Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
First, China helped develop Pakistan’s Gwadar port from scratch on the Baluchistan coast to take the pressure off the country’s main port of Karachi, a few hundred miles to the east. Now Pakistan’s defence minister has said that it would like its long-time ally to build a naval base at Gwadar, which sits on the doorstep of Gulf shipping lanes, less than 200 kms from the mouth of the Straits of Hormuz.
China, which provided more than 80 percent of the port’s $248 million development cost, has moved quickly to distance itself from Pakistani Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar’s remarks about a naval base in Gwadar. The foreign ministry said China was not aware of any such proposal.
While China has stood by Pakistan in its hour of embarrassment following the discovery of Osama bin Laden living in relative comfort in a garrison town, it might be squirming a bit at its ally’s rather aggressive portrayal of their ties. The last thing it needs is to trigger off another round of alarm bells in the region about its big power objectives in the Indian Ocean, especially when it is not ready yet.
As Gideon Rachman wrote in the Financial Times this week (behind a paywall) the Chinese may be wincing at the appearance of the story about building a military base on the Pakistani coast in the Western press “because it will heighten the perception that China is overplaying its hand in the Pacific; an idea that has helped America to strengthen its military alliances across the region.”