From the establishment of diplomatic ties in May 1951 to the present day, Pakistan and China relations have transformed into an iconic brotherhood which is unprecedented in the contemporary history of International Relations and thus can be referred as an example of a “Special Relationship. “Apart from diplomatic support, trade agreements, defense cooperation, cultural exchange programs, and the placement of Pakistan in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the geopolitical, geo-economic, and geostrategic transformations in the region also contributed to deepen and strengthen the relations between China and Pakistan.
Pakistan became the first Muslim country to recognize and established its diplomatic ties with China in May 1951. China and Pakistan’s relations witnessed no discord in their journey of nearly seventy years. Instead, the cooperation in trade and more importantly in the security domain exponentially increased over time. According to the former ambassador of Pakistan to China, Riaz Mohammad Khan, Pakistan and China have been remarkably consistent to forge close ties with each other despite the unusual and decisive changes in the global political landscape.
During Cold War, multiple factors contributed to deepening the ties between China and Pakistan. Sino-Indian rivalry, the US and Soviet aid to India during the Sino-Indian war, Indo-Pak conflict, cooperation in security and military affairs, and China’s support to Pakistan in the 1965 war against India had a profound impact on China-Pakistan ties. Moreover, Pakistan’s role to bridge relations between China and the West especially the US, and China’s support to Pakistan in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) are pertinent to mention for diplomatic cooperation between these two nation-states.
Moreover, China has been providing economic assistance to Pakistan in terms of grants and loans for years. The high-profile projects of China include the construction of Karakoram Highway (KKH), the Heavy Mechanical Complex (HMC), Nuclear Energy cooperation, Machine Tool Plant, Gwadar Port, and Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT). Furthermore, the manufacturing and development of JF-17 and Al- Khalid tank is an amazing joint venture of China and Pakistan. However, the cultural exchange programs have also contributed to further strengthen the relations between two nations at the government as well as individual level.
On the diplomatic front, Pakistan and China have always supported each other at multilateral forums such as UNSC, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Financial Action Task Force (FATF), and Nuclear Suppliers Groups (NSG). For example, in September 1974, China used its veto against Bangladesh to block Bangladesh’s entry into United Nations as Pakistan had not recognized Bangladesh. Moreover, China remained strong supporter of peaceful solution of Kashmirissue. It maintains that Kashmir dispute should be resolved through peaceful means according to the UN Security Council resolutions (UNSC) and the bilateral agreements.
After the abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A on 5th August 2019, and bifurcation of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories, Pakistan-India ties got worsened. Since 2019, Indian government has been pursuing its agenda in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) to bring demographic changes in the occupied territory. Over one million domiciles have been issued to non-Kashmiris, so far. The Hindutva forces in India are trampling the UN resolutions, and even violating their own domestic laws. Millions of unarmed Kashmiris are being inhumanly treated by the occupying Indian forces. This worsening human rights situation in Kashmir has increased the chances of conflict between two nuclear states, Pakistan and India. However, the Chinese has been consistently supporting Pakistan on diplomatic front on this issue. The government of China not only criticized the unilateral and illegal actions in IIOJK but also raised the issue at UNSC that resulted in an unprecedented move by the UNSC. Similarly, Pakistan supports the “One China” policy and firmly stands with China on this national issue.
Furthermore, China has been concerned about its Malacca Dilemma and it also needed to explore new avenues to sustain its economy and further enhance the economic sphere. Therefore, China unleashed its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013 which would connect over sixty countries through land and sea routes and increase economic connectivity and interdependence between the countries along the Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road. The placement of Pakistan in the BRI and the flagship project China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has opened up another arena of increased economic cooperation between China and Pakistan.
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was established on 22 May 2013. Under this mega project, China is investing in the energy sector, for infrastructure development and Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in Pakistan. The projects under CPEC are divided into short, medium, and long-term projects. All the projects would be completed by 2030. Along with the infrastructure constructions, the economic designs of the CPEC may enhance regional economic/ financial integration, trade liberization, and and information networks. On that account, CPEC is a win-win situation for both China and Pakistan. For China, CPEC is offering the shortest route to have access to the Persian Gulf which is providing a lifeline to the Chinese Economy as China imports 80% of its oil from the Gulf. It would also help China to bypass the Strait of Malacca to reach the markets of the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. Moreover, it would enhance the economic and strategic connectivity of the region with China.
