This is officially the Year of Pakistan-China Friendship, and in a four-day visit to Beijing last week — the third in just 17 months — Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, proclaimed that the two best friends “are like one nation and two countries.” Chinese officials were reported to have presented Mr. Gilani with 50 fighter jets as a welcome gift. So it raised eyebrows when this week the two nations politely disagreed over whether Mr. Gilani had given the Chinese a gift that would be hard to mislay: an entire naval base, right at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Pakistan’s defense minister, Ahmad Mukhtar, who accompanied Mr. Gilani on the state visit, announced the deal after Mr. Gilani returned home on Saturday.
“We have asked our Chinese brothers to please build a naval base at Gwadar,” a deepwater port on Pakistan’s southwest coast, he told journalists. Moreover, he said, Pakistan had invited China to assume management of the port’s commercial operations, now run by a Singapore firm under a multidecade contract. On Tuesday, however, China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, disagreed, saying the port had neither been offered nor accepted. “China and Pakistan are friendly neighbors,” she said at the ministry’s twice-weekly news conference. “Regarding the specific China-Pakistan cooperative project that you raised, I have not heard of it. It’s my understanding that during the visit last week this issue was not touched upon.”
Some analysts were at a loss to explain the discrepancy. “Maybe there were some discussions between the two sides when Gilani was up in China last week, bearing on some kind of future Chinese stewardship of the port,” said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, in a telephone interview. “Maybe there was some speculative discussion. Perhaps the Defense Ministry simply got its signals wrong.” “We’re seeing a lot of incompetence in the Pakistani government these days,” he added.