Pakistan-China Relations: Political, Economic and Strategic Dimensions

The Chinese-Pakistani friendship was consolidated further throughout the cold war, in the post-cold war era and the war on terror but with important qualifications. China no longer supports Pakistan for its position on Kashmir but advocates and invokes the letter and spirit of the Simla Accords of 1972. China fears that if it favours the self-determination movement in Kashmir, such a policy could easily boomerang since China has also been facing secessionist movements in its Muslim-dominated Xinxiang province.

Historically, in the immediate aftermath of the post-colonial era, it was India and China who assumed the relationship of friendship as opposed to Pakistan, which was closely allied with the anti-communist bloc. Pakistan valued its relationship with the United States and throughout the 1950s joined US dominated alliances such as SEATO and CENTO. The 1962 India-China border war heralded the entry of Pakistan into the India-China nexus and fostered a new diplomacy in the South Asian region. Ignoring the ideological facet in which Islam and the atheist anti-communist discourse was dominant, Pakistan now re-envisioned its foreign policy towards a more realist-pragmatist orientation by forging an alliance with China.

Ayub Khan in the late 1950s had contemplated a joint Pakistan-India defence pact against the Chinese threat at which Nehru and the civilian leadership balked because they valued their relations with China more than they did with Pakistan. Later events were to prove Ayub right as an incipient Sino-Indian rivalry escalated into a border conflict which left the Indian army and the morale of the Indian nation in tatters. As soon as the border war broke out, Pakistan found it convenient to make its own overtures towards the ‘enemy of its enemy’ culminating in a border agreement between China and Pakistan. A joint communique, issued on December 26, 1962, stated that complete agreement in principle had been reached on the location and alignment of the boundary and, on February 22, 1963, it was declared that the parties had agreed upon a text describing the boundary alignment in detail. The growing China-Pakistan friendship was consolidated and exemplified in Chinese Premier Chou En-lai’s pronouncement that China ‘would defend Pakistan throughout the world.’

 Pakistan sees China as a strong friend and ally and can depend on it if the Americans abandon the state in a lurch as it did previously after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.
 The Chinese-Pakistani friendship was consolidated further throughout the cold war, in the post-cold war era and the war on terror but with important qualifications. Specifically, with regards to Kashmir, China no longer supports Pakistan and its position on Kashmir but advocates and invokes the letter and spirit of the Simla Accords of 1972. In doing so, China has moved closer to the Indian position which is a major setback for Pakistani diplomacy. Why has this shift in Chinese diplomacy taken place? Firstly, China realises that India being the largest country in South Asia cannot be ignored and that friendly ties with India are as essential as are ties with Pakistan. Secondly, the logic of economic interdependence between India and China causes the latter to minimise conflicts with the former, a phenomenon witnessed whenever and wherever economic interdependence works between two or more states and finally, China’s changed stance also emanates from a pragmatic appreciation of domestic compulsions and regional geopolitics. China fears that if it favours the self-determination movement in Kashmir, such a policy could easily boomerang since China has also been facing secessionist movements in its Muslim-dominated Xinxiang province.
China’s changed opinion on the issue of Kashmir does not mean, however, that China is inconsequential to Pakistan. On the contrary, Pakistan still very much values its friendship and relationship with China and vice versa. After September 2001, Musharraf in line with Pakistan’s commitment to China visited Beijing in order to secure support for his military regime as well as assure Chinese that the developing Pakistan’ US strategic cooperation would not affect the friendship between Islamabad and Beijing. Pakistan is an all important source of investments, especially in the natural resources and raw materials sector, for the energy-deficient Chinese. The Chinese are interested in mining opportunities in Balochistan and Chinese investments made possible the construction of the Gwadar Port. All this implies that China will remain embedded and engaged with the Pakistani polity for cheap sources of energy resources and investments as well as for strategic purposes.

India, on the other hand, is wary of the growing military and other links between the Pakistani and Chinese state. The Indian Defence Minister A. K. Antony reiterated in 2009 that, ‘The increasing nexus between China and Pakistan in military sphere remains an area of serious concern. We have to carry out continuous appraisals of Chinese military capabilities and shape our responses accordingly. At the same time, we need to be vigilant at all times.’ As long as China continues to engage with Pakistan, the armed forces of Pakistan will continue to embolden themselves sustaining fears within India of the perennial threat that it faces from Pakistan. On Pakistan’s side, which too has come closer to the Indian position on Kashmir by engaging in bilateral talks, China remains a potential source of aid, development and weapons procurement. Pakistan sees China as a strong friend and ally and can depend on it if the Americans abandon the state in a lurch as it did previously after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. For the Chinese, on the other hand, the growing cooperation with the Indian state still leaves room for maintaining their geostrategic and geoeconomic cooperation with the Pakistani state. This is so primarily due to the fact that Pakistan can be maintained as a threat against India should the latter be instrumentalised against China by the United States.

 It is ironic that exporters in Pakistan mainly look towards markets in the West as opposed to looking towards China. In the context of Pakistan-China relations, the facet of economic relations is the most ill-developed.
Moving on to the economic aspect, Pakistan-China economic relations have grown substantively in the last decade (2000-2010) and can be termed as a development of the recent past as opposed to political and defence relations which have grown substantively since 1960s. In the last ten years, the volume of bilateral trade has risen from $1 billion to about $7 billion, however growth in percentage of Pakistani exports on a yearly basis has been declining and the balance of trade has been constantly in favour of China. This is explicable because China is a much larger economy compared to Pakistan. Pakistan exports mainly raw materials, including copper, cotton, chrome, etc. against the import of value added manufactured goods. China’s exports to Pakistan constitute more than 20% of its imports while Pakistan’s exports to China constitute only 0.13% of Chinese imports. In 2011, the central banks of the two countries signed the Pak Rupee-Renminbi Currency Swap Arrangement which should enable traders and investors to settle their transactions in their natural currencies. It is ironic that exporters in Pakistan mainly look towards markets in the West as opposed to looking towards China. In the context of Pakistan-China relations, the facet of economic relations is the most ill-developed. For that to take place, the security situation in Pakistan needs a radical overhaul and improvement so that investments from China are brought in and effectively materialised. Moreover, it is imperative that Pakistan does not merely concentrate on inviting investments from China (which would ultimately reap benefits to the Chinese state) but that the Pakistani industrial sector increases its exports to China (from a more diversified manufacturing base) so that real financial benefits accrue to the state and peoples of Pakistan.

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