In a move that may cause unease in India, China on Monday announced that it will set up its first military base abroad in the Indian Ocean island of Seychelles to "seek supplies and recuperate" facilities for its Navy.
The naval fleet may seek supplies or recuperate at appropriate harbours in Seychelles or other countries as needed during escort missions, Chinese Defence Ministry announced in Beijing on Monday.
China has already cemented its foothold in the Indian Ocean by signing contract with the UN backed International Seabed Authority to gain rights to explore polymetallic sulphide ore deposit in Indian Ocean over the next 15 years.
The contract awarded this year to a Chinese association exclusive rights to explore a 10,000-square-km of international seabed in the southwest Indian Ocean.
The base in Seychelles is regarded significant by analysts as China is about to launch its first aircraft carrier. It is currently undergoing final trials.
Playing down its significance, Chinese Defence Ministry statement on Monday said it is international practice for naval fleets to re-supply at the closest port of a nearby state during long-distance missions.
Apparently commenting on a recent report that China will establish a military base in Seychelles, it said Chinese naval fleets have re-supply facilities at harbours in Djibouti, Oman and Yemen since China sent its first convoy to the Gulf of Aden in 2008.
The decision to establish its first naval base abroad was taken during Chinese Defence Minister Gen Liang Guanglie's goodwill visit to Seychelles earlier this month.
During the visit, Seychelles Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Paul Adam said his country has invited China to set up a military base on the archipelago to beef up the fight against piracy.
"We have invited the Chinese government to set up a military presence on Mahe to fight the pirate attacks that the Seychelles face on a regular basis," Adam was quoted as saying in the media reports.
"For the time being China is studying this possibility because she has economic interests in the region and Beijing is also involved in the fight against piracy," he said.
During Liang's visit, the two sides exchanged views on their countries' and armies' cooperation, as well as on the global and regional situation, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Seychelles appreciates China's efforts to maintain safe navigation on the Indian Ocean, as well as the support it has granted to Seychelles, the ministry said.
Seychelles also invited China's navy to re-supply and recuperate in the country during escort missions, the defence ministry statement said.