China's route through Pakistan to the Arabian Sea. Image: Agence France-Presse

Pakistan invited China to build a naval base on its soil in 2011, according to a Pakistani diplomat, and Western observers along with Pakistani officials say it could still happen, reports NBC News.

“We need an equalizer against India … Previously, it was the U.S. and Saudi [Arabia]. Now, it’s China,” one Pakistani diplomat told NBC.

One potential location for a base is the port of Gwadar, a key location in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, while Jiwani and Ormara are also potential sites.

“Chinese deployments in Pakistan could range from Chinese intelligence personnel, naval forces in ports like Gwadar, air forces to support missions in Central Asia, or even special forces or counterterrorism strike capabilities,” said Sameer Lalwani, research fellow at the Stimson Center.