China gets permission to build navy base in Pakistan, the Chinese navy to maintain a regular presence there, a plan likely to alarm both India and the US. It is to be built at Pakistan’s South-Western port of Gwadar.

Financial Times

By Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad and Kathrin Hille in Beijing

Published: May 22 2011 13:22 | Last updated: May 22 2011 19:46

Pakistan has asked China to build a naval base at its south-western port of Gwadar and expects the Chinese navy to maintain a regular presence there, a plan likely to alarm both India and the US.

“We have asked our Chinese brothers to please build a naval base at Gwadar,” Chaudhary Ahmed Mukhtar, Pakistan’s defence minister, told the Financial Times, confirming that the request was conveyed to China during a visit last week by Yusuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan’s prime minister.

Hitherto, China has shied away from moves that might alienate the US and Beijing’s neighbours, such as India, Malaysia and Indonesia. “China’s rise is a beneficial force for peace and we have no hegemonic ambitions,” said a Chinese official familiar with Beijing’s security policy.

But Christopher Yung, senior research fellow at National Defense University in Washington, said in a recent paper “the nature and degree of China’s access to out-of-area bases will be the ultimate indication and warning” of its eventual intention to become a global military power. A Pentagon official said: “We have questions and concerns about this development and [China’s] intentions. But that is why we believe it is important to have a healthy, stable and continuous military-to-military relationship.”

A senior Pakistani official familiar with Sino-Pakistani discussions on naval co-operation said: “The naval base is something we hope will allow Chinese vessels to regularly visit in [the] future and also use the place for repair and maintenance of their fleet in the [Indian Ocean region].”

Such a foothold would be the first overseas location offering support to the People’s Liberation Army navy for future out-of-area missions and so would be likely to reinforce international concerns over Beijing’s longer-term military ambitions.

“This will definitely be a ‘game changer’ in China’s defence and security relationships,” said Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, a south Asia security expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “The construction of a naval base in Gwadar would provide its own ships and possibly submarines with ‘permanent’ basing rights, along with the possibility of regular patrols and exercises in the Arabian Sea to protect the growing number of Chinese-flagged oil tankers traversing the region to meet its increasing energy demands from the Gulf region.”

As anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden have made the PLA Navy aware that it lacks port access for restocking with food and water, swapping staff and maintenance, the force is lobbying for the construction of foreign bases.

The proposed port could meet some of the PLA navy’s needs but is less aggressive than a Chinese-owned base on foreign soil. The existing commercial port at Gwadar was built by China but is run by the Singapore Port Authority. But it could antagonise India as it comes amid a strengthening of China’s military ties with Pakistan.

During Mr Gilani’s visit last week, Beijing agreed to accelerate delivery of 50 fighter jets to Pakistan

Pakistan’s defence officials are keen for the PLA Navy to build up its presence in the Indian Ocean and the northern Arabia sea, mainly to counterbalance India’s naval forces.

Additional reporting by Daniel Dombey in Washington


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