After opening its first foreign military base near the Horn of Africa, China is preparing to build a second military facility in Gwadar, Pakistan.
The two sites when completed will provide Beijing with a strategic naval presence near the oil-rich Middle East shipping routes used to send supplies to China.
According to sources in Pakistan and the surrounding region, China has begun expanding the port facility on the Arabian Sea to handle large naval vessels. Additionally, the Chinese also are upgrading Gwadar International Airport so that it will be capable of handling heavy military transports.
As of September, several hundred Chinese nationals were working in Gwadar, including senior People’s Liberation Army officers. Scores of additional military personnel arrived in the port over the past month.
Additionally, there are indications the Chinese recently visited an area several hundred miles further east of Gwadar on the Sonmiani Bay near Karachi, a region known for space research and advanced computing centers. There are signs the Chinese are ready to build another port facility at that location.
Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of the Central Command that is involved throughout the region, said he is concerned about Beijing’s involvement in both locations, saying he is aware of China opening ports and building roads and other facilities in Pakistan and elsewhere.
“Yeah, I’m concerned about the influence of other actors in this area and what that means for us and security in the region,” he told reporters in Tampa. Growing foreign influence in the region is a “fact of life for us — whether it’s urgent or long term, it’s always present for us and something we always have to deal with in this region,” the general said.
The Chinese construction and military activities in the port appear similar to what China did in Djibouti, strategically located near the chokepoint in the Red Sea called the Bab el Mandeb. China’s military initially said the facility at Djibouti was a logistics base used for resupplying naval ships used in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions.
But close observers say Djibouti is a hardened military facility on the Red Sea, monitoring a heavily traveled oil shipping route.
If the Gwadar base is a second major military base for China, it would give Beijing control over two strategic choke-points and capability to disrupt oil shipping on both sides of the Middle East.
Retired Indian army Col. Vinayak Bhat recently analyzed satellite photographs of Djibouti and stated that the African base was constructed to handle up to a brigade of troops and scores of helicopters.
The 200-acre base is still being built, but includes at least 10 storage barracks, ammunition, storage, an office complex and a heliport.
“While [the Djibouti base] would enable China to exert influence in the African continent, the facility could be the model for similar bases that are being planned at Gwadar or Karachi in the future,” Col. Bhat said in an article in the publication The Print.
The two Chinese bases are indications Beijing is following through with a plan identified years ago called the “string of pearls” — a series of military bases stretching from the Middle East through Southeast Asia that will be used for future PLA power-projection.
Key China leader retiring
News reports from Asia indicate one of the most powerful figures in China, Wang Qishan, is expected to step down from his position as a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, the seven-member collective dictatorship that rules China.
Mr. Wang, will retire from the all-powerful Standing Committee because he has reached the mandatory retirement age 68, Japan’s Nikkei Asian Review reported Wednesday, quoting party sources.
He has been leading a nationwide anti-corruption drive widely viewed by observers outside China as part of a plan by President Xi Jinping to consolidate power by eliminating political rivals.
U.S. intelligence agencies that closely monitor the senior Chinese leadership regard Mr. Wang’s tenure on the committee as a bellwether for the future of Mr. Xi, who is expected to be named to a second term as general secretary during the major Communist Party congress underway this week.
The question for many analysts is whether Mr. Xi, who took power in 2013, will break the rule for mandatory retirement age requirement and take a third term as president. He is 64 and will reach the retirement age at the end of his second term.
During his time as leader, Mr. Xi has taken on more power than any leader since Mao Zedong.
Michael Collins, deputy assistant CIA director and head of the agency’s East Asia Mission Center, told a security conference in Colorado in July that he expect Mr. Xi to emerge strengthened from the party congress and that he could hold on to power beyond two five-year terms.
“It looks like he’s going to come out of this party congress all the more powerful,” he said. “Regardless of what position he’s in, given the allegiances he established, he’s going to remain probably pretty influential.”
The coveted opening on the Standing Committee created by Mr. Wang’s expected departure will be filled by Li Zhanshu, a close Xi ally who currently heads the Communist Party general office.
In addition to his role as the anti-corruption czar, Mr. Wang is China’s most powerful financial affairs official, overseeing billions of dollars.
Chinese dissident Guo Wengui, a billionaire real estate developer, recently exposed what he said were secrets from within the Chinese government exposing alleged corruption by Mr. Wang, including covert real estate holdings by the anti-corruption chief in California.
In addition to Mr. Xi’s second term in power, Premier Li Keqiang is expected to retain his post.
China watchers in government also are waiting to see if Mr. Xi’s unique political ideology will be codified in changes in the Chinese constitution, a key indicator of staying power within the communist system.
Mosul reveals IS secrets
U.S. and allied military forces backing the Iraqi government forces that retook the northern city of Mosul from the Islamic State this summer learned new details of Islamic State activities and operations after the city was liberated in July. One interesting bit of intelligence was the terrorist group’s use of quadcopter drones for both bombing and video surveillance.
The group operated their drones in a military-style brigade structure and were sophisticated enough to have the drones electronically programmed to finish their missions after electronic signals from controllers were disrupted.
Each of the drone used cost around $500 and were used to drop grenades, in one case hitting a munitions-carrying vehicle that resulted in a spectacular series of secondary explosions that were caught on video by another drone and later posted online for IS propaganda.
Also, Islamic State built an extensive and extremely sophisticated tunnel structure throughout Mosul that was even equipped with Wi-Fi used by the terrorists to communicate while underground. The tunnel network included small-diameter routes that were built with special boring machines and ranged in size to tunnels capable of handling trucks.
Also, during the excavation for the tunnels, the Islamic State accidentally uncovered the ruins of an ancient civilization in Mosul.
IS used Facebook and Twitter to their advantage while in Mosul, mostly to propagandize.
Allied forces were able to track many of the terror group’s activities simply by monitoring their postings on Twitter.
U.S. and allied militaries were unable to use Facebook to counter IS activities in Iraq because of rules prohibiting the use of American companies for information-warfare operations.
IS use of vehicle bombs in Iraq was hampered by a lack of armored plating. So the group switched to using Kia SUVs that were outfitted with bombs.
One Kia car bomb was used to destroy an Iraqi M-1A1 tank, an attack that was recorded by an IS drone.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz
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