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China’s increasing reliance on Pakistan poses threat to India

An official US report specified that China has deep strategic interests in Pakistan where Beijing seeks to enhance military and multilateral engagements. In its 2020 annual report to the Congress, '<em>Military and Security Developments Involving People’s Republic of China (PRC)</em>', the US Department of Defense revealed that China has chosen Pakistan for military logistics facility.

As per the report, China is seeking to establish robust overseas logistics infrastructure to allow its armed forces to project and sustain military power at a greater distance. The department stated that China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) projects in Pakistan dealing with pipelines and port construction intend to decrease Beijing’s reliance on transporting energy resources through strategic chokepoints, such as the Strait of Malacca.

“In support of its national strategy, the PRC pursues a range of goals through OBOR to include strengthening its territorial integrity, increasing its energy security and expanding its international influence. Given the Party views the PRC’s security and development interests as complementary, the PRC leverages OBOR to invest in projects along China’s western and southern periphery to improve stability and diminish threats along its borders. Similarly, OBOR projects associated with pipelines and port construction in Pakistan intend to decrease China’s reliance on transporting energy resources through strategic choke points, such as the Strait of Malacca,” the department said.

The report stated that Pakistan was also among the countries where Beijing has developed a series of “campaigns,” outlining operational military activities to achieve its strategic objectives. As part of these campaigns, China is seeking “an increase in bilateral and multilateral engagement” with others like Russia, Pakistan, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that “can improve its ability to organise and manage combined operations that integrate foreign forces,” the report added.

The report also claimed that China’s Strategic Support Force (SSF) “runs tracking, telemetry, and command stations in Namibia, Pakistan, and Argentina”.

It also mentioned China’s counter-terrorism cooperation between Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and Tajikistan. Under this arrangement, all four countries agreed to jointly strengthen border security against China’s defined “three evils,” terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism.

“The PRC uses multilateral forums and international organizations to generate new opportunities to expand its influence, strengthen its political influence, promotes strategic messaging that portrays it as a responsible global actor, advance its development interests and limit outside interference in and criticism of its initiatives,” the report said.

A recent report in the <em>Forbes</em> says that China has commercial and political interests in developing the Gwadar port in Pakistan. The author of the Forbes report, H.I. Sutton, argues that Gwadar has strategic importance for Beijing because it will provide “a port facility connected to China by road and rail that bypasses the Strait of Malacca.” Explaining the significance of Gwadar, he wrote that in wartime the narrow choke point between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra could be closed off by the Indian Navy. Gwadar is also believed to be a possible future overseas base for the Chinese Navy, adding to the existing one in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.

The Chinese investment in the port is part of the wider Belt and Road initiative. It will be connected to China by road, rail and pipelines. This wider project is known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The naval aspect may have an impact, however, if China does indeed base warships or submarines there, possibly as part of a future Indian Ocean Squadron, it could alter the naval balance in the region.

The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) will be an important arena in any future conflict involving China, where India holds the advantage. In its war strategy against India, China plans to boost Pakistan’s naval muscle by providing four sophisticated frigates, said to be the most advanced weapon platforms Beijing has ever supplied to another country.

For China, Pakistan is strategically important as a low-cost sustainable option to contain India and also the US expansion in the region. In an apparent bid to further solidify military ties, China and Pakistan are discussing setting up a Joint Military Commission (JMC) between the PLA and the Pakistan Army. A mechanism, if it materializes, will have greater implications for India in event of an armed conflict with either country as India will be staring at two-front war..