On 25 November, a Pakistan Navy official said that the Pakistan Navy has rebased two warships at Gwadar port, now that it has become an operational terminus of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
"China would also deploy its naval ships in coordination with the Pakistan Navy to safeguard the port and trade under the CPEC," the unnamed official claimed. The Pakistani source also said the People’s Liberation Army Navy will deploy a submarine at the Gwadar port and establish a military base there to provide maintenance support for the Chinese naval fleet operating in the Indian Ocean.
Chinese construction in Gwadar is not unlike their base, under construction in Djibouti. They plan to have a blue water fleet that can sustain itself in the Persian Gulf and in the Indian Ocean. CPEC was the vehicle to bring the Pakistanis to heel.
China now possesses a strong proprietary interest in Gwadar’s successful commercial operations which require security. Chinese ships already are carrying cargos from Gwadar that arrive via the Economic Corridor from China. Chinese navy ships have called at the port.
The Pakistan Navy has had a facility there since before the 1971 India-Pakistan War, when the Pakistan Navy relocated its assets to Gwadar from Karachi just before it came under attack by the Indian Navy. The Pakistan Navy facility has been upgraded and is available for use by Chinese naval ships traveling from China to Djibouti and back in support of the anti-piracy patrols off the horn of Africa.
The NATO countries announced last week that they were terminating their deployments to the anti-piracy patrol off Somalia because acts of piracy have declined. Despite the decline, construction of the Chinese facility has proceeded. With support facilities at Djibouti and Gwadar, China will be able to sustain a naval presence in the Indian Ocean almost indefinitely.
China’s limited facilities on Coco Island in Myanmar (Burma) give the navy support capabilities at each end of the Indian Ocean. They will be supplemented by the port China is building in southern Sri Lanka and the port under construction in northwestern Burma.
There exists rough symmetry between Chinese facility construction in the South China Sea and its facility and port construction in the Indian Ocean. Both support the strategic objective of developing and sustaining an open ocean navy.
China is preparing the infrastructure to challenge Indian naval supremacy in the Indian Ocean. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will convert Pakistan into an extension of the Chinese economy, and its military in many ways.
CPEC also extends China’s defensive glacis to Pakistan in unprecedented ways. The Economic Corridor would be an obvious strategic target for disruption in a future war with India. However, it is protected by China. An attack on the corridor would risk escalating a South Asian war into a pan-Asian war.
Indian calculations about war with Pakistan already were complicated by the decline in Pakistani conventional warfighting capabilities. Since December 2001, any risk of general war in South Asia is a risk of nuclear war because Pakistan cannot mobilize its army to the extent necessary to achieve any sort of parity.
Today, Indian calculations must take into account China’s increased profile and presence in Pakistan. Any general war with Pakistan risks a war with China. The Chinese leaders are gambling that China’s emergence in South Asia promotes stability by raising the stakes in any crisis that threatens war.
While India might be more restrained, the Chinese strategy is not acting as a restraint on Pakistan. China would not let Pakistan be destroyed in a war with India, but it also would not help Pakistan if it was the aggressor against India.