The Chinese military has conducted its first-ever military exercises on the African continent, as Beijing seeks to expand its influence to new regions of the world.

Last month China opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti, a small nation located in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Eritrea in the north, Ethiopia in the west and south, and Somalia in the southeast. The remainder of the border is formed by the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden at the east.

State-run TV CCTV showed armored moving on a desert track, groups of soldiers firing automatic weapons and cannon pointing towards the horizon. Chinese military officials said the desert training was important to improve the “hardiness” of troops “in combat and their mastery of military techniques.”

It wasn’t clear when the drills took place, but the base was opened in early August.

Troops stationed there will focus largely on participating in UN peacekeeping missions, the evacuation of Chinese citizens, and maritime anti-piracy operations. Chinese vessels have taken part in anti-piracy operations in the region since 2008.

The Chinese base is just a few miles from Camp Lemonnier, one of the Pentagon’s largest and most important foreign installations. It holds about 4,000 personnel and was established after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“It’s a huge strategic development,” said Peter Dutton, professor of strategic studies at the Naval War College in Rhode Island, who has studied satellite imagery of the construction. “This is what expansionary powers do. China has learned lessons from Britain of 200 years ago.”

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