China calls Pakistan its “Iron Brother”. Pakistan articulates its China-centric relationship based on “all-weather friendship”. Notwithstanding the diplomatic chatter, and media reports, their relationship is destined to further grow
Unverified reports in the international media have surfaced claiming that China may be in the process of acquiring land in Pakistan to build its second-ever military base outside of its sovereign territory. China formally opened their first overseas base in August 2017, a naval base at the Port of Doraleh in the East African nation of Djibouti.
The Washington Times reported that Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) officers met with their Pakistani counterparts to finalize plans for the base. It is to be located in Jiwani, a port town in southwest Pakistan that is about 50 miles west of the deepsea port city of Gwadar.
Citing sources close to the PLA, the South China Morning Post reported that the People’s Liberation Army have confirmed that a Chinese naval port is being built at a strategic location on Pakistan’s southern coast on the Arabian Sea.
“China needs to set up another base in Gwadar for its warships because Gwadar is now a civilian port,” Zhou Chenming, a Chinese military analyst, told the South China Morning Post last month. “Gwadar port can’t provide specific services for warships,” Zhou said; hence the need for a new base.
China has denied all the reports as “unnecessary” and said it had no plans to build such a base.
The reports further indicate that starting in July, China would begin to expand Jiwani’s airport to handle large military aircraft. Beijing already maintains a maritime presence in Gwadar for both commercial and military purposes, report The Sputnik.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has made the port key to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a $62 billion economic program which will modernize Pakistani infrastructure and provide China a shortest-route based land and shipping access to the Middle East, Africa and beyond.
In an analysis of Chinese naval movements, The Diplomat suggested that Beijing was intent on preventing a naval blockade from damaging their economy (forecasted to become number 1 globally in few years) by opening a variety of shipping lanes other than the Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca in the South China Sea.
On Pakistan’s part, their increased pivot to the Chinese camp may be a response to freezing relations with the US. After US President Donald Trump loudly accused Pakistan of harboring militant groups along the Afghan border, Islamabad accused Washington of “abandoning” them.
“China and Pakistan have found common ground in terms of maritime interest in the region,” Pakistani analyst Sheikh Fahad said. “Gwadar port can be used for joint naval patrols in the Indian Ocean, further increasing the naval outreach of China and Pakistan in the region. Gwadar port will increase the countries’ naval movements and further expand defense cooperation, especially in the naval field,” Fahad noted.
In mid-December, Lawrence Sellin, a retired US Army Reserve colonel, reported for the Daily Caller that high-ranking Chinese and Pakistani officials had met in Beijing to discuss future projects.
Last June, a Pakistani diplomat said China’s help was needed as an “equalizer,” pointing to the naval base as all-but-inevitable. “Previously it was the US and Saudi Arabia… Now it’s China,” the diplomat told NBC. A Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman later dismissed the report as “pure guesswork.”
Jeff Smith, a research fellow for South Asia at the Heritage Foundation think-tank in Washington, said during a House Foreign Relations hearing on Pakistan, that “…what we have seen in recent years is that China does have plans for military facilities and installations.” Smith was commenting on China’s decade-old vision (analysts call it string-of-pearls) of building port facilities and logistics facilities along the Indian Ocean rim.
A Pentagon report on Chinese military power published in May last year said, “China most likely will seek to establish additional military bases in countries with which is has a longstanding friendly relationship and similar strategic interests, such as Pakistan.”
China calls Pakistan its “Iron Brother”. Pakistan articulates its China-centric relationship based on “all-weather friendship”. Notwithstanding the diplomatic chatter and media reports on Chinese military base coming up or not, their relationship destined to further grow has been enabled by a paradigm shift in the geostrategic and geoeconomic dynamics of the region, say many observers.