Pakistan China Relations & American “Rebalancing” Strategy

Key strategic choices are bound to afflict Pakistani foreign policy as America’s rebalancing strategy in the Asia-Pacific takes shape in the backdrop of rising Chinese power. States such as Philippines and Vietnam have firmly embedded themselves in the new Asia-Pacific regional security architecture by aligning their military partnership with the rebalancing approach of United States against China.

Pakistan has no doubt about the strength of ties with great neighbor China, all along the history. The visiting Chinese President to Pakistan in the 1960s, Liu Shao-Chi described Pakistan-China relations as mujahidana dosti (friendship in righteous struggle). This righteous struggle encompassed a bond of third world solidarity as both Pakistan and China were developing countries at that time. Over the years, phrases such as, “time-tested”, “all-weather”, “sweeter than honey”, “iron brothers” have been used to define the entire gamut of relations between Pakistan and China.

Now recently with new development CPEC has been introduced as the future lifeline of Pakistan’s economy. Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed has explained this collaboration as a unique feature of diplomatic relations between the two countries. “China treats us a friend, an ally, a partner and above all, an equal not how the others do”, he said.

This narrative about the Chinese stands in stark contrast to that of the US. The US, for example, failed to come to Pakistan’s side during the 1965 war.  It also displayed serious opposition, and still does, to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. The Pressler Amendment was invoked as soon as the Russians left Afghanistan and Pakistan was longer needed as a front line state. During the War on Terror, relations between the US and Pakistan remained frosty most of the time.

China with its much needed investment has taken the lead to cater for Pakistan’s economic needs. However, a strategic alignment with China at the cost of the United States carries grave security risks for the Pakistani state. Considering that Pakistani political culture is very much oriented to the West, the US as a valuable and powerful player in international politics may not be as easily discarded by the Pakistani state and society.

Pakistan’s options in a new global conflict are better shaped by a strategy that is bent on optimizing its national interests through the definition of threat perceptions that are not antagonistic to either China or the US. This hedging, that is, firmly placing itself between the two superpowers provides a more credible security guarantee and survival strategy rather than aligning with one against the other.

Dr. Farhan Hanif Siddiqi

Author is an Associate Professor of Politics & International Relations, Quaid – e – Azam University, Islamabad

Newsletter SignUp