BEIJING: Pakistan and China seek to expand their naval ties as the two sides look forward to enhancing capabilities and deepening cooperation to deal with regional security challenges.

This was agreed upon in a meeting between Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu and Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Amjad Khan Niazi on Monday.

The Chinese minister said the two militaries should “expand into new fields of cooperation” to safeguard the region’s security.

“The two militaries should expand into new areas of exchanges, create new high points of cooperation to continuously enhance their ability to deal with all sorts of risks and challenges, and jointly maintain the security interests of the two countries and of the region,” said Li, according to a statement on China’s Ministry of National Defense website.

Admiral Niazi’s visit to Beijing comes after Zhang Youxia, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, said in late April that the Chinese military was willing to deepen and expand cooperation with Pakistan’s military.

The army, navy and air force of the two nations are already cooperating in several avenues and have held bilateral exercises in each other’s territory.

But Chinese interest in the region has stirred concern, especially in neighbouring India after China opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti on the northwestern fringe of the Indian Ocean in 2017. For China, Pakistan and its access to the Arabian Sea is key in the event of a maritime blockade in the Strait of Malacca.

The Pentagon previously identified Pakistan as a possible location for a future Chinese military base, with Gwadar seen as the likely location. Any sign of that happening would fuel New Delhi’s worries over growing Chinese military alliances and assets in its backyard.In 2022, New Delhi expressed concern over a Chinese survey ship’s visit to a strategic port in Sri Lanka.

In 2014, Sri Lanka angered India when a Chinese submarine and a warship were allowed to dock in Colombo.

Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2023

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