A recent Pentagon report which claimed that China is likely to establish naval bases in friendly nations like Pakistan could pose a challenge to India’s naval supremacy and have the potential to change the regional naval power balance in the Indian Ocean region say security experts.
A general view of the old port in Gwadar, Pakistan (representational photo). Reuters
The report, presented by the US Department of Defence to the Congress, says that China’s construction of a military base in the strategic location of Djibouti is just the first of what will likely to be an ongoing expansion in friendly foreign ports around the world.
“China most likely will seek to establish additional military bases in countries in 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 report said.
China is developing the strategically located Gwadar port in Balochistan, which many experts in the US say is aimed towards having a military presence.
Security analysts, Firstpost spoke to see the report as a confirmation of the fact that Chinese ambition in the Indian Ocean could have security implications for India and its interests.
“The report is just the acknowledgment of China’s designs of encircling India by having commercial, military or dual-use bases in the Indian Ocean,” says Harsh V Pant, head of Observer Research Foundation’s strategic studies programme.
Although China’s attempts to have naval bases in Bangladesh’s Sonadia and Srilanka’s Hambantota have been rebuffed by the governments of the two countries, Pant sees it just as a temporary relief.
“The recent scale back of Hambantota port deal with China by the Lankan government and similar cancellation of Sonadia project by the Awami League government in Bangladesh is just a temporary relief for India. In the future, if the governments change in these countries, China could make a re-entry,” Pant said.
China has reacted sharply to the report, describing the US Defence Department’s remarks in the report as mere “conjecture” and “irresponsible”, Indian security experts, however, see it as a distant possibility.
“At the moment, China would be too wary to upset India by having a military base in Pakistan. However, the possibility of such development in the near future can’t be denied,” says senior fellow at ORF, Abhijit Singh.
Situated about 400 km away from the Straits of Hormuz — from where 80 percent of China’s oil import travels — Gwadar port in Pakistan’s Balochistan province is a key asset for China in the Arabian Ocean.
Writing for NBCNews.com, senior Pakistani journalist Wajahat S Khan, says quoting a senior Pakistani diplomat that Pakistan did invite China to build a naval facility on its territory back in 2011, days after US Navy SEALs conducted a secret raid to kill Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.
Khan further writes that a Chinese naval base in Pakistan does make sense given the shared rivalry of the two countries with India.
China has always maintained that its growing presence in the Indian Ocean is a mere reflection of its expanding commercial interests. Pant, however, thinks that they clearly could also be used as logistic bases to support Chinese naval forces in the Indian Ocean.
“They don’t necessarily have to build an exclusive naval port to use it for military purposes, dual-use ports explicitly catering to commercial purposes but at the same time having the capacity to be used militarily can also be built. The probable aim of these developments is either part of a plan for the maritime encirclement of India, or is otherwise intended to keep India strategically preoccupied in South Asia,” Pant says.
Experts agree that India should have better economic, political and diplomatic relations with the Indian Ocean countries and develop its own strategic assets in the region by having joint patrolling, naval exercise and development of ports to re-strengthen its influence in the region.
India currently has a policy of not developing any naval base in a different country, however, Singh says the policy could be reviewed if the current Chinese activities in the Indian Ocean further heats up.
With inputs from PTI