China may build military base in Pakistan: US
China most likely will seek to establish military bases in countries with which it has longstanding friendly relationship, such as Pakistan, says Pentagon report
Washington: A Pentagon report released on Tuesday singled out Pakistan as a possible location for a future Chinese military base, as it forecast that Beijing would likely build more bases overseas after establishing a facility in the African nation of Djibouti.
The prediction came in a 97-page annual report to Congress that saw advances throughout the Chinese military in 2016, funded by robust defence spending that the Pentagon estimated exceeded $180 billion.
That is higher than China’s official defence budget figure of 954.35 billion yuan ($140.4 billion). Chinese leaders, the US report said, appeared committed to defence spending hikes for the “foreseeable future,” even as economic growth slows.
The report repeatedly cited China’s construction of its first overseas naval base in Djibouti, which is already home to a key US military base and is strategically located at the southern entrance to the Red Sea on the route to the Suez Canal.
“China most likely will seek to establish additional military bases in countries with which it has a longstanding friendly relationship and similar strategic interests, such as Pakistan,” the report said.
However, Beijing on Wednesday dismissed as “irresponsible” an annual US defence department report that predicted China would expand its global military presence, building overseas bases in countries like Pakistan. China’s defence ministry refuted this assessment on Wednesday. “China is not doing any military expansion and does not seek a sphere of influence,” it said in a statement.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying likewise said during a regular briefing that China “is firmly opposed” to aspects of the publication. “We have noted the report released by the US which made irresponsible remarks about China’s national defence development in disregard of the facts,” Hua said, declining to comment on “speculation” and noting that the “friendly cooperation (between China and Pakistan) does not target any third party”.
Djibouti’s position on the northwestern edge of the Indian Ocean has fueled worries in India that it would become another of China’s ‘string of pearls’ of military alliances and assets ringing India, including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
The report did not address India’s potential reaction to a Chinese base in Pakistan.
But Pakistan, the US report noted, was already the primary market in the Asian-Pacific region for Chinese arms exports. That region accounted for $9 billion of the more than $20 billion in Chinese arms exports from 2011 to 2015.
Last year, China signed an agreement with Pakistan for the sale of eight submarines.
China’s defence ministry expressed its “resolute opposition” to the contents of the report, saying it hyped up the China threat theory.
China follows the path of peaceful development and its defence expenditures are “open and transparent”, it said in a statement.
“The criticism in the US report is pure conjecture,” it added. “We hope the US side can rationally and objectively view China’s national defence and military building.”
At a daily news briefing earlier, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying dismissed the comment on Pakistani bases as “conjecture” and declined a specific response.
But China and Pakistan enjoyed friendly cooperative ties that did not target any third parties, she added.
Quantum satellite, cyber hacks
The Pentagon report flagged Chinese military advances, including in space and at sea.
It cited China’s 2016 launch of the first experimental quantum communications satellite, acknowledging that it represented a “notable advance in cryptography research.”
As in past years, the Pentagon renewed its concerns about cyber spying, saying US government-owned computers were again targeted by China-based intrusions through 2016. “These and past intrusions focused on accessing networks and extracting information,” the report said.
“China uses its cyber capabilities to support intelligence collection against US diplomatic, economic, and defence industrial base sectors.”
In a section discussing China’s navy, the report predicted that China’s first domestically designed and produced aircraft carrier would likely reach initial operating capability in 2020.
On the issue of self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own, the Pentagon said Chinese reforms to improve joint operations by different parts of its military would help in the event of any operation against the island. “The structural reforms now reshaping the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) will, if fully implemented, improve the force’s ability to conduct complex joint operations, including those that would be involved in a Taiwan contingency.”