The Role of China-Pakistan Bonhomie
South Asia is a very effervescent region in terms of its geopolitical and geostrategic uniqueness on the globe. India and Pakistan are two nuclear states in this region having conflicting and rocky relations. In the backdrop of the negative security externalities originating from US intervention in South Asia, the hypothesis is that China is the only regional actor that has all the inducements and the capabilities to deal with the threats to the regional peace and stability. With India’s ascendance in the global hierarchy and its strengthening ties with the US, China is finding that Pakistan is increasingly important in its bid to fend off the joint Indo-US challenge in the region. Moreover, the dynamics of balance of power are very important in South Asia because whenever the balance of power of the region got disturbed, an India-Pakistan war happened. Being the biggest stakeholder in Asia, China plays a crucial role in maintaining the balance of power in the region.
The balance of power is inevitable for the regional security of South Asia as well as international peace and security. Balance of power between Pakistan and India — the two nuclear neighbours and archrivals — may create a milieu of mutual dissuasion. China’s role in maintaining the balance of power in the South Asia is very significant as it is an important stakeholder in the region and has the direct effect on if the region faces any crisis. China’s engagement with Pakistan over decades is evident of its realistic foreign policy approach in catering to its strategic requirements.
As India becomes a more powerful player in the global hierarchy and strengthens ties with the United States—despite occasional setbacks — China construes that it is in its best interest to turn towards Pakistan to fend off the Indo-US alliance in South and East Asia.
After Bin Laden’s death, China was perhaps the only powerful country that openly expressed its support for Pakistan for having its territorial integrity violated. Although China hailed the death of Osama bin Laden as “a milestone and a positive development for the international anti-terrorism efforts,” yet it openly supported Pakistan amid growing questions in the US about whether the country was complicit in harbouring Osama bin Laden by taking a view that the “Pakistani government’s determination to fight terrorism is staunch and its actions have been vigorous.” China also indicated that it would be assisting Pakistan in augmenting its counterterrorism efforts and strengthening police force and army, with a specific focus on dealing with the specific domestic issues in Pakistan.
China moved quickly from mere rhetoric to action by immediately delivering 50 new JF-17 Thunder multi-functional fighter jets and a promise to provide Pakistan with combat aircrafts with stealth technology. In addition, the state-owned Gwadar Port in the Arabian Sea in which the Chinese have invested heavily in recent years, is now operated by China and serves to enhance China’s naval projection capabilities in South Asia. In Pakistan-China talks, Islamabad has offered Beijing to convert the Gwadar Port into a naval base for Chinese use. Beijing’s response, however, came quickly. Fearful of antagonizing Washington and New Delhi, it rejected the offer of formally establishing a military base in Pakistan.
Before embarking on a historic visit to Pakistan in April this year, Chinese President, Mr Xi Jinping, wrote an article whereby he stated that “the government and people of Pakistan are pursuing economic development and the improvement of people’s livelihood. At the same time, Pakistan is resolutely fighting terrorism and extremism. As a result, good progress has been made in national security and social stability. As Pakistan’s good friend and brother, China is truly happy for every progress and achievement of Pakistan. I believe that as long as the Pakistani people work together in unity, Pakistan will surely embark on a development path suited to its national conditions, achieve even greater success in national development and realize its dream of becoming an “Asian tiger” at an early date.”
But, since President Obama’s much-publicized visit to India in January, analysts have heralded the advent of strong US-India relations. The general consensus is that ties between the nations are better than ever. During his trip, Obama not only concluded a nuclear deal with India but also emphasized his commitment to India, supporting its bid for a permanent UNSC seat. He also called for Islamabad to crack down on militant’s safe havens and the terrorist’s behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks. This blatant validation of India’s diplomatic stance inflamed many Pakistanis who believed Obama was unfairly favouring their traditional enemy. These statements and later developments created a shift in balance of power in India’s favour in the South Asian region. This shift further highlights China’s role in maintaining the power equilibrium in the South Asia.
Why this relationship?
China has always supported Pakistan in all the conflicting issue between the two rival states of South Asia. Sino-Pakistani alliance has ultimately transformed into a strategic arrangement. Pakistan’s relationship with China can be characterized as deep and multi-faceted, buttressed by mutual trust and confidence. Islamabad’s priority has been to maintain close ties with China. In return, it benefited from China’s extensive provision of economic, military and technical aid over the years. Moreover, Pakistan was instrumental in China’s cultivation of relations with the US — and the West more generally — in the early 1970s. It acted as a behind-the-scene mediator prior to the secret trip of then-US National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, to China in July 1971 and enabled China to develop closer ties with the larger Muslim world.
For a number of years now, China has proved to be Pakistan’s largest weapons–supplier. The two countries are engaged in large joint projects to produce, among other armaments, fighter jets and guided-missile frigates. China is a reliable supplier of military hardware to the Pakistan army. It has helped in the development of Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure and to acquire equipments and technology at a time when protectionism was on the rise in Western countries.
China is possibly the first country which broke the pledge to the 1967 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by declared nuclear states (including the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, China, and more recently India and Pakistan) not to export to non-nuclear states either weapons-grade fissile material or nuclear weapons components or technologies.
On the economic front, bilateral trade between China and Pakistan amounted to $12 billion in 2012. Pakistan appreciates China’s economic aid more than what it receives from the US, since the latter always attaches “strings” to its assistance programs. Calls are being heard in Pakistan to make China, not the US, the strongest ally in its foreign policy, especially in the context of intense US pressure on the civilian government to increase efforts in fighting local and international terrorism.311