* Japan seeking stronger presence in Horn of Africa
* China building first overseas base in Djibouti
* East Asia rivals have pledged big spending in Africa
* Tokyo mulls transport planes, armoured vehicles, extra
By Nobuhiro Kubo
TOKYO, Oct 13 Japan will lease additional land
next year to expand a military base in Djibouti, eastern Africa,
as a counterweight to what it sees as growing Chinese influence
in the region, three Japanese government sources said.
China is seeking closer ties with African nations that
could help it gain access to natural resources and provide new
markets. Beijing said late last year it would pump $60 billion
into development projects on the continent, cancel some debt and
help boost agriculture.
Earlier this year, Japan also pledged to increase its
support to infrastructure, education and healthcare projects in
Africa, committing an extra $30 billion in public and private
"China is putting money into new infrastructure and raising
its presence in Djibouti, and it is necessary for Japan gain
more influence," said one of the sources, with knowledge of the
China in February began construction in Djibouti of its
first overseas military facility, a coastal logistics base that
will resupply naval vessels taking part in peacekeeping and
Djibouti, which is about the size of Wales, is strategically
located at the southern entrance to the Red Sea on the route to
the Suez Canal. The tiny, barren nation sandwiched between
Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, also hosts U.S. and French bases.
Since 2011, a Japanese Self Defence Force contingent of 180
troops has occupied a 12 hectare (30 acre) site in Djibouti,
next to Camp Lemonnier, the U.S. base at the country's
From there, the SDF have operated maritime patrol aircraft
as part of an international force, including China, that hunts
pirates in the seas of the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of
A Japanese Defence Ministry spokesman confirmed discussions
were taking place.
"In addition to the land Japan has borrowed, it is
considering leasing the neighboring land to its east," the
spokesman said in response to a Reuters query. "Japan is now in
negotiations with Djibouti government."
Japan is considering deploying C-130 transport aircraft,
Bushmaster armored vehicles and extra personnel to the base but
has not yet decided on how many, the sources said.
The size of the extra leased land would be smaller than the
existing base and was expected to cost around $1 million a year,
Tokyo will justify the expansion of personnel and aircraft
in the Horn of Africa by pointing to a need to have aircraft
there to evacuate Japanese citizens from nearby trouble spots or
areas hit by natural disasters, the sources said.
Minister of Defence Tomomi Inada traveled to Djibouti in
August, where she said Tokyo was considering expanding the
"function" of the Japanese base. She didn't, however, indicate
that new land would be added.
A month earlier Japan sent three C-130 aircraft from Japan
to stand by in Djibouti for the evacuation of Japanese citizens
trapped by fighting in South Sudan's capital, Juba.
The mission, only the second ever undertaken by SDF
transport aircraft, showed the increasing ability of Japan's
military to conduct operations far from home.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking to give the SDF a
greater regional and global role as his nation steps back from
seven decades of state pacifism.
(Writing by Tim Kelly; Editing by Lincoln Feast)