Using the economics-coated pill of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China has been slowly and strategically expanding its overall footprint across the region as it seeks to consolidate its foothold and create a vast network of military installations outside of the mainland.
This was suggested by the US Department Of Defense in an annual report it submits to the US Congress titled: Military and Security Developments Involving the Peoples Republic of China 2022. The report is also known as the “China Military Power Report”.
BRI in Pakistan a strategic expansion
The report said that as part of its national strategy, Beijing has been leveraging BRI to strengthen its territorial integrity, energy security, and international influence – particularly in the region around it and in key locations across the world.
China, it said, aims to improve stability and diminish threats, for example, by investing in projects along its western and southern periphery.
What this looks like is how BRI includes projects such as construction of gas and other pipelines and the construction of the Gwadar port in Balochistan.
The objective, Pentagon said that Beijing does not want to transport critical energy resources through strategic choke points, such as the Strait of Malacca and has been building an alternative pathway.
It also attempts to exploit the relationships it builds through BRI to pursue additional economic cooperation with participating countries, the likes of Pakistan.
One dimension of the expansion of its BRI – geared towards infrastructure development – has been the accompanied expansion of China’s direct security presence in BRI beneficiary countries.
Pentagon said that Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has signaled that its overseas security footprint will expand accordingly to protect BRI interests, which Beijing recognizes may provoke pushback from other states.
China, Pentagon claimed, argues that some of BRI’s planned or active economic corridors transit regions are prone to violence, separatism, armed conflict, and instability, putting BRI-related projects and Chinese citizens working overseas at risk.
The Pentagon report pointed to the 2021 Dasu attack in which 10 Chinese nationals were killed and 26 others injured when a suicide bomber targeted their bus as it headed to a BRI infrastructure development project.
“China has therefore sought to extend its ability to project military power to safeguard its overseas interests, including BRI,” the report said.
It aims to achieve this by “developing closer regional and bilateral counterterrorism cooperation and supporting host-nation security forces through military aid, including military equipment donations.”
In this regard, the US report claimed that China has likely considered Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Equatorial Guinea, Seychelles, Tanzania, Angola, and Tajikistan among other places as locations for PLA military logistics facilities
In the case of Pakistan, the idea of expanding Chinese military influence was evidenced by the recent increase in military communication and cooperation between Islamabad and Beijing.
Foremost was the extensive weapons cooperation between Pakistan and China.
China arms export:
China is the fifth-largest arms supplier in the world, and sells nearly every category of conventional military equipment including drones, submarines, naval surface vessels, surface to air missile systems and fighter aircraft.
Its list of customers include countries who are also US allies and weapons users such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Kazakhstan.
Among specific weapons proovided include strike-capable drones Caihong and Wing Loong to Pakistan, along with Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, Algeria, Serbia, Indonesia, and Kazakhstan.
In Naval ships, China has supplied major naval vessels including Pakistan’s 2015 purchase of eight Yuan class submarines for more than $3 billion.
In 2017 and 2018, China sold two naval frigates to Bangladesh and four to Pakistan.
In air power, China has developed the JF-17 aircraft along with Pakistan and is now looking to sell these to customers such as Argentina.
Further, in the past year, Pakistan has been part of four major multinational naval, military, peacekeeping, anti-terrorism exercises with China as it expands military ties.
China releationship ranks
The report noted that another tenet of “Major Power Diplomacy with Chinese Characteristics” is Beijing’s ambition to construct “new types” of “omnidirectional” relations and bilateral partnerships among states.
These, in fact, are a ranking system for China to track its ties.
China desires for its concepts of mutual respect, cooperation and mutual benefit to provide the basis for these “new types” of relations.
Yang Jiechi describes China’s “new type” relationships as strategic partnerships that follow a new path of “major power relations.”
Although distinct from alliance relationships, the PRC’s notion of strategic partnerships is indicative of a relationship that meets Beijing’s criteria and is worthy of a higher level of bilateral cooperation.
To improve its diplomatic support further, the PRC also seeks to create what it calls a “comprehensive global partnership network” of its strategic partners to form a global “circle of friends.”
Despite its encompassing rhetoric, the PRC uses nomenclature to implicitly rank its level of “partnership.”
For example, the PRC rank Pakistan as its only “all-weather strategic partner,” Russia as its only “comprehensive strategic partner with coordination relations,” and other countries such as Brazil and various states in South and Southeast Asia holding “all-round strategic partnership relations.”
Nuclear ramp up
The report noted that China will more than triple its stock of nuclear warheads by 2035.
This means that its current stockpile will swell up to 1,500 war heads.
China though, dismissed the report as ‘hype’ around a manufactured ‘China threat narrative’.
“China’s nuclear policy is consistent and clear. We follow a self-defensive nuclear strategy. We stick to the policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons,” said Chian Foriegn Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Wednesday during his regular press conference.
“We have exercised utmost restraint in developing nuclear capabilities. We have kept those capabilities at the minimum level required by national security. We are never part of any form of arms race.”
“What the US should do is to seriously reflect on its nuclear policy, abandon the Cold-War mentality and hegemonic logic, stop disrupting global strategic stability, step up to its special and primary responsibilities in nuclear disarmament, and further take substantial and substantive cuts to its nuclear arsenal, so as to create conditions for attaining the ultimate goal of complete and thorough nuclear disarmament,” he added.