The strategic partnership between China and Pakistan is significant in the twenty-first century. It would be having a decisive impact on the global politics. Islamabad feels advantageous being a strategic partner of Beijing in the prevalent global strategic environment. It’s because, today, China’s, reach is global, with robust trade links to the powerhouse economies of Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America and burgeoning defensive cooperation with the developing nations. Concurrently, Beijing is also cognizant of the vitality of its strategic partnership with Islamabad for pursuits of its interests’ in the current transforming global strategic environment. Therefore, it is also endeavoring for the sustainability and durability of strategic partnership with Pakistan.
Beijing has been pursuing foreign policy, especially in its adjacent regions that is largely realist, non-ideological, cooperative and defensive in intent. It had revamped its Asia-Pacific strategy during the recent years. In the economic sphere it has embarked on major initiatives such as One Road One Belt (OROB); an expansive initiative to build up land and maritime trade routes. These epitomize Beijing’s efforts to reshape Asia’s financial architecture. This kind of external relations vision of Beijing is very advantageous for Pakistan.
The trends in the global politics indicate that China would remain one of the most significant Global powers for decades to come due to its increasing geo-economic and military power. Therefore, it has to deal intelligently with its neighboring states, especially the Washington’s allies on its periphery. Its recent initiatives in the South China Sea indicate that it may gradually transform its twentieth-century status quo oriented foreign policy and become more assertive.
China’s assertive diplomacy in Southeast Asia would increase its reliance on its alternative trade and energy routes passing through Pakistan. It’s because, its strategic pursuits in South China Sea might result into a China-Vietnam or China-Philippines standoff in the region. Such a standoff could entangle U.S. in the regional conflict. China’s newly created bases on the disputed Spratly Islands undermine Japan’s strategic interests. Beijing is also vocal about its right to monitor the navigation operations in the South China Sea, which is not in line with the U.S. stance on upholding international norms and laws. Moreover, today, Asia-Pacific region is a geostrategic priority for the United States. Obama Administration’s pivot or rebalance strategy in Asia-Pacific was designed in 2011-12 to contain China.
The cementing Indo-US strategic partnership is not only disadvantageous for Pakistan; but it may also create strategic puzzles for China in the near future. President Obama’s January 2015 India visit marked the shift in Washington’s strategic outlook towards Southern Asia. In addition, developments in Persian / Arabian Gulf region as well as in Afghanistan andCentral Asia have germinated new challenges for both China and Pakistan. Precisely, the strategic partnership is very significant for the protection and maximization of both China and Pakistan’s interests in the Indian Ocean region.
Nothing would better promote Pakistan’s strategic future in South Asia and grand strategy toward India than its indigenous robust economic growth. The country’s economic growth is a herculean task for the government without the foreign direct investment in both infrastructure buildup and relevant technology transfer.
Ironically, despite Pakistan’s sincere cooperation in the global war on terrorism and Islamabad’s continuity of strategic dialogue with Washington; the former fails to secure nuclear deal with United States or foreign direct investment from the European countries. It is an open secret that United States is contributing constructively in India’s strategic capability buildup transfer of nuclear, space and defensive missile technology to check China’s rise in Asia.
Although, it’s premature to profess about India’s potential to check China; yet it is obvious that increasing Indo-US strategic partnership undermines Pakistan’s national interest in the region. In such a situation, Pakistan cannot defend its interests in South Asia in particular and international politics in general without the continuous support from its all weathered ally China. Importantly, Beijing has been generously assisting Islamabad to revolutionize its economic sector and solidify its defensive fence and above all guard its national interest diplomatically at the regional and global forums.
Chinese President Xi Jinping signed 51 Memorandums of Understanding and announced $46 billion US dollars investment in Pakistan in April 2015. Today, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif government is endlessly working to materialize the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Premier Sharif himself is supervising the CPEC. In addition, Special Security Division (SSD), headed by a serving Major General of Pakistan Army was established to monitor and supervise the overall security matters of CPEC. On July 31, 2015, COAS General Raheel Sharif categorically stated; “yours enemy is our enemy.” Without mincing the words he reiterated that Pakistani armed forces are prepared to thwart enemies’ nefarious designs to undermine Pakistan-China partnership. China generously offered to bear the 80 percent financial cost of two Karachi nuclear power plants of 2100 MW, construction of Gawadar port, airport, etc. It is cooperating in building JF-17 Thunder, at Kamra and also agreed to sell eight conventional submarines to Pakistan Navy. In addition, at all the regional and international forums, Beijing has been endlessly supporting Islamabad. China’s diplomatic support, especially at the United Nations Security Council is very imperative for Pakistan.
Realistically, Pakistan-China partnership is a cause of serious concern for both the regional and global powers. The announcement of CPEC has not only alarmed India, but it has also cautioned the American led Western nations. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi approached Chinese leadership directly for the termination of CPEC in May 2015. He also propagated against CPEC in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit (July 9-10, 2015) held in Ufa, Russian Federation. Though, Washington has refrained in openly opposing the CPEC, yet it is not comfortable with the prospects of Chinese President’s ‘one belt-one road silk route’ vision.
The American strategic enclave has been expressing its strategic apprehensions about the rising China and its connectivity with the Persian/Arabian Gulf, Middle East and Africa through the Gawador port.
To conclude, today, Islamabad and Beijing have been reaping the benefits of their strategic partnership. Hence, it is imperative that both sides ought to intelligently monitor and thwart the challenges to their strategic partnership and also chalk out strategies to further cement their bilateral relationships.
Not surprising then that the heavy Chinese investment in building the Gwadar Port and the Economic Corridor (CPEC), the Pakistani ruling elite and public views Chinese hegemony in a far more favourable sense. Most political parties have endorsed CPEC as a future lifeline for the Pakistani state, particularly its economic vitality.
Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
Author is an Associate Professor of Politics & International Relations, Quaid – e – Azam University, Islamabad