China may be looking at setting up a military base in Pakistan’s Gwadar

Beijing recently announced that it is looking to “expand into new fields of military cooperation” with Islamabad, raising global concerns that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) may be looking at setting up a military base on the shores of the Arabian Sea near Gwadar Port in Pakistan.

For China, Pakistan and its access to the Arabian Sea is key in the event of a maritime blockade in the Strait of Malacca. As of now, 60% of China’s imported oil comes from the Middle East, and 80% of that is transported to China through the strait.

In order to safeguards its interests in the region, China opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti on the northwestern fringe of the Indian Ocean in 2017.

Beijing is also investing heavily in Gwadar in case it needs to bypass the Strait of Malacca and experts believe the PLA might be looking at setting up a military base near the port in order to expand its influence in the Indian Ocean, a vital route for oil transportation between the Atlantic and the Pacific.

Military ties are key, China tells Pakistan

Pakistan’s Chief of Naval Staff Amjad Khan Niazi recently travelled to Beijing where China’s defence minister Li Shangfu highlighted that military ties between the two nations was a key part of their bilateral relationship.

“The two militaries should expand into new areas of exchanges, create new high points of cooperation to continuously enhance their ability to deal with all sorts of risks and challenges, and jointly maintain the security interests of the two countries and of the region,” said Li.

Niazi’s visit comes after Zhang Youxia, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, said in late April that the Chinese military was willing to deepen and expand cooperation with Pakistan’s military.

So far, China has not disclosed if it had sought military access to Pakistan’s Chinese-funded, deepwater port of Gwadar.

Pentagon report

The Pentagon has identified Pakistan as a possible location for a future Chinese military base, with Gwadar seen as the likely location. Any sign of that happening would fuel India’s worries of growing Chinese military alliances and assets in its own backyard.

In a 2021 report, the US ministry of defence opined that China was seeking to establish a more robust overseas logistics and basing infrastructure to allow the PLA to project and sustain military power at greater distances.

“Beyond its base in Djibouti, China is pursuing additional military facilities to support naval, air, ground, cyber, and space power projection. The PRC has likely considered a number of countries, including Pakistan as locations for PLA facilities,” the report said.

Monitoring station in Pakistan
China’s Space System Department operates at least eight bases, including those whose core missions are the launch, tracking, R&D, and operation of the satellites vital to China’s defence architecture.

The SSF operates tracking, telemetry, and command stations in Namibia, Pakistan, and Argentina, said the Pentagon report.

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