BEIJING - China has said it may use the Seychelles as a naval supply stop while conducting anti-piracy missions, at the invitation of the Indian Ocean island state.
The announcement comes at a time of growing Indian concern about China's influence in the strategically important Indian Ocean, a vital shipping lane connecting Asia to Europe and the Middle East.
"According to escort needs and the needs of other long-distance missions, China will consider taking supplies or recuperating at appropriate ports in the Seychelles and other countries," the defense ministry said in a statement Dec. 12. The invitation was extended earlier this month during a visit to the Seychelles by Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie.
Beijing has funded or plans to invest in several major infrastructure projects in the Indian Ocean, including ports in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Reports in China's state-run media quoted military experts as saying the move did not equate to establishing an overseas military base.
China has been heavily involved in anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia and in the Indian Ocean.
Since 2008, China has sent 10 escort missions and more than 8,000 military personnel to the Gulf of Aden, escorting more than 4,300 vessels in the process, the official China Daily said.