Over the years, thanks to the nurturing of generations of leaders and peoples from all sectors of both countries, China-Pakistan friendship has flourished like a tree growing tall and strong. No matter how the circumstances in our two countries, the region and the world change, our bilateral relations have enjoyed sound and steady growth. We have always respected, understood and supported each other on issues concerning our respective core interests. In Pakistan, our relationship is poetically hailed as a friendship “higher than mountains, deeper than oceans and sweeter than honey.”
(Excerpt from an article “Pak-China Dosti Zindabad”
penned by President Xi Jinping ahead of his historic visit to Pakistan)
Pakistan, during these years, had joined US as an ally against expansion of communism by joining SEATO (1954) and CENTO or Baghdad Pact (1955). This alliance though provided Pakistan with economic and military aid, abandoned in hour of trial when Indo-Pak war of 1965 broke out.
In the regional context, both Pakistan and China were wary of India’s aggressive designs and both had fought wars with India (Indo-Pakistan War of 1948 & Sino-India War of 1962). Since both countries had a common enemy and were facing common threats, so they joined each other.
It was in this background that both China and Pakistan started to develop their relations especially in the realm of defence.
Beginning with their border settlement pact of March 3, 1963, China has emerged as Pakistan’s single most trusted and enduring military ally. It is evident from the fact that since 1962, China has been a steady source of military equipment to the Pak Army, helping establish munition factories, providing technological assistance and modernizing existing facilities. In the 1970s and the 1980s, China set up major industrial units like the Heavy Mechanical Complex and the Heavy Forge Factory that helped build Pakistan’s intrinsic technological and industrial base. In “Pakistan’s Foreign Policy 1947-2005: A Concise History” Mr Abdul Sattar writes:
“To help Pakistan’s defense capability after the United States embargoed military sales, China agreed, in 1966, to provide equipment for two divisions of the Army as well as MIG aircraft for the Air Force. It also gave $60 million for development assistance in 1965, a further $40 million in 1969 and $200 million for the next five-year plan. ”
China has always extended invaluable cooperation to all three services of Pakistan’s armed forces. It has not only provided weapons and equipment but has also assisted the country in developing a strong defence industrial capability. The Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, Heavy Industries Taxila (then called Heavy Rebuild Factory), several factories and production lines in the Pakistan Ordnance Factories, maritime projects for the navy and missile factories have been set up with Chinese assistance.
In recent years, the defence cooperation between China and Pakistan has further deepened as China has entered into several military projects and defence treaties with Pakistan. China has assisted Pakistan in setting up of weapon production and modernization facilities as well. Moreover, bilateral visits by army officers from both countries in various military installations and academies / institutions and joint military exercise have further deepened the historic ties having a futuristic vision of enormous potential.
The two countries are also involved in several projects to enhance military and weaponry systems, which include the joint development of the JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft, K-8 Karakorum advance training aircraft, a tailor made training aircraft for the Pakistan Air Force based on the Chinese domestic Hongdu L-15, space technology, AWACS systems, Al-Khalid tanks, which China granted license production and tailor — made modifications based on the initial Chinese Type 90 and/or MBT-2000. With such strong defence ties, the Chinese have helped Pakistan in emerging as a strong military power in the Asia.
China is Pakistan’s top supplier of weapons, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which tracks global arms sales, selling 51% of the weapons Islamabad imported in 2010-2014.
On January 26, 2015, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a conclusion of a two-day visit of General Raheel Sharif to Beijing called Pakistan China’s ‘irreplaceable, all-weather friend’. Sharif also met Yu Zhengsheng, Meng Jianzhu and Xu Qiliang.
On April 19, 2015, China concluded sale of eight conventional submarines worth $5bn, biggest ever arms sale by China in its history.
On June 2, 2015, senior military officials from China and Pakistan met in Beijing, pledging to strengthen practical cooperation in such areas as training, military equipment, and anti-terrorism. In his meeting with Pakistan Air Force Chief Air Marshal Sohail Aman, Fan Changlong, Vice Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, said the Chinese military is willing to work with the Pakistan counterpart to maintain the growth momentum of military-to-military exchanges and beef up pragmatic cooperation in training, equipment and anti-terrorism.
Products of Pak-China Defence Cooperation
Pakistan and China have achieved the following landmark successes in the defence realm.
The JF-17 Thunder — an indigenous war fighting machine co-developed by Pakistan and China — is a light weight, all-weather multi-role fighter jet. It is equipped with a modern state-of-the-art avionics suite and an advanced cockpit layout. The JF-17 can be used for aerial reconnaissance, ground attack and aircraft interception. It has the capability to carry out air-to-air and air-to-ground strikes, and can be fitted with beyond-visual-range (BVR) missiles.
2. K-8 Karakorum Advance Training Aircraft
The Karakorum-8 (K-8) is a single-engine, advanced jet trainer and light attack aircraft designed and manufactured jointly by Hongdu Aviation Industry Corporation (HAIC) of China and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) to replace the ageing Cessna T-37 Tweet jet trainers currently in service with the Pakistan Air Force (PAF).
3. Al-Khalid Tank
The Al-Khalid tank is jointly developed variant of a modern Main Battle Tank (MBT) by Pakistan and China during the 1990s. The first production models entered into service with the Pakistan Army in 2001 whereas about 300 tanks were in service by 2009. Al-Khalid MBT-2000 is the main battle tank of the Pakistan Army. Besides a low silhouette, it is considerably smaller as compared to other modern tanks, with a maximum weight of 46 tons. It had a combat range of 400km and is fitted with thermal night-vision devices. It has a maximum speed of 65-70km/hr with an acceleration of 0-32km/hr in 10 seconds.
China has also agreed to provide training to the personnel of the Pakistan Navy on the Chinese submarines. Pakistan and China have already agreed to jointly develop and co-produce diesel electric submarines fitted with the Air Independent Propulsion to meet Pakistan Navy’s long-standing requirement of six new generation submarines.
On March 31, 2015, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif approved a deal “years in the making” to buy eight submarines from China. The deal could be one of China’s largest overseas weapons sales once it is signed. No details about the type of submarines have not come out yet. However, there have been reports that these would be Yuan-class Type-041 diesel-electric submarines.
5. Al-Khalid II
Pakistan and China have recently signed a contract to manufacture an upgraded version of the jointly developed Al-Khalid-I tanks with a name of Al Khalid-II. The contract was signed by Pakistan’s Heavy Industries Taxila and China’s NORINCO at the Ministry of Defence Production.
The Al-Khalid II has a new Integrated Battle Management System (IBMS) and active threat-protection system, the latter being an upgrade from the passive system in the earlier model. The tank is now perhaps the most heavily weaponized per tonnage of any tank, being able to carry 49 125mm rounds, 1,500 12.7mm and 7,100 7.62mm rounds.