China has begun construction of a logistics base in Djibouti, the Ministry of Defense said on Thursday, what the Horn of African country's government calls a military facility that will be China's first overseas.
Last year, China said it was in talks to build what it describes as naval "support facilities" in the Horn of Africa nation, which has fewer than a million people but is striving to become an international shipping hub.
Djibouti, strategically located at the southern entrance to the Red Sea on the route to the Suez Canal, is already home to U.S. and French bases, while other navies often use its port.
China and Djibouti have reached consensus on the facility, which will be used primarily for military rest and resupply in carrying out naval escort, peacekeeping and humanitarian duties, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said.
"Currently, initial construction on the relevant facilities has already started and China has already dispatched some personnel to launch relevant work," Wu told reporters at a regular monthly press briefing.
He did not elaborate.
China had conducted anti-piracy operations in the region in recent years and is seeking to expand its capacity to respond to growing threats to its interests abroad.
President Xi Jinping is reforming the military and investing in submarines and aircraft carriers, as China's navy becomes more assertive in its territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas.
China is also expanding its peacekeeping role, with Xi pledging in September to contribute 8,000 troops for a United Nations stand-by force that could provide logistical and operational experience the military would need to operate farther abroad.
While China has been getting more involved diplomatically in trouble spots such as the Middle East, it is adamant that it does not interfere in the affairs of other countries, and is the only permanent member of the U.N. Security Council which has not taken military action in Syria.