With growing U.S.-China tensions and with the rise of the simplifying “Thucydides Trap” narrative, we are often tempted to perceive many of Beijing actions as done deals, and as initiatives of far-reaching, strategic implications. The truth, as always, is that reality is complex and only time will tell. One of the stories that often flows on this hype is that Pakistan’s civilian port of Gwadar – which is now being developed with the help of Beijing – will become a Chinese naval base.
To be sure, I do think it would be natural, from a strategic perspective, for Beijing to start running a base for its navy in Pakistan at some point in the future. But just because I believe so does not mean I can twist and cherry-pick evidence to prove it is already happening.
Has Gwadar port become a base for the Chinese navy? There is no open source evidence for this and the current level of the port’s development would make this rather impossible. There is also no public inter-government agreement or a statement of each of the governments available to prove that Islamabad has handed over Gwadar – or is going to do so – for the use of the PLAN (the People’s Liberation Army Navy, i.e. the Chinese navy). Many things may be kept secret of course, though in the case of Djibouti, we did learn of the agreement between the governments before the base was officially set up.