ministry, said in the statement.
Photos released show the youngsters crowded around a sketch of Saman scrawling messages on it and bowing their heads in commemoration.
“They also thanked him and promised to be good boys,” the statement said.
Tributes from Thailand and around the world have poured in for Saman, a triathlete and diver who retired from the military in 2006 and worked at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport before volunteering to help with the rescue in northern Thailand.
Specialists who took part in the risky mission to bring the Wild Boars home have expressed shock and surprise that they were able to pull it off, with some fearing that there could have been more casualties.
The unprecedented and daring final push to bring the boys out saw them sedated and carried through waterlogged and partially dry corridors with the help of military stretchers and nearly 100 divers.
Health officials have conveyed a largely positive picture of the boys’ recovery. All are expected to leave hospital on Thursday.
The health ministry said the overall condition for the players and coach was normal, though many are still on a course of antibiotics.
Despite the positive assessments so far experts have said they would all need to be monitored closely for signs of psychological distress that could take months to manifest.
They spent nine days in the dark, dank cave before being located by two British divers.
The boys — and their parents — have been advised to spend time with friends and family and not to give media interviews as that could trigger post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.
But the interest in their story is unlikely to evaporate overnight, as Hollywood producers are already jockeying to make a film version of the saga.