Pakistan’s Defence Ministry has asked the federal cabinet to approve the purchase of conventional Chinese submarines to counter “emerging threats” that the country faces, according to a media report on Wednesday.

The acquisition of the Chinese vessels will pave the way for joint development of conventional submarines, The Express Tribune newspaper quoted unnamed officials as saying.

The Defence Ministry informed members of the cabinet that the Pakistan Navy is facing a “critical force imbalance” in terms of the number of submarines and ships in its fleet.

The “capability gap is widening exponentially with the passage of time”, the report said.

In view of “urgent naval requirements”, the issue of acquiring Chinese submarines was part of the talking points for President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to China in 2009.

The matter was also discussed during the Chinese premier’s visit to Pakistan in 2010, the report said.

The cabinet has been told that Naval Headquarters had pursued the purchase of submarines with Chinese authorities.

A “mutually agreed draft protocol” is to be signed between the Pakistan Navy and the relevant Chinese department as a first step towards the joint development of conventional submarines.