A week ago, a shipyard in Shanghai launched the second of four multi-role warships for the Pakistan Navy. The 'Type 054 A/P' frigates will be the most advanced surface warships in the Pakistan Navy upon entering service and have been portrayed as a symbol of the depth of Pakistan's strategic ties with China.
In an interview with China's state-run Global Times published on Thursday, Pakistan's Navy chief Admiral M. Amjad Khan Niazi linked his force's importance to the growth of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). CPEC is a network of infrastructure projects being developed inside Pakistan with Chinese assistance to build transit routes from Pakistan's Makran coast through to China and is an integral part of China's Belt and Road Initiative. A total of 122 projects are planned under CPEC, at an estimated cost of $87 billion.
"With the changing geostrategic realities in the region and operationalisation of the CPEC, the role and responsibilities of the Pakistan Navy are growing exponentially. The PN is steadily undertaking capability enhancement and capacity development to optimally deal with added responsibilities and evolving challenges," Niazi told Global Times.
Niazi alleged "India, with an expansionist mindset, is destabilising the region by actions that could imperil regional security."
Niazi welcomed increasing forays by China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy into the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, which started from the mid-2000s. "The PN and PLA Navy with their longstanding and expanding cooperation can play an important role in maintaining good order at sea. The PLA Navy's presence in the Indian Ocean region is thus an important element in maintaining the regional balance of power and promoting maritime security," Niazi told Global Times.
Ever since China started cooperation in developing the Gwadar port in Pakistan, there have been concerns it could become a base of the People's Liberation Army Navy.
Niazi did not deny Gwadar could host Chinese naval forces, but said, "Gwadar is a commercial port that will serve as the lynchpin of the CPEC project. As the port gets fully operational, like any other commercial port, it may also receive port calls by ships of different navies… Visit of a commercial port by naval ships does not alter the commercial nature of the project."
Niazi welcomed China's development of aircraft carriers. China currently has two aircraft carriers in service and is building at least two more in Shanghai. It is estimated China could have up to six aircraft carriers in service by the mid-2030s. Niazi said, "It is heartening to know that the PLA Navy now operates two aircraft carriers. The PN would like to conduct an exercise with these carriers whenever an opportunity arises. Moreover, the PLA Navy and PN ships regularly visit each other's ports. In the same stride, the PN would continue to welcome further visits by PLA Navy ships, including aircraft carriers."
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Niazi described ties between the Pakistan Navy and the People's Liberation Army Navy as "historic and deep-rooted". Referring to ongoing procurement of weapons from China, Niazi said, "The PN has also contracted construction of eight Hangor class submarines, four Type 054A/P ships and medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned combat aerial vehicles from China."
Niazi said the Type 054 A/P frigates will be the "most technologically advanced platforms of the PN surface fleet, equipped with modern surface, subsurface and anti-air weapons, sensors and combat management systems". Niazi said the Hangor class submarines, which will have diesel-electric engines, "would substantially add to the offensive capability of the PN Fleet". Analysts have warned the Hangor class vessels, eight of which are being built, could be equipped with nuclear-armed cruise missiles.