Pakistan port on China’s radar for naval base, Pentagon report says

China’s military is extending its global reach and its push to set up more strategic offshore facilities ‘has only just begun’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 June, 2017, 8:12am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 June, 2017, 11:22pm

China is expected to build a naval facility in Pakistan, its second overseas military base after one in Djibouti, according to a US Department of Defence report released on Wednesday.

In its 2017 report to the US Congress on China’s military and security development, the Pentagon said the People’s Liberation Army Navy was strengthening its overseas presence with more facilities and operations. Its first base in Djibouti, on track to be completed this year, was only a beginning, it said.

“China most likely will seek to establish additional military bases in countries with which it has a long-standing friendly relationship and similar strategic interests, such as Pakistan, and in which there is a precedent for hosting foreign militaries,” the report said. “This initiative, along with regular naval vessel visits to foreign ports, both reflects and amplifies China’s growing influence, extending the reach of its armed forces.”

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The report also said Beijing was the world’s fourth-biggest arms seller, with continued strong sales to Pakistan and dominance in drone supplies to the Middle East and North Africa.

Mainland military experts said the country’s ever-growing overseas interests made offshore bases a necessity.

“Offshore Chinese investment is growing and there are more Chinese companies and citizens active overseas. That will increase with the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’,” Xu Guangyu, a senior PLA arms control adviser, said. “In the future, China will need at least 10 to 20 ports around the world, in all oceans and continents.”

Xu said that unlike US offshore facilities, the Chinese bases would not be used to project military power but to resupply vessels.

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“China will build good relationships with the host countries first and settle the issue through friendly bilateral negotiations,” he said. “And it is most likely that security companies, rather than the Chinese military, will be commissioned to take care of security at the ports.”

Beijing-based military analyst Li Jie said Gwadar Port in Pakistan, where China has a 40-year concession, could potentially be the PLA Navy’s next offshore site.

The port is strategically significant, located on the Arabian Sea and only 600km east of the Strait of Hormuz to the Persian Gulf, through which passes about 35 per cent of the world’s oil shipments. It is a key piece in the belt and road scheme, with plans to link it to Xinjiang in China by rail, road and oil and gas pipelines through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

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“China usually bundles military and civilian uses in a project,” Li said. “Gwadar, which is in a friendly country, could be a good start.”

The Pentagon report also said mass land reclamation in the disputed Spratly Islands had stopped.

Instead, the Chinese military was building major facilities on China’s bigger islands.

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China’s defence ministry expressed “resolute opposition” to the report, saying it “hyped up the China threat theory”.

The ministry said China followed the path of peaceful development and its defence spending was “open and transparent”.

Additional reporting by Reuters