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China to build naval bases in Pakistan

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China President Xi Jinping. (File Photo: IANS) by .
China President Xi Jinping (File Photo: IANS)

The Pentagon Report reveals that China will establish additional naval logistics hubs in countries with which it has a long-standing friendly relationship and similar strategic interests, such as Pakistan. This clearly points to Gwadar port which is being constructed as part of the CPEC. It will become a dual use port for China to manage its operations in the Persian Gulf…writes Dr Sakariya Kareem

China President Xi Jinping. (File Photo: IANS) by .
China President Xi Jinping (File Photo: IANS)

The latest report submitted by the Pentagon to the US Congress on China’a military development for the year 2016 has stated that China will build bases in Pakistan.

This assessment is not surprising given the speed at which the Chinese military continues to modernize and evolve. The main point is that in the new global geo-political scene globally, China-Pakistan ties are at the deepest and therefore it would only be natural that China chooses to establish a port or base in Pakistan.

The bilateral engagement in recent years has gone beyond the routine political exchanges and visits to huge promised investments by China in Pakistan in the form of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). More recently, the document leaked by the Dawn newspaper on the long-term NDRC plan for CPEC mentioned plans other than connectivity and energy in Pakistan. Much of this information points to the fact that China aims to make Pakistan a vassal state in times to come.

CHINA-DALIAN-AIRCRAFT CARRIER-LAUNCH CEREMONY (CN) by .
China’s second aircraft carrier is transferred from dry dock into the water at a launch ceremony in Dalian shipyard of the China Shipbuilding Industry Corp. in Dalian, northeast China’s Liaoning Province (Xinhua/Li Gang) (ry)

Coming back to the Pentagon Report, it specifically points out that China is likely to seek to establish additional naval logistics hubs in countries with which it has a long-standing friendly relationship and similar strategic interests, such as Pakistan, and a precedent for hosting foreign militaries. This clearly points to Gwadar port which is being constructed as part of the CPEC. Eventually though, Gwadar will become a dual use port which the Chinese PLAN will make full use of for its operations in the Persian Gulf. The other base for operations that is being set up by China is Djibouti.

The 2016 Report correctly assesses that China’s overseas naval logistics aspirations could be constrained by the willingness of countries to support a PLAN presence in one of their ports. That is precisely why Pakistan becomes the ideal choice for China to operate its PLAN ships and submarines. In November last year, China had announced its intention of sending its ships to Gwadar to protect the port along with the Pakistani Navy.

(BRF)CHINA-BEIJING-BELT AND ROAD FORUM-ROUNDTABLE SUMMIT (CN) by .
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif arrives for the Leaders’ Roundtable Summit at the Belt and Road Forum (BRF) for International Cooperation at Yanqi Lake International Convention Center in Beijing, capital of China

In February 2013, the China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC), a state run company, was given the contract for operating Gwadar Port. Under the agreement, the COPHC was responsible for the operations of the port and share its profits while the port will continue to remain the property of Pakistan. The agreement covers the entire existing terminal which has been handed over to COPHC for 40 years as also the development and expansion works at container terminal and the multi-purpose terminal. The COPHC has also been provided with 2282 acres of land on a 43 years lease.

Therefore, if tomorrow China announces that it is setting up a naval base at Gwadar it should surprise no one. Think back a little and one finds that there was a proposal for China to lease Gilgit-Baltistan for a period of 99 years. Then there was news that China wanted to set up a base in the GB region. This was to station PLA troops to protect the Karakoram Highway. Therefore a naval facility at Gwadar or Karachi would not be unusual.

Significantly, the Pentagon Report also re-affirms the fact that Pakistan remains China’s primary customer for conventional weapons. China engages in both arms sales and defense industrial cooperation with Pakistan, including LY-80 surface-to-air missile systems, F-22P frigates with helicopters, main battle tank production, air-to-air missiles, and anti-ship cruise missiles. In June 2014, Pakistan started co-producing the first two of 50 Block 2 JF-17s, which is an upgraded version of the Block I JF-17. To that extent, the China-Pakistan axis is strong as ever and one is unlikely to see a shift in this position in the near future.

The only factor that could be a spoiler in the Sino-Pak relation is the safety and security of Chinese citizens working in Pakistan. The recent killing of two Chinese nationals in Pakistan was an eyesore and reflected at the Astana SCO summit where President Xi Jinping refused to meet with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. In this sense, the CPEC symbolizes the challenges that China faces in execution of a project that is driven mostly by Chinese funds and personnel. That is why in every bilateral meeting held in recent years, the Chinese have emphasized that primary attention should be paid by Pakistan to the safety of Chinese workers deployed on CPEC and other related projects in Pakistan.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) meets with his Pakistani counterpart Mamnoon Hussain in Wuzhen Town, east China’s Zhejiang Province (File)

Chinese workers in Pakistan are really a small part of the larger linkage between Beijing and Islamabad. The record of political and diplomatic engagement speaks for itself; further cooperation in the field of nuclear, missile and space fields has intensified over the years. The shift from a full nuclear device and complete missiles to specific components for Pakistan’s nuclear plants is part of continuing narrative of cooperation that continues. Along with this, China and Pakistan form one part of the three countries which includes North Korea which engages in proliferation of nuclear materials. Therefore, the linkages are indeed deep and consistent.

Therefore, if tomorrow China announces that it is setting up a naval base at Gwadar it should surprise no one. Think back a little and one finds that there was a proposal for China to lease Gilgit-Baltistan for a period of 99 years. Then there was news that China wanted to set up a base in the GB region. This was to station PLA troops to protect the Karakoram Highway. Therefore a naval facility at Gwadar or Karachi would not be unusual.

The US DoD Report is a document meant for public consumption and should be treated as such. It reflects somewhat the prevailing view in the US about China and also demonstrates Chinese assertiveness in the course of its rise. To that extent, the elucidation by the US of Chinese intentions in South Asia and with reference to Pakistan rings true. The US report has stated the obvious and the actual state of affairs and it is for decision makers across South Asia to prepare for the eventual presence of Chinese vessels in the Arabian Sea!

 

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