WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US Defence Department expects China to add military bases around the world to protect its investments in it ambitious Belt and Road global infrastructure programme, according to an official report.
Beijing currently has just one overseas military base, in Djibouti, but is believed planning others, including possibly in Pakistan, as it seeks to project itself as a global superpower.
"China's advancement of projects such as the 'One Belt, One Road' Initiative (OBOR) will probably drive military overseas basing through a perceived need to provide security for OBOR projects," the Pentagon said in its annual report to Congress on Chinese military and security developments. OBOR has been renamed as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
"China will seek to establish additional military bases in countries with which it has a longstanding friendly relationship and similar strategic interests, such as Pakistan, and in which there is a precedent for hosting foreign militaries," the report said.
That effort could be constrained by other countries' wariness of hosting a full-time presence of the People's Liberation Army, the report noted.
But target locations for military basing could include the Middle East, South-east Asia, and the western Pacific.
China has already established well-armed outposts on contested atolls it build up in the South China Sea.
Last year, there were reportedly discussions on a base in the Wakhan corridor of northwest Afghanistan.
In addition, The Washington Post recently identified an outpost hosting many Chinese troops in eastern Tajikistan, near the strategic junction of the Wakhan Corridor, China, and Pakistan.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has sought to project the country's power beyond its immediate "back yard" in East and Southeast Asia.
This includes strengthening the country's presence in international institutions, acquiring top-flight technology and establishing a strong economic presence worldwide.
It also includes projecting the country's military force on land, sea and in space, the report notes.
"China's leaders are leveraging China's growing economic, diplomatic, and military clout to establish regional pre-eminence and expand the country's international influence," the report said.
Beijing in particular increasingly see the United States as becoming more confrontational in an effort to contain China's expanding power, it said.
Beijing meanwhile has taken note of a growing suspicion in many countries of the One Belt One Road programme, and has toned down its aggressive rhetoric in response.
Nevertheless, the Pentagon said Beijing's leadership has not altered its fundamental strategic goals.