Strategic dimensions of close China-Pakistan relations | Pakistan Today

Strategic dimensions of close China-Pakistan relations

  • A relationship started by a joint distrust of India, has burgeoned

Despite establishment of diplomatic relations and recognizing the People’s Republic of China in 1951, Pakistan was not attached to Beijing strategically or diplomatically. At Independence and thereafter for long Islamabad was a faithful agent of the USA in the region and perhaps so China avoided close contacts with Pakistan. But gradually, the Chinese policy of neutrality converted into a partnership of strategy and a military relationship. Specially after the India-China War of October 1962, which went in favour of Beijing, both began to come closer and the boundary dispute between the two resolved in 1963. The war of 1962 proved Chinese might in comparison to India and from here both anti-Indian nations, China and Pakistan, began to develop their mutual understandings in more than one sphere. Their military assistance began in 1966 and soon developed into an alliance in 1971-1972, when China sided with Pakistan during the India -Pakistan war which culminated in the formation of Bangladesh. This incident not only cemented China-Pakistan relations but also pushed them to a new height of economic and nuclear relations. Although their economic relations began in 1979, soon China became Pakistan’s largest supplier of arms and third largest trading partner. In the context, it is clear from the viewpoint of national, regional and global perspectives that their relationship was based on mutual benefit. China was helping Pakistan on the diplomatic, economic, military, nuclear and strategic fronts while Islamabad continued to help Beijing facilitating its friendship with Western and Islamic countries. Thus, both are essential for each other and despite divergence in society and politics, and conflicting views on global issues, they have developed and forged a dynamic relationship in past decades.

After division of the Subcontinent in August 1947, and developments in the region in succeeding years, convinced both Beijing and Islamabad that they could be useful for each other in the days to come, with the emergence of the People’s Republic of China in October 1949 Pakistan began to think the new nation could be used as a counterbalance against India, while China started planning to use Pakistan against India regionally and globally. History showed that India-Pakistan relations had never been normal since partition and New Delhi’s relations with Beijing too began to deteriorate at the close of 1950s on Tibet and thereafter due to differences on demarcation of boundaries. To lay the foundation of a more strengthened relations in 1956, the Prime Ministers of China and Pakistan signed the Treaty of Friendship to make a closer tie between the two countries. As India’s border differences with China intensified, both China and Pakistan aligned with each other in a joint effort to counter India and the USSR. One year after the Sino-Indian war, in 1963 Pakistan ceded the Trans-Karakoram Tract to China to end the border dispute and further improve diplomatic relations.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a dream project of China and Pakistan which will connect Central Asian countries through the highway connecting Kashgar to Khunjerab and Gwadar Port in southern Pakistan. In Pakistani establishment and public as well, there is a majority of people who want a strong relationship with China even at the cost of the USA. Their relationship appears lasting in present circumstances

Since the two- China and Pakistan had established all-weather relations, there have been frequent diplomatic visits and return visits from both sides that help further grow mutual understandings between Beijing and Islamabad. Zhou Enlai, the Chinese Premier, visited Pakistan four times in the year 1976 and several return visits were paid by the Pakistani side. In the year 2004 a road in Islamabad was named the Zhou Enlai Road. In continuation of the goodwill spirit between the two countries, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang came to Islamabad on a official visit and was received by the president and Prime Minister of Pakistan. To show the closeness between them, on 20 April 2015, the President of China, Xi Jinping, visited Pakistan. The Pakistani establishment provided the guest a red-carpet welcome and the two sides issued many statements which cemented their already strong relations. Especially after 9/11 and the outbreak of the anti-terror war in Afghanistan, Islamabad is drifting apart from the USA and coming closer to Beijing. They both dislike every US move to come closer to New Delhi and jointly are making efforts to foil US missions in Asia.

The deep China-Pakistan relations are working clearly against the Indian national interests in the region. It aims to curtail US influence and repel Soviet influence in the area. In fact, China helps Pakistan’s military in two ways-─ it supplies military equipment and armaments that Pakistan needs for its security and makes Pakistan capable of manufacturing these armaments on its soil. Beijing still continues to help Islamabad in these two sectors. It all started in post-1962 phase which further consolidated their friendship and made easy the supply of military equipment, technological assistance and modernizing existing facilities. Recently China has supplied Pakistan Chengdu J-10B and Lockheed Martin F-16C Block 52/60 which will fight equal to the armament supplied to India by the USA. In the sphere of manufacture, China and Pakistan are working on various projects to enhance military and weaponry systems. It includes the 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 and Al-Khalid tanks for which China has granted license for production.

This apart, China and Pakistan enjoyed a good understanding in nuclear field. Beijing helped Pakistan when all Western countries were against the Pakistan acquiring nuclear capability. The restrictions imposed by big nations made it impossible for Islamabad to acquire plutonium and enriched uranium for nuclear purposes, but at the juncture, China helped Pakistan in building the Khushab reactor which played a key role in plutonium production. In addition, the China National Nuclear Co-operation contributed in Pakistan’s effort to expand its uranium enrichment capabilities by giving it 5,000 custom-made ring magnets to process the uranium enrichment. China also extended significant support in the completion of the Chashma Nuclear Power Plant and in the reprocessing of plutonium in the mid-1990s and as a result, Islamabad successfully retaliated against India in May 1998 by exploding nuclear devices.

In the light of growing China-Pakistan understanding in spheres of military, defense and technological assistance, recently the economic relations and trade between the two achieved a new height where the role of free trade agreements was significant. The China-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement was concluded in 2006 and entered into effect in July 2007. It gave a major boost to trade between the two countries from $13 billion in 2013 to $20 billion in 2017. In this period the two nations also signed 51 agreements and Memorandums of Understanding for co-operation in different fields. In the field of investment China was also liberal enough and made an important record in this area. In sectors of mobile, internet, Belt and Road Initiative and developing hydropower stations, Beijing is second to none in investing.

However, the most important among these investments is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It is a dream project of China and Pakistan which will connect Central Asian countries through the highway connecting Kashgar to Khunjerab and Gwadar Port in southern Pakistan. In Pakistani establishment and public as well, there is a majority of people who want a strong relationship with China even at the cost of the USA. Their relationship appears lasting in present circumstances.