Global Insights: China Ponders Pakistan’s Naval Base Offer

Since even before the controversy surrounding the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces in Pakistani territory, analysts have been assessing whether China would exploit the growing tensions between Islamabad and Washington to expand its own influence in Pakistan. The results of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's four-day official visit to the People's Republic of China (PRC) suggest that Chinese officials are pondering one potential option, a naval base in Pakistan, even if they do not seem eager to displace U.S. influence in Pakistan entirely.

Upon Gilani's return, Pakistan's Defense Minister Chaudhary Ahmed Mukhtar told the press that during the visit, "We have asked our Chinese brothers to please build a naval base at Gwadar." If established, the facility would represent China's first overseas military base and would support Chinese naval operations throughout the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. The base idea also coincides with recent Chinese calls for the international community to adopt a more aggressive policy toward international piracy. The PLA Navy has found it challenging to support its own ongoing anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden without a nearby logistical base.

However, maintaining an overseas military base would break with Beijing's traditional posture. None of the three services of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has ever had a permanent base of operations outside PRC territory. China's abstention from foreign military bases is a core element of the PRC's defense doctrine, along with its refusal to join international military alliances.

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