Where to Next?
PLA Considerations for Overseas Base Site Selection
Published in: China Brief, Volume 20, Issue 18, pages 27–35 (2020)
Posted on RAND.org on May 14, 2021
Since the People's Republic of China (PRC) established its first official overseas military base in Djibouti in 2017, there has been much speculation about where China's next base will be. Chinese military authors have themselves shown considerable interest in this issue, discussing the value of potential overseas "strategic strong points" (战略支点, zhanlüe zhidian) for use by People's Liberation Army (PLA) forces (China Brief, March 22, 2019). The Department of Defense's 2020 annual report on the Chinese military indicates that "Beyond its current base in Djibouti, the PRC is very likely already considering and planning for additional overseas military logistics facilities to support naval, air, and ground forces". The report lists a broad range of countries that China "has likely considered," which include: "Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Seychelles, Tanzania, Angola, and Tajikistan" (Department of Defense, September 1, 2020).
Rumors in the Western media touch on an even greater variety of locations. Cambodia has received the most attention, with reports in July 2019 indicating that an agreement had been finalized for a Chinese PLA Navy (PLAN) base at the existing Ream port facility (China Brief, August 14, 2019). The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency has also pointed to Pakistan as a leading contender for another location (Department of Defense, January 14, 2019). However, these conversations have overlooked one central question: how does the Chinese military itself think about selecting the locations for its overseas military bases?