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Whether the "string of pearls" theory is credible or not, China continues to invest in the development of new ports all across the Indian Ocean littoral. After building deep-water sea ports in Gwadar (Pakistan) and Hambantota in Sri Lanka and outlining plans for another in Kyaukphyu (Myanmar), China is now ready to build another at Bagamoyo, on Tanzania's coast.
While these ports are civilian, they also help the Chinese navy operate worldwide. As Xu Guangyu, from the China Arms Control Association, told a Hong Kong newspaper this week, the Chinese navy needs resupply bases as it ventures far from home waters.
China's plans for Bagamoyo came into international view during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Tanzania this week en-route to the BRICS summit. The port at Bagamoyo, which happens to be near the hometown of Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, is expected to cost around $10 billion and would help relieve the pressure on the country's only port in the capital city, Dar es Salaam. A Chinese state-owned company, China Merchants Group, will lead the port construction. Beijing also has plans to develop a special economic zone near Bagamoyo.
Xi signed 16 separate agreements for economic cooperation and sealed what Beijing calls an "all-weather" friendship with Tanzania. China is already Tanzania's biggest trading partner and the second-largest investor. China and Tanzania also have an expanding defence cooperation. China supplies a range of basic military equipment to Tanzanian armed forces. The Tanzanian navy and coast guard are built around Chinese vessels. Chinese trainers stepped in when India pulled out in the 1980s from a military college at Arusha that it had helped set up after the liberation of Tanzania.
Since 2000, when two ships of the Chinese navy called at Dar es Salaam, maritime cooperation between the two countries has steadily expanded. Chinese naval units conducting anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden frequently call on Dar es Salaam.