According to a Chinese scholar, Li Xiguang, “The CPEC, the hub of OBOR, links the belt in Central Asia and the road with the Indian Ocean. The region around the CPEC has seen the rise of previous world cultural centers. This is the same area where the ancient world influenced China and China also influenced the world. The ancient Silk Road civilization encompasses countries that include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Iran which have been portrayed in Yu Gong as parts of Suifu and Yaofu. With these countries, China needs to maintain regional relationships and political alliances. Constructing a civilizational sphere across OBOR is reshaping China’s geopolitical and geo-civilizational sphere of influence. Though the Silk Road is an economic zone, it is more a cultural zone.”
For Pakistan, CPEC is a ray of hope for its shambling economy and to fulfill its dream to have economic prosperity in the country. Lack of infrastructure development, energy crises, and economic crisis have been major issues in Pakistan along with the wave of terrorism in the previous years which have badly affected all segments of society in Pakistan. Pakistan has largely defeated the menace of terrorism in most of the areas and now aiming to establish sustainable peace across the country. Along with the economic cooperation through CPEC, both states are aiming to enhance cooperation in others spheres as well:. energy sector has shown unprecedented growth in recent years; and consequently, the economic conditions have improved significantly. In addition to energy sectors, CPEC emphasize on building a complete network of transportation that would facilitate trade and communication in Pakistan. Under, CPEC, the infrastructure development drive is going on across the country. The construction of highway and railway networks is one of the significant examples in this regard.
Moreover, the Gwadar port has the potential to become a regional economic hub. The use of the Gwadar port by Central Asian States (CARs) would significantly assist Pakistan to cultivate the full potential of the port which will also enhance the connectivity of Pakistan with CARs and bring tremendous opportunities for Pakistan’s economic growth. It is rightly stated that CPEC is a ‘game changer’ for Pakistan. It would bring peace and prosperity not only for Pakistan but also for the entire region as the economic interdependence and connectivity would increase at a significant level.
Even though massive fake propaganda has been launched against CPEC especially from the Indian side and the Western media outlets, but it couldn’t affect the progress of CPEC projects and the further engagements between China and Pakistan.
Both, the countries have agreed to expand the sphere of CPEC; the next phase of CPEC would venture into seven areas: a) enrichment; b) expansion, c) financial and insurance services; d) eco-tourism; e) agriculture; f) joint ventures in education; and, g) industrial development.
Moreover, the cooperation on Afghan Issue has been another important example of exceptional China-Pakistan ties. Although, Pakistan and China were not party to the peace deal but both countries especially Pakistan had an important role in the finalization of the deal. The diplomatic efforts of China and Pakistan has mitigated one of the major challenges in the Afghan Peace Process. Peace in Afghanistan is in the interest of both countries as the disturbing situation in Afghanistan affects them particularly Pakistan and China’s interest in the region
The stability in Afghanistan is crucial for the smooth implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and especially the flagship project of BRI, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), as the Afghan soil is being used by the Indian sponsored terrorists to sabotage the CPEC projects in Pakistan. For instance, India is using the Afghan territory to train and equip the terrorists of Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA) with modern weapons. BLA, which carries out attacks in Pakistan, was declared as a global terrorist organisation by the US on July 02, 2019. . . In continuing their bilateral engagement, China and Pakistan announced to further conduct joint actions in Afghanistan to prevent civil war and emergence of terrorism in the region.
Adding more it, Pakistan had defeated Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), hundreds of its members have been killed and rest of them have been flown to Afghanistan. Recently, ‘TTP’s separated groups have re-joined TTP. Also, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan has and re-emergence of TTP marks the risk of new wave of terrorist attacks against Pakistan. Pakistan is facilitating Afghan Peace Process to bring stability in Afghanistan, but the enemies of Pakistan and Afghanistan are trying hard to sabotage the peace process. The spoilers of peace process are fully active; the regrouping of TTP likely to exacerbate crisis in neighbouring states and wider regions. In the broader context, the instability in Afghanistan will affect the peace of the entire region.
Pakistan has been and still in the grey-list of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) due to the dominant influence of opponents in the institution. The Financial Actions Task Force (FATF) is charged with the task to combat money laundering (ML) and terror financing (TF) to protect the International Financial System. The decisions of the FATF in the case of Pakistan are inimical to the integrity of this intergovernmental organization as it shows the non-uniformity in its dealing with cases of different states. For instance, Pakistan, which has accomplished most of the tasks given by the FATF, is still on the grey-list while the FATF does not question India for the money laundering of billions of dollars and sponsoring terrorism in the region. However, Pakistan has shown unprecedented progress and successfully executed the action plan.
