China is set to increase the number of its marine corps from 20,000 to one lakh as part of plans to deploy them overseas for the first time, including at the strategic Gwadar port in Pakistan and military logistics base in Djibouti in the Indian Ocean.
The expansion is planned to protect China’s maritime lifelines and its growing interests overseas, Hong-Kong based South China Morning Post reported.
Some members would be stationed at ports China operates in Djibouti and Gwadar in southwest Pakistan, Chinese military insiders and experts were quoted as saying. Gwadar port is a deep-sea port next to the Strait of Hormuz, the key oil route in and out of the Persian Gulf, built with Chinese funding and operated by mainland firms.
Although the port is not home to any PLA installation, navy ships are expected to dock at the facility in the near future, the report said.
Gwadar also connects the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) through PoK with China’s Xinjiang. Reports from Pakistan said the country itself is setting up Special Security Division comprising 15,000 troops, including 9,000 Pakistan Army soldiers and 6,000 para-military forces personnel to protect CPEC and Chinese personnel.
The expanded Chinese marine corps is part of a wider push to refocus the world’s largest army away from winning a land war based on sheer numbers and towards meeting a range of security scenarios using highly specialised units, the report said. Towards that end, Chinese President Xi Jinping is reducing the size of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) by three lakh, with nearly all of the cuts coming from the land forces, it said.