As India joined a show of strength by the US and Japanese navies in the Bay of Bengal, its Asian rival China is quietly setting up a naval support base in Djibouti, in the Horn Of Africa, as part of expanding China's naval presence all over the Indian Ocean and beyond.
A Xinhua report said the first ships carrying Chinese military personnel departed Zhanjiang in southern China's Guangdong Province on Tuesday to set up a support base in Djibouti.
Shen Jinlong, commander of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, read an order on constructing the base in Djibouti, and conferred military flag on the departing vessels.
''The establishment of the People's Liberation Army Djibouti base was a decision made by the two countries after friendly negotiations, and accords with the common interest of the people from both sides,'' the report quoted PLA navy sources as saying.
Djibouti, located at the southern entrance to the Red Sea on the route to the Suez Canal, is a tiny, barren land sandwiched between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia also hosts US, Japanese and French bases.
There has been speculation that China would build other such bases, in Pakistan for example, but the government has dismissed this.
Located on the northwestern edge of the Indian Ocean, Djibouti sits well in China's move to encircle India with military alliances and assets, including the ''string of pearls'' assets in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
China began construction of a logistics base in strategically located Djibouti last year, purportedly to base resupply naval vessels taking part in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions off the coasts of Yemen and Somalia.
The base will support China's overseas missions, such as escorting, peace-keeping and humanitarian aid in Africa and West Asia.
The base will also be conducive to overseas tasks, including military cooperation, joint exercises, evacuating and protecting overseas Chinese and emergency rescue, as well as jointly maintaining security of international strategic seaways, the Xinhua report said.
''Certainly this is the People's Liberation Army's first overseas base and we will base troops there. It's not a commercial resupply point. It makes sense there is attention on this from foreign public opinion,'' said the paper, which is published by the official People's Daily.
However, Chinese warships are already deployed in the Indian Ocean. And while China officially describes the Djibouti base as a logistics facility, this will be China's first overseas naval base.