Live ammunition exercises at the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) support base in Djibouti are legitimate and necessary, and should not be over-interpreted as transforming the logistics center into a military foothold, Chinese experts said on Wednesday.
The PLA website on Tuesday said that the base in Djibouti conducted live-fire drills at a national shooting range in Djibouti on Saturday to gauge the performance of weapons and make troops more combat-ready for counter-terrorism operations. The drills also enhanced their emergency response capabilities in a high-temperature environment.
The exercises tested operational command ability, communication coordination, logistics and equipment support, the report said.
The PLA Djibouti support base conducted its first live-fire drills in September, followed by another in November.
"It is legitimate and reasonable for the PLA support base to engage in military drills on a regular basis as Chinese military personnel there must adapt themselves to the hot and humid environment of Africa," Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
He stressed it should not be misinterpreted as a move to turn a logistics support base into a military outpost, as "those being trained are exclusively for counter-terrorism measures, and defensive in nature."
The Saturday drills followed accusations from the Pentagon that Chinese nationals were pointing lasers at US military aircraft near Djibouti, with an unnamed US official saying two pilots suffered minor eye injuries, Reuters reported.
Song noted that there was "no confirmed evidence or any report that Chinese military personnel are equipped with laser weapons in Djibouti.
"The accusation is completely groundless."
Jane's Defense Weekly reported that the laser coordinates matched with Djibouti in the Gulf of Aden, about 750 meters from the base.
"Since any military facility in the world is a sensitive area, including China's support base in Djibouti, China has every right to defend itself from foreign invaders," Song said.
Earlier this month China's Ministry of National Defense dismissed US accusations that its Djibouti logistics base had pointed lasers at US military aircraft pilots, saying that it was in "complete contradiction to the facts."
China's first overseas base went into services on August 1, 2017.
China will likely establish more overseas bases based on its needs, Song said. Potential sites include Pakistan and locations in Latin America.
Newspaper headline: ‘Groundless’ accusations about PLA drills at Djibouti base: analysts