China seeks military bases in Pakistan

China has expressed an interest in setting up military bases in Pakistan`s volatile tribal area or the Northern Areas to counter the activities of extremists.

Updated: Oct 26, 2011, 12:41 PM IST

Islamabad: China has expressed an interest
in setting up military bases in Pakistan`s volatile tribal
area or the Northern Areas, close to the restive Chinese
province of Xinjiang, to counter the activities of extremists,
according to a media report today.

The Chinese desire is aimed at containing the growing
terrorist activities of Chinese rebels of the al-Qaeda-linked
East Turkestan Islamic Movement, The News daily quoted
diplomatic sources as saying.

The Chinese rebels want an independent Islamic state and
are reportedly being trained in Pakistan`s tribal areas.

China`s wish to have a military presence in Pakistan was
discussed at length by the political and military leadership
of both countries in recent months as Beijing has become more
concerned about the Pakistan’s tribal belt serving as a haven
for radicals, the report said.

"Beijing believes that similar to the American military
presence in Pakistan, a Chinese presence would enable its
military to effectively counter the Muslim separatists who had
been operating from the tribal areas of Pakistan for almost a
decade and carrying out cross-border terrorist activities in
the trouble-stricken Xinjiang Province," the report said.

There were three high-profile visits from Pakistan to
China in recent months by Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani
Khar, President Asif Ali Zardari and Inter-Services
Intelligence agency chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha.

The Pakistani visits were reciprocated by a visit to
Islamabad by Chinese Vice Premier Meng Jianzhu.
This visit was prompted by two bomb blasts in Kashgar
city of Xinjiang on July 30 and 31 that killed 18 people, the
report said.

The blasts provoked senior government officials in
Xinjiang to claim for the first time in recent years that the
attackers were trained in ETIM camps being run by Chinese
Muslim separatists in Pakistan’s Waziristan tribal region.

The report contended that Beijing believes the Chinese
rebels operating from the Pakistani tribal areas are well
connected to Al Qaeda, which trains them and provides funding.

"Therefore, Pakistan and China, which have been
cooperating for a long time in the field of counter-terrorism,
have intensified their efforts to nip the evil of terrorism in
the bud, especially after the Kashgar blasts," it said.

In the aftermath of the May 2 raid by US troops that
killed Osama bin Laden in his hideout in the Pakistani
garrison city of Abbottabad that Islamabad started playing its
"China card aggressively, perhaps to caution Washington
against pushing it too hard", the report said.

Shortly after the raid, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani
travelled to Beijing too seek support for Pakistan.

Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar, who accompanied Gilani,
said on May 21 that whatever requests for assistance the
Pakistani side made, the Chinese government was more than
happy to oblige, including agreeing to take over operation of
the strategically located but underused port of Gwadar upon
expiry of a contract with a Singaporean government company.

Mukhtar had further said that Pakistan had asked China to
begin building a naval base at Gwadar, where Beijing funded
and built the port.

"We would be grateful to the Chinese government if a
naval base is constructed at the site of Gwadar for Pakistan,"
he said in a statement.

The daily quoted Pakistani Defence Ministry sources as
saying that by having a Chinese naval base in Gwadar, Pakistan
intended to "counterbalance the Indian naval forces".

The report quoted diplomatic sources as saying that
China, which has no military bases till now outside its
territory and has often been vocal in criticizing US moves to
operate such bases, first wants to establish military bases in
Pakistan that could be followed by the setting up of a naval

Therefore, Chinese National Defence Minister Liang
Guanglie had dismissed on June 6 suggestions that Beijing was
carving out a permanent naval presence in India’s
neighbourhood in South Asia.

Liang dismissed reports about a move to build naval bases
at Gwadar in Pakistan and at a Sri Lankan port.

The daily contended that the Chinese desire to have
military bases in Pakistan is not a new one and had been
discussed in the past.

It quoted unnamed analysts as saying that though it might
not be politically feasible for the Pakistan government to
openly allow China to set up military bases on its soil,
Islamabad might allow Beijing the use of its military
facilities, without any public announcement, as a first step.

The analysts claimed China`s deepening strategic
penetration of Pakistan and joint plans to set up new oil
pipelines, railroads, naval and military bases are enough to
set alarm bells ringing in Delhi and Washington.

The analysts claimed the repercussions of the growing
Pakistan-China strategic nexus are "stark for India" because
Beijing and Islamabad refuse to accept the "territorial status
quo and lay claim to large tracts of Indian land, which could
come under Chinese sway once Beijing is allowed to establish
military bases in Pakistan".