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China Could Use The Gwadar Port In Pakistan To Project Military Power

Story Highlights
  • This would give China power not only over the US, but also over US allies like oil exporters in the Gulf and heavy oil importers like Japan and South Korea.
  • The most aggressive reason given is that a PLA Navy base in Gwadar could be used to strengthen China's blockade or maritime interdiction of the Strait of Hormuz as a horizontal

The US Institute of Peace in Washington says that China’s chances of using Pakistan’s western coast to project military power over the Indian Ocean are growing.

There is a lot of support for the Chinese base in Pakistan’s strategic circles. Material and political barriers to upgrading naval access into a wartime contingency base seem to be able to be overcome and are getting smaller over time.

China might send PLA Navy marine corps units to ports like Gwadar to keep them safe.

Open-source satellite imagery analysis found Chinese complexes in Gwadar with “unusually high security,” the report said.

Security could have been stepped up because Balochistan is a dangerous place with a rise in insurgency and terrorist attacks. However, a hardening of the Chinese facilities could also be a sign of a covert military use of the port, like how China seems to be planning to secretly militarize its port facilities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Some analysts have said that since the PLA and the PLA Navy’s long-term goal is to get overseas bases for naval expeditionary fleets in the Indian Ocean, it’s only a matter of time before Gwadar port becomes a PLA Navy foothold. This is because more PLA Navy staff will be sent there to train submariners, maintain the port and vessels, make repairs, and provide logistical support. This is especially true with the planned transfer of eight conventional Type 039 submarines by 2028, the year when the

A recent report from the US Naval War College confirmed a number of US predictions, but it also cast doubt on the stronger claim that future PLA Navy bases are inevitable.

The people who wrote Gwadar is neither destined nor likely to become a PLA Navy base. Instead, they said that it is more likely to be useful for China’s military in peacetime by providing pier space and facilities for making repairs and getting fuel and supplies.

The lack of commercial activity at Gwadar, which has made experts suspicious, makes it easier for a naval presence to grow without hurting the economy and without being seen by other countries, the report said.

The China Overseas Port Holding Company-Pakistan, which is in charge of the port in Gwadar, is also legally required to help PLA overseas operations if asked to do so. Even though the PLA Navy seems to prefer making port calls in Karachi for now, some Chinese officials say that Gwadar is a “turnkey” military facility.

Isaac Kardon and his co-authors wrote, “One PLA officer said of the PLAN’s plan to use Gwadar as a base, ‘The food is already on the plate; we’ll eat it whenever we want’

China is clearly building up the ability to turn Gwadar into a naval port, but the reason for this is still unclear. One explanation is that China doesn’t know what it wants yet, so it’s setting up a presence as a kind of backup plan. In many ways, this is the same as the US approach in the Indo-Pacific, which is to build partnerships, create access, and put in place logistical arrangements that can be used in high-end emergencies.

China could use a naval base in the Indian Ocean for a wide range of missions, from non-combat and anti-terrorism operations to intelligence gathering, coercive diplomacy, and even support for conflict operations.

Even though China doesn’t have a clear plan, Pakistani strategists have been more forward-looking, saying that “it is also very real that Gwadar could be used to support future Chinese naval operations.”

The report said that Pakistani military analysts and officers have written about four possible military and strategic reasons for China to turn Gwadar into a PLA Navy military base in a number of Pakistani military journals.

The most common reason given has to do with energy security, or insurance against a blockade of the Strait of Malacca, which is a key shipping route for importing oil and liquefied natural gas. Even though overland transit is still very likely to be interrupted and is too expensive, transporting oil from Gwadar through China’s Xinjiang region would provide an alternative route in case of problems.

One Pakistani strategist said, “Pakistan would give China a naval base at Gwadar Port to lower the cost of shipping oil to China.” Another said, “It can serve as an alternative to the sea route that goes through the Straits of Malacca.”

The report said that a second reason for building a PLA Navy base at Gwadar could be to make it hard for the Indian and US navies to move around.

A Pakistani colonel said, “Naval facilities or footholds on the Arabian Sea Coast could give the Chinese a forward base to watch US naval activity in the Persian Gulf region and Indian naval activity in the Arabian Sea.”

A Pakistani brigadier said that militarizing Gwadar would “deny maneuvering space to the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean” and “provide the Chinese with a listening post to watch the US naval activities.”

Keeping the Indian Navy in the Western Indian Ocean would make it harder for it to threaten China’s sea lines of communication or join a US-led military coalition effort in the Pacific. A third possible reason is that an official base could help China keep up its increased naval presence in the Indian Ocean and “beat blockades of her (sea lines of communication) by putting her military assets at these ports.”

A stronger attack submarine presence could then be used to threaten the US’s ability to move its forces from the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean, and the island of Diego Garcia in the Chagos Archipelago to the Pacific, especially in a conflict over Taiwan

The most aggressive reason given is that a PLA Navy base in Gwadar could be used to strengthen China’s blockade or maritime interdiction of the Strait of Hormuz as a horizontal escalation in response to a US blockade of the Strait of Malacca.

Lieutenant Colonel Asim wrote in Pakistan’s Command and Staff College journal, Citadel, that giving China access to Gwadar “would also fulfill China’s strategy to create its effects in (the) Indian Ocean” and “would counteract any future blockade to its energy routes.”

This would give China power not only over the US, but also over US allies like oil exporters in the Gulf and heavy oil importers like Japan and South Korea.

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