Sea Transportation: China Has Second Thoughts About Indian Ocean Base


June 13, 2011: China is backing away from earlier interest in developing a naval base at the Pakistani port of Gwadar.  Last month, some Chinese officials expressed interest (after being asked by the Pakistani government) in undertaking development of the underused Pakistani port of Gwadar, which is located near the Iranian border. The Chinese were to build a naval base, that would be used by Pakistani and Chinese warships and aircraft.

This is not the first time China has been asked to expand port facilities in Gwadar. A decade ago, China agreed to finance the construction of a deepwater port in Gwadar. China paid for 80 percent of the $250 million cost and supplied most of the key personnel. The new port facilities were to give China better access to Central Asian markets and reduce Pakistani dependence on the port of Karachi (which, being close to India, is easily blockaded in wartime). The first part of the new Gwadar port facilities were opened in 2005. Work continues on expanding Gwadar. But China was not willing to build military facilities, even if they would share them with the Pakistanis. The civilian port facilities are adequate for fueling and supplying warships, and anything more would be seen as threatening by India, and perhaps Iran as well.

The Pakistani request for military facilities was part of a Pakistani effort to increase military cooperation with China, to replace current reliance on the United States. But China is not willing to supply as much free stuff. Chinese military aid comes with a lot more strings attached. For example, while China recently pledged to speed up delivery of fifty JF-17 jets (an F-16 knock off that Pakistan helped, largely with cash, to develop), it also expects to be paid. The U.S. gives Pakistan F-16s. China, however, has pledged to be Pakistan's BFF (best friend forever.) China has long supported Pakistan as part of an effort to keep India distracted, and weakened. China and India have some serious border disputes, most of which involve China claiming ownership of Indian territory as well.

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