China and Pakistan are not only neighbouring countries but are also ‘irreplaceable’, ‘all-weather’ and ‘time-tested’ friends. Both the states affirm and reaffirm their relations as ‘higher than the Himalayas, deeper than the deepest oceans, stronger than steel, dearer than eyesight and sweeter than honey’. <div>
Sino-Pak relations, in fact, are based on mutual cooperation and protection of the interests of either side. Because of absence of cultural similarities and values, the duo seems a misfit to many but the relations between the two states are time-tested and have endured since long. Chinese and Pakistani nations do not share any culture, religious or social values, history and political movements, yet the common political interests have been the major reason bridging this gulf. Due to lack of similarities between the two, the world has seen the couple as a misfit yet the coalition influences the world on large scale.
Historically, Pakistan was the first Islamic and third non-communist country in the world which recognized People’s Republic of China (PRC). That was the time when both the states were newly-born and needed each other for pursuing their mutual interests. Diplomatic relations were established between Beijing and Karachi, the then capital of Pakistan, in 1951. Being neighbouring states, Pakistan and the PRC did have a dispute on border areas. In the beginning, their bilateral relationship was lukewarm seemingly due to Pakistan’s growing ties with the West. But, Bandung Conference (1955) was the first historical event which led both the countries to resolving their border disputes amicably. The leaders from both the sides shared their opinions about the mutual cooperation. China had been declaring, in its maps, the Trans-Karakorum Tract as its part which was a disputed area between China, Pakistan and India. In 1963, Pakistan relinquished its claim to Trans-Karakorum Tract to China and both the states agreed upon discussions on border disputes which resulted in Sino-Pakistan Agreement of 1963. According to the agreement, China ceded its claims to 750 square miles of territory to Pakistan and, in return, Pakistan recognized the areas of Northern Kashmir and Ladakh as Chinese territory.
The initial years of China’s existence were very crucial for its position in international arena. It had lost its position in the United Nations
Security Council (UNSC) and due to a firm stance on Taiwan, it had no good relations with the West. At that crucial time, Pakistan consistently supported China’s claim for its position in the UNSC and voted in its favour as well. The incessant Pakistani support for China in its fight for restoration in the UN, especially between 1965 and 1971, brought the two countries closer at such a level where each side was helping the other in almost every domain. In 1971, Pakistan arranged for Henry Kissinger’s secret visit to China when he was on a visit to Pakistan. The secret tour made possible the then American President Richard Nixon’s visit to China the following year.
Although diplomatic relations between Pakistan and China were officially established on 21 May 1951, the political relations were not technically strong in initial years. Pakistan was in favour of Western bloc instead of Soviet bloc during the Cold War years and more specifically during first years of its life. The Pakistani stance was considered a major bottleneck for the Sino-Pak political relations. However, the Bandung Conference of 1955 paved way for the betterment of political relations between the two states. The heads of the states, represented in Bandung, shared their common interests for the strong relations. Resultantly, in October 1956, Pakistani Prime Minister Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardi visited China on an official invitation. The visit of Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in the same year, in December, further strengthened the ties. Later, a highway in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, was named after Zhou Enlai which was the first-ever event in Pakistan when a place was named after a foreign dignitary. The upcoming years saw a sudden change in the nature of this political relationship.
Although Pakistan and China have many cultural, historical and political differences, yet they have been successful in forming cordial relations. China is economically a stronger state and has been relentlessly strengthening its economy. On the other hand, Pakistan has never been successful in handling its chronic economic crisis. The persisting huge deficits in annual budget in the recent years have proved that it has failed to arrest the economic decline.
China is a communist state where the religion is strictly controlled by the state. There’s no place, allowed by the state, in the society for religious extremism to be flourished. On the contrary, Pakistan is a society plagued with extremism in the name of religion.
Although there are a lot of dissimilarities between the two countries yet both the states have enjoyed firm ties. In fact, despite some glaring differences, there have been various factors that have kept both the countries stick together.
‘India factor’ is the first and foremost reason why both the states support each other. Since the partition in 1947, India and Pakistan have not been able to maintain friendly relations. Besides this, China and India also consider each other a threat to acquiring regional hegemony. Pakistan finds China an ally for ‘balance of India threat’ while it itself is a counterweight for China to cope with growing Indian influence in the region.
Similarly, the ‘US factor’ has also propelled strong relations between China and Pakistan. The US, which is keen to maintain its hold on the region, has political relations with China, Pakistan and India, but the nature of relations is different. Also, the US’ relations with the countries of the region have been different during different phases of time. All the stakeholders in power in the region want to maintain their hegemony and, for that purpose, regional alliances are important for all. Hence, to counter US designs, maintaining a strong bilateral relationship has always been imperative for China and Pakistan.
Lastly, the economic factor is the most crucial for political relations between Pakistan and China. Pakistan has been a significant importer of Chinese goods while China also imports Pakistani leather products, sports items and textiles. The economic relations between the two states mainly emerged during the 1960s. Military and technological assistance and infrastructural investments dominate the economic relations. China has constructed Pakistan’s deep-sea Gwadar Port which is in mutual interest of both the states. Most recently, Chinese investment in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has become the biggest-ever by China in the country. To overcome energy shortfalls in Pakistan, China has been supporting the country through technological assistance by constructing and building mega projects to overcome the acute crisis.
Although China-Pakistan relations are seen as a misfit by many international relations scholars, both countries still make a strong pair. China and Pakistan have neither border conflicts nor do they have historical clashes of such a nature that could mar the prospects of an evergreen relationship. The promotion of mutual interests is the string that attached the two states to each other.