A Chinese military doctor tends to a Pakistani patient during a PLA humanitarian mission to Pakistan in 2010.
In its effort to combat separatist Uighur groups, China is apparently seeking to establish military bases in the part of Pakistan that borders the Uighurs' home province of Xinjiang. That's according to Pakistani journalist Amir Mir, writing in Asia Times:
While Pakistan wants China to build a naval base at its southwestern seaport of Gwadar in Balochistan province, Beijing is more interested in setting up military bases either in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan or in the Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA) that border Xinjiang province.
The Chinese desire is meant to contain growing terrorist activities of Chinese rebels belonging to the al-Qaeda-linked East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) that is also described as the Turkistani Islamic Party (TIP).
The Chinese Muslim rebels want the creation of an independent Islamic state and are allegedly being trained in the tribal areas of Pakistan. According to well-placed diplomatic circles in Islamabad, Beijing's wish for a military presence in Pakistan was discussed at length by the political and military leadership of both countries in recent months as China (which views the Uyghur separatist sentiment as a dire threat) has become ever-more concerned about Pakistan's tribal areas as a haven for radicals.
The Uighur-Pakistan connection was highlighted a couple of months ago, when city officials in Kashgar accused Pakistan of harboring Uighurs who then carried out attacks in the city. Pakistan has been eager to court China, especially since its relations with U.S. have collapsed over the last few months, after the U.S. found Osama bin Laden hiding out in Pakistan and undertook a unilateral mission to kill him. So Islamabad is likely to be relatively receptive to Beijing's request. There have been rumors -- and public claims by India -- that China already has thousands of troops in Pakistan, but China has denied them. And some Chinese officials have stepped back from the claim that the Kashgar attacks originated in Pakistan. So will they still be looking for a base in Pakistan? We'll see.
UPDATE: China foreign relations expert M. Taylor Fravel says on Twitter that the Asia Times report is "hogwash," and I should have mentioned that the sourcing was pretty thin -- not even Pakistani diplomats, but "diplomatic circles." Still, it's worth noting that Pakistani diplomatic circles are discussing this. And Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room takes the report a few steps further and posits that such a base would benefit the U.S.