China Pakistan Relations and India
As US Pakistan relations slide to their nadir since 2001, Pakistan is hedging on a strong China backing to fill the vacuum thus created. It has been promoting China as the alternative benefactor that could deliver badly needed economic and military assistance. As per a Pakistani narrative, “What we hear least about is the tangled weave of national interests that means China courts Pakistan as a proxy for it’s own competition with India, to the point where Pakistani experts concede that, given a choice between alliance with the US or China, Pakistan’s military will choose China “every day of the week, and twice on Fridays”.
But is China interested?
It is this tentative Chinese approach to Pakistan which may prohibit Pakistan to rupture its relationship with Washington anymore.
According to Andrew Small of German Marshall Fund, an American Policy Institute, “Pakistan may be taking up the ‘China option’ beyond where the Chinese are willing to go. China, he reckons, will be ‘reluctant to tilt too far towards what might look like an anti India alliance. China, as per him, wants to keep its relations with India in reasonable order”.
Both share strategic interests to contain India. To that end, China has a major role in arming Pakistan but China’s real interests lie someplace else – in its competition with US and in East Asia. It is for this reason that it has been slow to resurrect Pakistan’s economy. China Pakistan trade today stands at a paltry US$ 9 Billion with Pakistan’s figure standing at US$ 1 Billion.
China’s compulsions to develop its Western regions have prompted it to look at Pakistan and Afghanistan’s northern areas. As per Foreign Affairs magazine, its aid is based on evaluation of geopolitical, political and economic risks.
Geopolitically, Indian rivalry has prompted China to support Pakistan. Friendly ties also help satisfy its strategic interests of peace in Xinjiang province, spur economic growth in China’s Western provinces, contain India and preclude rise of continental rivals. This also offsets ill effects of India’s ‘look east’ policy on China’s interests in East Asia . As India’s strategic reach expands, a continuing rivalry with Pakistan that preoccupies its diplomacy and pulls its attention back to its own neighborhood, remains a net positive for Beijing.
Merely through this prism, the China Pakistan relations seem to be on the right trajectory.
But there are other compulsions. China considers Pakistan’s inability to curb Islamic extremism in Pakistan reprehensible. The symbiotic relations with extremists nurtured by Pakistan in its proxy war in Afghanistan and India are unnerving to China because of their impact on fueling Islamic insurgency in Western China. Secondly, the attacks on Chinese interests and workers in Pakistan have forced China to close some of their enterprises in Pakistan. Today it is looking at risk management and public support at home more critical than ‘follow the flag’ trade practices. Pakistan provides a bleak picture here. The terrorism and instability paradoxes presented by Pakistan further dilute its credibility as an investment destination. China’s involvement in Pakistan will closely reflect Beijing’s own priorities and evolving risk assessments.
Strategically, China wants to open the land routes to Gulf, Iran and Europe through its infrastructure development plans in Gilgit Baltistan and Afghanistan. It has invested in these including the Aynak copper mines with a rail connectivity. 30 years down the road these links could be China’s gateway to Gulf and Europe through Pakistan and Afghanistan presenting an altogether different geo strategic picture than that we are used to today. These cannot fructify in the military led terror oriented foreign policy of Pakistan. This is what makes China weary of investing too heavily in this terror prone area.
Unfortunately the Pakistani foreign policy narrative is articulated by the military which focuses this relationship as purely strategic. This opinion in Express Tribune post the recent China Pakistan military exercise labours on revisiting this attitude:
What makes matters worse is that Pakistan’s relationship with China is — as is much of foreign policy— dictated by the military which dominates policy making and sets the narrative and public discourse on how we perceive and deal with the outside world. This is perhaps why we are programmed to look at relations with China as a counter to Indian influence in the region and seem to prefer it over relations with America, which happens to be one of our largest aid donors and largest trading partners.
As a counter Indian view, Professor Rakesh Datta argues for greater need to bolster India’s defence capabilities vis a vis China:
China has been nibbling India at the politico-military front despite certain confidence-building measures in action between the two countries. China has chosen Pakistan as a conduit in its game-plan of bleeding India continuously, besides cultivating relations with other countries in the region to encircle India. Looking at Chinese behaviour, India too needs to deal with the countries in the neighbourhood more pragmatically.
China Pakistan relations thus need to be studied from their proclivity to be biased towards India. In a previous post we had argued whether it should be China and India or China versus India. In the given geopolitical environment hawks would want it to be India versus China. But there is no reason why the two giants cannot grow together. In this equation Pakistan would want to support collusive machinations from a purely military point of view despite the “new chapter” phraseology of SAARC 2011. But as can be seen from the above discourse, military adventurism is the last thing on India or China’s mind. Biting this bait based on a “China Threat” theory may be realistic but not be in larger interest of India.
Irrespective of the rise of Chinese military prowess and the fact that it is arming Pakistan, India needs to develop suitable capabilities without hurting the growing Indo China trade – a fact that gives immense leverage to India and China while the western economies are melting. The precondition though is the capacity to inflict pain or pleasure.
- Pakistan & China Solidify Ties Amid Tension with U.S. (greginsd.wordpress.com)
- Pakistani President vows to help China counter terrorism (news.xinhuanet.com)
- War games spotlight China-Pakistan hype (vancouversun.com)
- India upset as China backs Pakistan (nation.com.pk)
- Us-pakistan Relations (socyberty.com)