India is nervously eying the construction of the Pakistan port of Gwadar with Chinese assistance.
“Being only 180 nautical miles from the exit of the Straights of Hormuz, Gadwar will enable Pakistan to control the world’s energy jugular and interdiction of Indian tankers” – said Indian Navy Admiral Suresh Mehta at a recent lecture.
Mehta pointed to Beijing’s strategy, dubbed “String of Pearls”, which plans strategically-located bases and outposts along its energy lines across the globe, to monitor and safeguard energy flows.
“Among other locations, the string moves northwards up to the deep sea port of Gwadar on Pakistan’s Makran coast,’ said the admiral. “…A highway is under construction joining Gwadar with Karachi. This will connect with the Krakoram Highway, thus providing China with a gateway to the Arabian Sea.”
This plan, as the admiral indicated, poses a problem for New Delhi, which claims preeminent regional status and therefore the lead in initiating collaborative maritime arrangements in the vicinity of the subcontinent.
But Islamabad does not see it that way.
Pakistan’s information minister Nisar Mernon rejected the Indian Navy chief’s comments. The new port is important for Pakistan’s economy and will provide a trade gateway for the entire region, he said. It will usher in a new era of economic prosperity for Balochistan and the rest of Pakistan. He warned that India’s attitude could have a negative effect on bilateral relations.
Tehran wants to offset US-French Gulf holdings
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s New Delhi sources report that India’s concern about China’s String of Pearls goes beyond the issue of Pakistan’s Arabian Sea port at Gadwar. Rumors swirling around the Gulf speak of a Chinese plan to hopscotch from Gadwar to a point on the Iranian coast.
Beijing is finding Tehran more receptive to this scheme these days – ever since President Nicolas Sarkozy moved into to the Gulf and on Jan. 14 inked in a deal with the United Arab Emirates for a small French base to be established at Abu Dhabi. The deal was approved by US President George W. Bush, who was touring the region at the same time and talking about containing Iran’s influence.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Gulf sources report that the French, Qatari and UAE navies are already planning a military maneuver next month.
For the first time, therefore, the Iranian regime is looking seriously at creating a counterweight to the Western foothold; a Chinese military outpost at one of its Persian Gulf ports or offshore islands might serve that geopolitical purpose.
Furthermore, the arrival of uniformed Chinese in the Persian Gulf would be an irritating poke at American hegemony in the oil-rich Gulf region.
In this respect, the interests of Tehran and Beijing overlap.
Both powers are intent on spreading their wings outside their immediate neighborhoods.
Apart from its resentment of the civilian nuclear accord the US concluded with India, China is keen on gaining an on-the-spot naval presence to secure its energy supplies from the Gulf through the narrow Strait of Hormuz.
Tehran, for its part, was made welcome at the last Shanghai Cooperation Organization – albeit only with observer status as yet. China and Russia are holding back on full membership until the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program is resolved, in consideration of their diplomatic ties with the West.
But Iran is forging ahead to develop security cooperation ties with both Moscow and Beijing, while playing them off against each other.
Playing Beijing off against Moscow
Beijing is striving to outdo Moscow as Iran’s arms supplier and selling the Islamic Republic ballistic-missile technology and radar for air defense systems.
The new Chinese Ambassador to Tehran Xie Xiaoyan turns out to be a live wire.
Tuesday, Jan. 29, he conferred with Majlis Representative and Head of Energy Commission Kamal Daneshyar on the expansion of “mutual cooperation” between the two countries in the energy sector.
China is already under contract to buy natural gas from Iran’s huge North Pars fields.
Daneshyar announced that he has prepared the ground for China to set up 20 nuclear power plants for Iran in the coming years. This was confirmed by the Majlis press department.
Moscow has long been angling for this contract but Iran has held back, far from satisfied with Russia’s performance over its Bushehr reactor.
The Chinese ambassador also talked about “cooperation” in the construction of an oil refinery, dams, road construction, rail tracks for Tehran’s underground and steel plants, as well as joint investments.
With less fanfare, the Chinese appear to have landed multi-billion dollar transactions to develop Iran’s run-down oil fields, build Caspian Sea terminals and also air ports.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iranian sources report that the Iranians are pushing ahead eagerly on cooperation with China, partly to show the Russians that, while heavily dependent on their military and economic ties with Moscow, they don’t entirely trust them.
Although Moscow has delivered the full amount of enriched fuel to drive the Bushehr nuclear reactor, Iran is not altogether sure the Russians will meet their contractual obligations to complete construction and make the reactor functional.
Tehran is not averse to signaling Moscow that it is not in Russia’s pocket.
Granting Beijing another pearl for its string – a small Chinese naval outpost on the Iranian coast or an offshore island – may look to Iran’s strategic planners like a smart move.