By S. M. Hali 

The history of Pakistan’s relations with its friends is replete with concrete examples of the contribution of People’s Republic of China towards building a strong and robust Pakistan, enabling the latter to stand on its own feet.

Pakistan and China enjoy diverse and intimate relationship since their creation six decades ago. Throughout this period, China has remained a steadfast ally of Pakistan and extended assistance in all fields including defence, which commenced in mid sixties. The naval collaboration got off to a rather belated but steady start.

Following the 1971 Pak-India war, Sino-Pak naval cooperation grew multifold due to Occidental sanctions on the latter. Pakistan Navy (PN) Fleet comprising vintage colonial era warships and lacking effective and agile naval platforms was at the mercy of Indian Navy’s fast missile and gunboats in the 1971 conflict. To plug this capability gap, China proceeded to supply naval craft of various types to Pakistan which joined PN Fleet in batches throughout 70s and early 80s. These included: Huchwan class Fast Attack Hydrofoil Craft, Hainan Class Submarine Chasers, Shanghai-II class Fast Patrol/Gun Boats, Huang Fen Class Fast Attack Missile Craft and Hegn Class Fast Attack Missile Craft. These platforms added new dimension to PN Fleet and enabled PN to effectively carryout surveillance of its South East sector along Pakistani coast whose vulnerability was exposed in the 1971 War. In June 1978, His Excellency Kent Piao, Vice President of China along with his delegation and President of Pakistan, visited PN Fleet and witnessed firepower  display of Chinese craft in open sea. By 1984 the entire flotilla of promised Chinese ships had been integrated into PN Fleet and was employed for surveillance and patrolling off our ports and coastal cities of Bin Qasim, Pasni and Gwadar.

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The successful experience of Chinese naval platforms reiterated PN confidence in Chinese naval hardware prompting Pakistan to venture into acquisition of larger naval vessels. A bilateral agreement was therefore signed with Chinese shipyard for the construction of 20,000 tons Fleet Replenishment Tanker in early 1986. The ship was constructed as per PN requirements and was commissioned as PNS NASR in August 1987, which continues to provide sterling service.

In the 1990s, the slapping of Pressler Amendment on Pakistan by USA impelled its defence planners to seek further Chinese assistance and cooperation in the field of naval construction and aim for indigenization. The construction and induction of missile craft, PNS JALALAT and later PNS SHUJAAT in late 90s at PN Dockyard with Chinese assistance bore fruitful results.

Besides undertaking bilateral naval visits, the relationship blossomed in 2005 when the deal to acquire four F-22 P class Frigates under Transfer of Technology (ToT) package was signed with China. Under this agreement, three ships were to be constructed in China while the 4th one in Pakistan with Chinese assistance. The arrangement went ahead as planned and to-date three Frigates have been commissioned and integrated into PN Fleet while the fourth, constructed by Karachi shipyard & Engineering Works is scheduled to be commissioned this month. These state of the art ships are designed to operate in multi-threat environment and are fitted with sophisticated sensors suite and weapons. They also carry Z-9EC helicopters which have also been delivered to PN, optimized for Anti Submarine Warfare operations. PN experience of F22P ships and Z9EC helicopters has been an unqualified success which has encouraged it to enter into various major acquisition projects with China which will usher a new era of Chinese technology and hardware in PN. In the same context, PN signed a deal under ToT with China in 2011 for construction of two Fast Missile Craft. These craft were to be constructed one each at China and Pakistan and carry advanced missiles capable of hitting targets at extended ranges with precision. Additionally, PN has signed a deal with China for the induction of Radar Controlled Guns and Low Level Air Defence Radars for the terminal air defence of its vital installations. Induction of the above mentioned platforms and weapon systems will not only boost PN quest to attain self-sufficiency in the construction naval hardware but also provide it with quality equipment to address its shortfalls.

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The high point of Sino-Pak has culminated in Chinese assistance in construction of first phase of Gwadar Deep Water Port, while the administrative control of the port has also been acquired by PRC. PLA Naval forces regular participation in bilateral and multilateral naval exercises with PN have enriched the experience of both navies in meeting maritime challenges and reiterates naval cooperation.