Another conflict between China and the U.S. over the South China Sea is brewing after the Pentagon released a report suggesting that Beijing has plans to set up military bases in Pakistan. The war of words between Washington and Beijing is intensifying as the two sides trade blows.

As acting U.S. ambassador to China David Rank resigns from his post, the U.S. and China enter a heated exchange. The report by the Pentagon sparked a furor in China, with Beijing attacking the U.S. for its “cold war mentality.” The Pentagon focused its report on Beijing’s ambitions in the South China Sea, where it frequently challenges U.S. warships and planes.

The Pentagon claims in its report released on Tuesday that Beijing, which already has the largest navy in the Pacific, is planning to deploy up to three regiments of fighter jets on three of its disputed islands in the sea. The report also goes on to estimate that China currently has more than 300 ships in the Pacific.

The report reopened the tensions over the South China Sea, which Beijing claims in its entirety despite the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan also claiming parts of the disputed region. Almost $5 trillion in trade passes through South China Sea annually.

Washington and Beijing have been at odds over the status of China’s artificial islands in the sea, as they do not quite go in line with the U.S. Freedom of Navigation Operations. Beijing is currently constructing its first overseas base in Djibouti.

China is planning to set up military bases in Pakistan: Pentagon

As the Pentagon lifted the curtain to reveal China’s apparent plans to set up military bases in Pakistan, Beijing could not keep its lips sealed. Although Islamabad is clearly leaning toward Beijing thanks to their joint multi-billion dollar project China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), China’s response to the Pentagon report was furious. Chinese Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying described Beijing as being “firmly opposed” to the Pentagon’s assessments and said the report disregarded facts and made “irresponsible remarks.”

Nevertheless, the possibility of Beijing setting up one or more military bases in Pakistan remains high, with Beijing having ambitious plans for CPEC and trying to protect it from any foreign attempts to disrupt the project. India, Pakistan’s traditional enemy, vehemently opposes CPEC, as the ambitious project runs through the disputed Kashmir territory. With China increasing its CPEC investments from $46 billion to a staggering $54 billion in March, there were multiple reports also in March of Beijing allegedly sending Pakistan 15,000 troops, including 9,000 soldiers and 6,000 para-military forces personnel.

China has so far denied America’s assumptions that it could set up military bases on the territory of its longtime ally Pakistan, where the Pentagon says “there is a precedent for hosting foreign militaries.” However, there can be no denial that Beijing places great importance on its joint CPEC projects with Islamabad.

The Pentagon’s assertion that Beijing may be planning to build military bases in Pakistan and station its troops there on a permanent basis comes amid China’s alleged “master plan” published by DAWN last month. The publication concludes that China is planning to “colonize” Pakistan by using CPEC projects, though ValueWalk later debunked the myth that such plans exist in Beijing.

Chinese plans revealed: nuclear advances, massive defense spending

The Chinese government denies the part of the Pentagon report about its voracious appetites for the South China Sea. However, Beijing has never kept its assertive strategy to secure control of the sea under wraps, as it is looking to tighten its grip on the disputed area even though the U.S. has been lambasting it for its provocative actions there. Since 2015, Washington and Beijing have engaged in a heated exchange of hostile gestures over the South China Sea, with the U.S. advocating for freedom of navigation in the region.

The Pentagon’s 106-page report also focuses on China’s apparent plans to deploy rockets able to deliver nuclear warheads to the western Pacific. The report’s authors estimate that Beijing spent a whopping $180 billion on its defense in 2016 alone, and that figure appeared to be much higher than the Chinese government’s officially-stated figure of $144.3 billion. That makes Beijing the second-biggest defense spender after the U.S., though the Chinese already have the world’s biggest military, according to multiple estimations from military experts.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered a massive modernization of the People’s Liberation Army, focusing the country’s military buildup on protecting its interests in the disputed South China Sea. President Xi also ordered the development of a domestic aircraft carrier in a bid to have two carriers total in the Chinese army.

The Pentagon report also has worrying information about China’s nuclear plans, as the country is said to be working on the Dongfeng-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), which is capable of carrying out nuclear precision strikes and conventional strikes against targets in the western Pacific Ocean.

Russia and China’s “enormous” joint military events 2017-2020

It makes the Americans no less worried that Beijing is enjoying a growing friendship with Russia. At a recent meeting between Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and his Chinese counterpart in Kazakhstan, the two nations agreed to hold “enormous” and “important” joint military events between now and 2020.

When addressing reporters after the meeting, Shoigu and Chinese General Chang Wanquan said they agreed to a military “roadmap” for the years 2017 to 2020. The plans to step up their military cooperation comes nearly a year after Russia and China carried out naval drills in the disputed South China Sea, the exercise that was met with severe criticism from China’s neighbors with territorial claims on the disputed area.

Moscow and Beijing have been enjoying an increasingly warming military relationship lately, as in addition to warming up to Beijing, Russia has also cozied up to its biggest regional ally Pakistan. The construction of military bases in Pakistan would further strengthen the Russia-China military partnership and create the possibility of a China-Russia-Pakistan superpower triangle.

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