China’s Overseas Basing: Will the PLA Follow the Renminbi?

    Joel Wuthnow

    Security, Asia

    Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington man the rails as the ship pulls out of Hong Kong after a five-day port visit in this U.S. Navy handout photo dated November 14, 2011. REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Erin Devenberg

    The People’s Liberation Army will play an increasingly visible role in and beyond Eurasia, through deployments and diplomacy.

    Recent media reports suggesting that China may soon open a second overseas military base, to be located in Pakistan, raise the question: where will it end? Will China follow other great powers, which garrisoned forces in large numbers to protect their commercial empires, or will its global military footprint be smaller? While China may open additional naval facilities to support its overseas interests, high costs and limited benefits impose constraints on developing a larger U.S.-style network of bases. However, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will play an increasingly visible role in and beyond Eurasia, through deployments and diplomacy. This means that the United States will have to continually reevaluate its own military partnerships in the region.

    More Pearls on the String

    In the mid-2000s, U.S. and Indian analysts began discussing a notional Chinese “String of Pearls” strategy, anticipating that Beijing would use commercial investments in ports throughout the Indian Ocean region and beyond to support operations in a crisis or war. Rejected at the time by Chinese officials as a product of foreign-threat inflation, the thesis has been somewhat borne out by recent developments. In August, China established its first overseas base in Djibouti, sitting astride a key maritime “chokepoint” linking the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. More recent media reports indicate that China has made progress towards a second base, to be located on Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast near the Iranian border.

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