The port of Gwadar, Pakistan. (Internet photo)
After inheriting the Pakistani port of Gwadar from Singapore on Feb. 18, China now has a promising base to project its influence over the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, reports the Global Times, a nationalistic tabloid published under the auspices of the party mouthpiece People's Daily.
Pakistan decided on Jan. 30 of this year to transfer Gwadar from the Port of Singapore Authority to China Overseas Holdings Limited. Even though China contributed 75% of the initial US$250 million used to build the port, Port of Singapore Authority won a 40-year lease in 2007 from Pervez Musharraf, the former president of Pakistan who, according to Agence France-Presse, was reluctant to upset the United States. The report further indicated that the port may serve as an energy and trade corridor connecting China to the Arabian Sea and Strait of Hormuz. It will become a gateway for a third of the world's traded oil through the Karakoram Highway that links China and Pakistan.
Gwadar may also serve as a naval outpost for China to project its power to the Indian Ocean. Syed Fazl-e-Haider, a military analyst from Pakistan, said that the strategic port may be a base for PLA nuclear submarines and future aircraft carriers that would enable China to monitor US and Indian naval activities in the region and expand its own influence in South Asia. A Chinese naval base at Gwadar could also be used to direct military supplies to Afghanistan after the US withdraws from the country next year.
The port could turn from a commercial venture into a strategic asset for China to counter the "Asia Pivot" strategy of the United States. However, Fazl-e-Haider said massive funds would be needed for Beijing to complete such a project. Agence France-Presse said Gwadar is one of China's "string of pearls" — potential naval bases in South Asia. China is currently one of four nations, also including India, Japan and the United States, interested in constructing a US$5 billion deep-sea port at Bangladesh's Sonadia island, the report indicated.
In an article written for the Real Clear World website, American political analyst Robert Kaplan provided a different view, however. "China's commercial and strategic expansion into the Indian Ocean faces several hurdles," he wrote. "Sheer distance, local security problems, but the most important hurdle is the internal stability of China itself." If the Communist Party is challenged by serious and sustained political and social unrest, its activities abroad would be compromised.
Kaplan said he was told in China that the whole concept of the "string of pearls" is only a matter of individual Chinese construction while other party members told him that Beijing has the right to navigate the Indian Ocean. "The Chinese themselves may not have a fleshed-out game plan or grand strategy for the Indian Ocean," said Kaplan, "They are feeling their way forward, and pushing up against constraints in the only way they know how. Thus, all one can do is point out trends as they emerge."