Robert D. Kaplan on May 27, 2011, in Foreign Policy Magazine says that Pakistani officials have announced that the Chinese look favorably on taking over the operation of the Arabian Sea port of Gwadar close to the entrance of the Strait of Hormuz, and perhaps building a naval base for the Pakistanis there as well.

The Chinese have according to Kaplan already invested $200 million in building a modern port in Gwadar. The reason for the Chinese interest is what has been called a “Malacca dilemma.” China is too dependent on the narrow and congested Strait of Malacca between Indonesia and Malaysia for its oil and natural gas shipments from the Middle East to Chinese ports.

Engagement in port-building projects in Pakistan and Burma is part of the Chinese geostrategy: may be linkinking roads and energy pipelines directly to China.

Once China has developed a blue-water navy to protect its sea lines of communications, it will require port access along the global energy interstate that is the Indian Ocean. For Pakistan’s part, a robust Chinese presence at Gwadar would serve to check India’s own strategic ambitions, as Islamabad leverages Beijing against New Delhi.

However, the security situation is indeed fraught with peril in the area. The Chinese know that a pipeline network from Gwadar into Central Asia and China must await the political stabilization of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Pakistanis want to use China as a bulwark against India. China is expanding elsewhere building or upgrading ports not only in Pakistan and Burma, but in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as well. India already feels surrounded by China and has greatly enlarged its own naval base at Karwar, in the country’s south, partly in response to Chinese construction work in Gwadar.

Gwadar is important: not for what it is today, but for what it will indicate about Beijing’s intentions in the coming years and decades.

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