[iwar] China suspected in port deal

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Date: 2001-05-31 09:35:45

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Date: Thu, 31 May 2001 09:35:45 -0700 (PDT)
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Subject: [iwar] China suspected in port deal
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China suspected in port deal
By David R. Sands 
China has clinched a deal to develop a major deep-sea commercial 
port in western Pakistan, giving Beijing a potential staging ground to 
exert influence along some of the worlds busiest shipping lanes 
flowing into and out of the Persian Gulf. 
The long-discussed project to create a major shipping station in 
the Pakistani coastal town of Gwadar opens a new front in the 
simmering rivalry between India and Pakistan and is the latest move by 
Beijing to project power throughout South Asia through a greatly 
expanded naval presence. 
Islamabad and Beijing have both denied Pakistani press reports 
that a secret understanding has been reached to allow Chinese naval 
vessels to dock at the port, which is expected to be completed in 
about six years. But both sides have talked openly of increasing 
"economic strategic ties" and the heavy Chinese involvement in the $1 
billion deal is a prime example. 
"Beijing has a history of piggybacking military cooperation onto 
commercial ventures," said Richard Fisher, an Asian specialist at the 
Jamestown Foundation. "From what we know now, this is a commercial 
deal, but it can easily set the stage for military cooperation in the 
China, which lacks a blue water port in the region, is also 
continuing its extensive aid to improve Pakistans road networks. 
Indian military analysts fear that the combination of the vastly 
improved Gwadar site and reliable overland links could give China a 
well-equipped staging ground on Indias western flank. 
Chinas role at Gwadar echoes similar concerns voiced when a Hong 
Kong firm with close ties to Chinas communist leadership won the 
leases to two ports near both ends of the Panama Canal in 1997. 
Clinton and Bush administration officials have said they have seen no 
interference by China in the operation of the canal, but a U.S. 
intelligence report in October 1999 called the leases "a potential 
threat" to U.S. interests. 
The Gwadar site also heightens the intense jockeying already 
under way among India, China and Pakistan for influence in the region. 
Pakistan staged naval exercises with Bangladesh in the Bay of 
Bengal on Indias east coast last month, followed almost immediately 
by a precedent-setting port call by three Pakistani naval vessels to 
the secretive military regime in Burma. 
The Texas-based private intelligence service Stratfor recently 
noted that Islamabad "is looking toward naval cooperation with Indias 
eastern neighbors to gain something it has not had since East Pakistan 
became Bangladesh -- the ability to flank India." 
A Pakistan Ministry of Defense source said of Gwadar: "The 
decision is a landmark as a tactical deterrent to the mighty Indian 
naval establishment in the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean." 
New Delhi has begun its own "Look to the East" campaign, 
cultivating better ties with Vietnam and Burma, while seeking its own 
flanking maneuver against Pakistan with improved relations with Iran 
and Israel. 
The United States has also made a pronounced shift toward India, 
even as Pakistans military and commercial ties to China have 
The Washington Times in February reported that a CIA analysis 
has concluded Beijing continues to send "substantial" assistance to 
Pakistan for its ballistic missile program, and U.S. experts say they 
cannot rule out Chinese aid for Pakistans nuclear missile program as 
China has clashed repeatedly with the United States over Taiwan 
and with Southeast Asian nations over territorial claims in the South 
China Sea. 
In addition, Beijing has recently been courting dissident 
elements in Indonesia and island governments throughout the South 
Pacific, a direct challenge to the long-standing U.S. and Australian 
naval presence in the area. 
The Gwadar deal was formally announced during an extremely 
cordial four-day visit earlier this month by Chinese Prime Minister 
Zhu Rongji to Pakistan, a visit that produced a number of bilateral 
deals to increase cooperation in trade, rail transport and tourism. 
Pakistani Chief Executive Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who seized power 
in an October 1999 coup condemned by the United States, said: "I am 
confident that [the Zhu visit] will send out a strong signal to 
everyone of the continuing strength and durability of the multifaceted 
relationship between Pakistan and China." 
Just days after Mr. Zhu left, two Chinese naval vessels were 
received with high honors in Karachi, Pakistan, to celebrate 50 years 
of friendly relations between the two nations. Rear Adm. Zhang Yan, 
deputy commander of the North Sea China Fleet, met with top officers 
of the Pakistan navy and attended a dinner at the Pakistan Maritime 
A backwater fishing village with an airport but primitive road 
connections, Gwadar barely rates a mention in Pakistani tour guides. 
Plans to build a deep-sea port in the excellent and well-guarded 
harbor have foundered a number of times, most recently when an accord 
between Pakistan and Singapore announced in 1995 fell through. 
According to Pakistani press reports and the official Chinese 
Xinhua news agency, the Gwadar "megaproject" includes a deep-sea port 
and land connections to Karachi to the east and Ashgabat, the capital 
of Turkmenistan, to the northwest. 
In addition, a new dam will be built to ensure adequate water 
supplies to support an increased population and industrial activity. 
Pakistani military planners have long recognized the commercial 
and military significance of the site, which is near the mouth of the 
Gulf of Oman about 50 miles from Pakistans border with Iran. The port 
of Karachi currently handles about 98 percent of the countrys 
shipping and Pakistani military planners were stunned by the ease with 
which Indian forces bottled up the Pakistan navy in Karachi during a 
1999 standoff over Kashmir. 
Bhashyam Kasturi, writing in the September 1999 issue of the 
journal Strategic Affairs, noted that the commercial and military 
development of Gwadar would give the Pakistan navy the "capability to 
potentially choke the movement of oil and other trade" and move 
Pakistani naval assets farther away from Indian attack. 
"A single Agost 90B submarine operating out of Gwadar, armed with 
Exocet anti-ship missiles, could be an effective sea-denial platform 
in the Straits of Hormuz," Mr. Kasturi wrote. 
Indian officials privately say they are very aware of the Chinese 
activity both in Gwadar and on Indias eastern flank in the Bay of 
Bengal, both of which give Beijing the potential to influence and even 
choke off maritime trading routes critical to India and to the flow of 
oil and other goods throughout the Pacific Rim. 
The Gwadar project has remained a commercial venture, at least on 
paper, so the Indian government has not publicly aired its concerns 
about last months accords. 
But "India needs to carefully analyze whether Chinas action of 
increasing its presence in the Bay of Bengal through close links with 
[Burma] and its decision to help Pakistan with [Gwadar] are merely 
defensive or whether they are designed to assert a military presence 
encircling India," according to a recent analysis in the trade 
publication Alexanders Oil and Gas Connections.


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