Washington: China is likely to establish additional military bases in Pakistan and other countries with which it has a longstanding friendly ties and similar strategic interests, a new Pentagon report has said.
In its annual report to the Congress on China’s military build-up, the US Department of Defence said China’s construction of military base in the strategic location of Djibouti is just the first of what will likely be an ongoing expansion in friendly foreign ports around the world.
China is expanding its access to foreign ports to pre-position the necessary logistics support to regularise and sustain deployments in the “far seas”, waters as distant as the Indian Ocean, Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean.
“China most likely will seek to establish additional military bases in countries with which it has a longstanding friendly relationship and similar strategic interests, such as Pakistan, and in which there is a precedent for hosting foreign militaries,” the Pentagon said.
The report cautioned, however, that China’s efforts to build more bases “may be constrained by the willingness of countries to support” the presence of China’s People’s Liberation Army in one of their ports.
Notably, China is developing the strategically located Gwadar port in Balochistan, which many experts in the US say is aimed towards having a military presence.
“In February 2016, China began construction of a military base in Djibouti and probably will complete it within the next year,” it said, adding China claims that this facility is designed to help the navy and army further participate in UN peacekeeping operations, carry out escort missions in the waters near Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, and provide humanitarian assistance.
This initiative, along with regular naval vessel visits to foreign ports, both reflects and amplifies China’s growing influence, extending the reach of its armed forces.
China has cited anti-piracy patrolling as one of the reasons for developing what it calls a naval logistics center in Djibouti.
China’s expanding international economic interests are increasing demands for the PLA Navy to operate in more distant maritime environments to protect Chinese citizens, investments and critical sea lines of communication (SLOC), it said.
China, the report said, uses PLA engagements with foreign militaries to enhance its presence and influence abroad, bolster its image and assuage other countries’ concerns about its rise.
“These engagements also assist PLA modernisation by facilitating the acquisition of advanced weapon systems and technologies, increasing its operational experience throughout and beyond Asia, and giving the PLA access to foreign military practices, operational doctrine, and training methods,” it added.
In 2016, China conducted counterpiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden by deploying its 24th naval escort task force to the area since 2008, it said.