- This would give China influence 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.
- 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"
The US Institute of Peace in Washington says that China’s ability to project military power over the Indian Ocean from Pakistan’s western coast is growing.
In Pakistan’s strategic circles, there is strong support for Chinese bases. Material and political barriers to improving naval access for wartime contingency basing seem to be able to be overcome and are getting smaller over time.
China could send marine corps units from the PLA Navy to protect ports like Gwadar in other countries.
Open-source satellite imagery analysis found Chinese complexes in Gwadar with “unusually high security”
Security could have been tightened because Balochistan is a dangerous place with a resurgence of insurgency and terrorist attacks. However, a hardening of the Chinese facilities could also be a sign that the port is being secretly used for military purposes, similar to how China seems to be planning to secretly militarize its port facilities in the United States.
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 in which
A recent report from the US Naval War College confirmed some US predictions, but it also cast doubt on the stronger claim that future PLA Navy bases are inevitable.
The report’s authors said that Gwadar is neither destined nor likely to become a PLA Navy base. Instead, they said that it is more likely to be useful to China’s military in peacetime by providing pier space and facilities for making repairs and refueling and restocking.
The lack of commercial activity in Gwadar, which has made expert observers 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 runs the port in Gwadar, is also legally required to help PLA operations overseas if asked to do so. Even though the PLA Navy seems to prefer making port calls in Karachi for now, some Chinese officials brag that Gwadar is a ready-to-go military facility.
Isaac Kardon and his colleagues wrote, “One PLA officer said of the PLAN’s option to use Gwadar as a base, ‘The food is already on the plate; we’ll eat it whenever we want,'” the report said.
China is clearly making plans to turn Gwadar into a naval port, but the reason for this is still unclear. One reason is that China doesn’t know what it wants yet, so it is setting up a presence as a backup plan. In many ways, this is similar to the US approach in the Indo-Pacific, which is to build partnerships, create access, and set up logistical arrangements that can be used in high-end emergencies, according to a USIP report.
China could use a naval base in the Indian Ocean for a variety of missions, from non-combat and anti-terrorism work to intelligence gathering, coercive diplomacy, and even support for conflict operations.
Even though China doesn’t have a clear strategy, Pakistani strategists have been more forward-looking, saying that “it’s a very real possibility that Gwadar could be used to support future Chinese naval operations.”
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 several strategic journals published by the Pakistan military
The most common reason given has to do with energy security, or protecting 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, sending 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 getting oil to China,” and 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 in Gwadar could be to keep the Indian and US navies in a small area and limit their movements.
“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 colonel said.
A Pakistani brigadier said that turning Gwadar into a military base would “deny maneuvering space to the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean” and “provide the Chinese with a listening post to watch the US Navy’s activities.”
Keeping the Indian Navy in the Western Indian Ocean would make it harder for it to threaten China’s sea routes or join a US-led military coalition effort in the Pacific. A third possible reason is that a formal base could help China keep up its increased naval presence in the Indian Ocean and “beat blockades of her (sea lines of communication) by placing her military assets at these ports.”
That an increased attack submarine presence could then be used to threaten the US’s ability to move troops from the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean, and the island of Diego Garcia in the Chagos Archipelago to the Pacific, especially if there was a conflict over Taiwan.
The most aggressive reason given is that a PLA Navy base in Gwadar could be used to strengthen China’s own blockade or maritime interdiction of the Strait of Hormuz as a horizontal escalation 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 of its energy routes.”
This would give China influence 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.