China does not only support Pakistan but also criticizes the politicization of the FATF by the countries. Deputy Director General Yao Wen, at the Department of Asian Affairs of ‘China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said, “”China does not want the FATF to be politicised by any single country. There are some countries which want to include Pakistan in the blacklist. They have political designs which China is against”.” The countries like the US and India have been attempting to blacklist Pakistan, and China has played significant role to block these attempts. While commenting on such attempts, Mr. Wen said that they have made it clear to the US and India that they cannot do it. It goes beyond the purpose of FATF.
China-Pakistan nuclear energy cooperation, in terms of helping in construction of Nuclear power plants, provision of nuclear related products and research support has played significant role to flourish Pakistan’s industrial growth, technological capacity and economic development. Pakistan has been nagged by energy crisis, which costs a major portion of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) every year. Pakistan’s looming energy crisis is characterized by electricity deficiencies, distribution losses and lack of inadequate investments. In Pakistan, nuclear energy is considered secure, reliable, environment friendly and stable source of energy. Presently, in Pakistan, nuclear energy account for 6.81 percent of its total energy mix. Pakistan’s civil nuclear program is comprised of two nuclear power complexes: Chashma Nuclear Power Plant (CHASNUPP) and Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP). China has played a key role in supporting Pakistan’s civil nuclear program.
Given the Pakistan’s enormous geo-strategic significance, the civil nuclear cooperation, is in line with China and Pakistan’s strategic interests in the region. Additionally, Pakistan being energy deficit state and having civil nuclear program is aspiring to join Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). NSG is group of 48 nuclear weapons states that deals with export of nuclear-related material and technology for the peaceful purpose only. India and Pakistan formally submitted their applications for the membership of Nuclear Suppliers groups in 2016. The US and other member states are supporting India’s membership in the group to peruse their strategic goals to counter-balance China. However, China and certain European states demanding non-discriminatory and criteria-based approach to include all non-NPT states. China’s stance highlights its commitment to ensure equal criteria for all the aspirants not only serves Pakistan’s interests but also shows formers commitment towards non-proliferation.
Significantly, China and Pakistan’s brotherhood has defeated all the challenges and emerged as an iconic brotherhood in the contemporary world. China and Pakistan have strong state-to-state and people-to-people connections based on mutual interests and respect. The friendship between China and Pakistan stood strong against all odds. The assistance to each other in the fight against COVID-19 is another glaring example of the manifestation of iconic brotherhood between China and Pakistan. For example, after the outbreak of coronavirus, China urgently needed protective suits, safety goggles, and medical masks. The government of Pakistan sent 84,500 N95 Masks, 279,000 Surgical Masks, Suits 8500, and Goggles 2400 to support the Chinese struggle against Coronavirus.
Similarly, later on, when the COVID-19 hit Pakistan, China sent 500,000 surgical masks and 50,000 N95 masks. China also sent a team of medical doctors to train and assist Pakistani doctors in the fight against coronavirus in Pakistan. Recently, the People’s Liberation Army has also donated vaccines to Pakistan Armed Forces. These doses of vaccination have been given to the government of Pakistan to contribute to the national vaccination drive.
The support to each other in hard times reflects the iconic brotherhood and friendship of China and Pakistan as the Chinese quote says, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” The fight against COVID-19 has further strengthened the China-Pakistan brotherhood. The support to each other does not end here. China is sending vaccinations to Pakistan to meet the goal of vaccination drive in the country. Recently, Pakistan has received 1 million doses of coronavirus vaccine from China. It is pertinent to mention here that China previously has gifted three batches of the vaccine to Pakistan, which helped Pakistan to commence the Covid-19 vaccination drive in the country.
In summary, it can be said that China and Pakistan have enjoyed conflict-free and strong relations for a long time. Both countries have always supported each other through thick and thin. Now, The BRI and its flagship project CPEC have set a new direction for both China and Pakistan towards a “shared destiny.” CPEC plays a pivotal role in Pakistan’s socio-economic development and China’s geo-strategic interests. The following quotation truly and precisely explains the iconic brotherhood of China and Pakistan, “Pak-China friendship is higher than the Himalayas, deeper than oceans and sweeter than honey”.