Japan to expand SDF base in tiny but strategically important Djibouti

Japan has agreed to lease 3 hectares (7.4 acres) of empty land in the strategically important African country of Djibouti for use by Self-Defense Forces troops conducting antipiracy missions in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera has said.

The lease is designed to expand the SDF’s 12-hectare (30-acre) operational base in Djibouti, which currently houses hangars, barracks and other facilities.

The base was set up in the northwestern section of Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport in June 2011. The Japanese and Djibouti governments agreed on a new lease Wednesday that covers the land on the eastern side of the SDF base, Onodera said.

Speaking to reporters Saturday in his home constituency of Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, Onodera said that the government had pursued the lease to prevent Japan’s use of the SDF base from being adversely impacted by another country using the land.

Japan’s ally the United States also operates a base at the international airport.

The Japanese government is considering using the land to build facilities that can shelter Japanese nationals during crises, sources said.

In July 2016, the government flew an SDF C-130 transport from Djibouti to nearby Juba to evacuate four staffers from the Japanese Embassy as security deteriorated in war-torn South Sudan.

The base, Japan’s first long-term, large-scale overseas outpost since World War II, also acts as a counterweight to what Tokyo sees as growing Chinese influence in the region.

China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy formally opened in August its first overseas base, a logistics hub in the tiny Horn of Africa country, ostensibly also to protect Chinese vessels and conduct antipiracy missions.

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