China Eyes Belt and Road Expansion, Military Base in Pakistan

China's President Xi Jinping (C) arrives to speak on the final day of the APEC CEO Summit, part of the broader Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit, in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 10, 2017. World leaders and senior business figures are gathering in the Vietnamese city …
NYEIN CHAN NAING/AFP/Getty Images

China appears to be attempting to capitalize on tensions between the United States and Pakistan, reportedly planning to build an overseas military base in the country and expand infrastructure projects as part of the larger One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a pivotal part of the greater OBOR plan which, if completed, would give the Chinese government control of trade routes between Beijing and Western Europe, as well as several ports and highways throughout the Middle East and Asia.

The South China Morning Post cites two sources confirming that the new Chinese military base would be near the port of Gwadar, which connects Pakistan to the Middle East through the Arabian Sea. It would be China’s second known military base abroad after its first established in Djibouti last year. The Djibouti base is located near Yemen and grants China access to the Arabian peninsula.

“China needs to set up another base in Gwadar for its warships because Gwadar is now a civilian port,” Chinese military analyst Zhou Chenming told the Morning Post, noting that, at the moment, China will not be able to place military facilities there that it may deem necessary to secure trade in that port. Another source noted that Gwadar is currently “a mess” and will require a separate military facility.

Gwadar is one of the many ports on the map of CPEC and OBOR projects. On Friday, the Global Times, a Chinese state newspaper, published a report promoting OBOR development in Pakistan, citing Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Planning, Development, and Reform Ahsan Iqbal.

“CPEC is a comprehensive package of cooperative initiatives and projects encompassing regional connectivity, information network infrastructure, energy cooperation, industries, agricultural development, poverty alleviation, tourism and financial cooperation,” Iqbal reportedly told a conference on Thursday, encouraging heavy investment in the project. He promised “enormous benefits to investors and partners as well as to the common people by creating thousands of new ventures and millions of jobs.”

OBOR is a collection of port, road, and construction projects in which China will invest and create local jobs during construction, but then maintain control of these ports and roads following their completion, greatly extending China’s political and economic reach. The U.S. State Department has warned generally that China has engaged in “predatory” practices with developing nations, particularly lending large sums of money the country later cannot pay back, resulting in China receiving significant territorial control in that country.

CPEC, the entirety of which is believed to be worth $55 billion, has suddenly revived after tension between China and Pakistan led to a freeze by Beijing in funding at least three of the projects tied to this sector of the OBOR project. Pakistani officials were reportedly “stunned” after Chinese officials, claiming corruption was draining too much of their budget for the project, decided to temporarily halt construction.

That changed nearly overnight this week, after President Donald Trump attacked Pakistan on Twitter for taking billions in U.S. aid and not acting with sufficient haste to tackle the many terrorist groups—including the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State—who use Pakistani territory as safe havens for training and recruitment. The State Department confirmed that it would suspend a yet-undetermined amount of aid from Pakistan.

The Chinese government issued a vocal statement of support for Pakistan in light of Washington’s claims.

“Pakistan has made great efforts and sacrifices for combating terrorism and made prominent contributions to the cause of international counterterrorism, and the international community should fully recognize this,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Tuesday.

On Thursday, Pakistan announced that it would stop using dollars to trade with China and instead allow the use of the yuan currency, greatly facilitating the development of CPEC programs.

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