Written By: Lt Col Muhammad Rajil Irshad Khan
As early as over 2000 years ago, the world renowned Silk Road linked the two sides together in a connection. During the 7th century A.D., an eminent Chinese monk in the Tang Dynasty, who travelled westward has mentioned about his fond memory of the land and people in his famous book Records of Western Travels.
Modern age China-Pakistan relations began on 4 January 1950 when Pakistan was among the first countries to recognise the Peoples' Republic of China (PRC). Since then, both countries have placed considerable importance on the maintenance of an extremely close and supportive relationship and have regularly exchanged high-level visits resulting in a variety of agreements.
China and Pakistan are close neighbours linked by common mountains and the friendship between the two regions has a long history. The PRC has provided economic, military and technical assistance to Pakistan and each considers the other, a close strategic ally. Diplomatic relations were established in 1950, military assistance began in 1966, a strategic alliance was formed in 1972 and economic co-operation began in 1979. China has become Pakistan's largest supplier of arms and its third-largest trading partner.
The Chinese leadership always acknowledge Pakistan's consistent support on key issues. Pakistan helped China to break its isolation from the West and USA, and re-establish formal ties with this bloc, and helped to materialise Nixon’s visit to China in 1972.
Recently, both nations have decided to cooperate in improving Pakistan's civil nuclear power sector which is a beneficial indication to create balance in the region since USA is putting weight behind India.
Pakistan has collaborated with China in military and economic projects and has also served as a conduit for China's relations with the Muslim world. China also has a consistent record of supporting Pakistan on regional issues. During the Pakistan-Indian tensions in 2008, it implied to support Pakistan in all circumstances. Pakistan's military has been assisted by China procurement of military hardware and joint ventures are also in progress.
Military Relations. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) is the military arm of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the defacto armed forces of the People's Republic of China, consisting of land, sea, strategic missile and air forces. PLA has also been the rung of ladder in establishing strong military relations with Pakistan.
In recent years, the relationship has deepened even further and China has entered several military projects and defence treaties with Pakistan. China has also been a perpetual source of military equipment and has assisted Pakistan in setting up weapon production and modernization facilities. Moreover, bilateral visits by officers from both the countries in various military installations and academies / institutions and joint military exercise have further deepened the historic ties having a futuristic vision of enormous potential. Few of the defence deals and joint ventures between both countries are covered below:
• JF-17 Thunder. The PAC JF-17 Thunder or CAC FC-1 Xiaolong is a light-weight, single-engine multi-role combat aircraft developed jointly by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and Chengdu Aircraft Industries Corporation (CAC) of China. Its designation "JF-17 Thunder" by Pakistan is short for "Joint Fighter-17", while the designation "FC-1 Xiaolong" by China means "Fighter China-1 Fierce Dragon". The JF-17 was primarily developed to meet PAF requirement for an affordable, modern multi-role combat aircraft as a replacement for its large fleet of Dassault Mirage III/5 fighters, Nanchang A-5 bombers, and Chengdu F-7 interceptors.
The two serial production aircrafts were delivered from China in 2009 and the first Pakistani-manufactured aircraft was delivered to the PAF in a ceremony on 23 November 2009. The first squadron was inducted in the PAF in February 2010 and around 250 units shall be added in the future. Many countries including Azerbaijan, Iran, Egypt, Turkey and Venezuela have expressed interest in purchasing the JF-17 Thunder.
• PAF Shaanxi ZDK-03 AEW&C. The induction of Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AEW&C) aircraft in the PAF has brought a revolution in air defence operations. In November 2010, roll-out ceremony of Shaanxi ZDK-03 – AEW&C aircraft designed specifically for PAF was held in Hanzhong, Shaanxi, China. On October 7, 2011, the first aircraft arrived at PAF Base Masroor. The Chinese assistance in this regard is mandated to boost the existing professional relationship between the two friendly armies. PAF plans to induct a total of four such types of aircraft in its inventory.
• K-8 Karakorum Advance Training Aircraft. The Karakorum-8 (K-8) is a single-engine, advanced jet trainer and light attack aircraft designed and manufactured jointly by Hongdu Aviation Industry Corporation (HAIC) of China and PAC to replace the ageing Cessna T-37 Tweet jet trainers currently in service with the PAF. Pakistan and the China unveiled a decision in 1986 to jointly build the K-8 and total of 15 K-8s were produced between 1992 and 1996. Six were delivered to the PAF in 1994 after which Pakistan decided to procure 75 more aircraft. It became part of the Sherdils (Lion Hearts) aerobatics team of PAF in 2009 and carried out its first public display on 6 April 2010.
• Al Khalid Tank. The Al-Khalid tank is jointly developed variants of a modern Main Battle Tank (MBT) by Pakistan and China during the 1990s. The first production models entered service with the Pakistan Army in 2001 whereas about 300 tanks were in service by 2009.
• Joint Military Exercises. Pakistan and China have been conducting joint military exercises aiming at mutual exchange of experience and information through a comprehensive training programme in real time. One of such kind was held in November 2011 under the name of “YOUYI-IV” which was the fourth joint military exercise between the two countries since 2004. The exercise was termed as a “true manifestation of a famous Chinese phrase that Pakistan-China friendship is higher than the mountains and deeper than the oceans.” Air forces of both the countries have also been carrying out exercises and the duo has recently undergone a three-week air exercise titled Shaheen 2 (Falcon 2) in Xinjiang with an aim to excel in the air combat capability with focus on air power employment in any future conflict. The exercise was the second in a series of such exercises, the first of which was held in Pakistan in March 2011. This Exercise was the first occasion when an air force of other country participated in such an exercise in the Chinese airspace.
• Assistance in Counter Terrorism. China has always acknowledged Pakistan's contribution and sacrifices in its fight against terrorism. She has always called for bilateral cooperation in counter terrorism and enhancing cooperation on the issue at bilateral, regional and multilateral levels. At the 7th round of Pakistan-China bilateral consultations in Beijing on 15 April 2013, both sides expressed their resolve to intensify and further deepen their existing cooperation on counter terrorism. Pakistan and China hold regular and periodic consultations on counter terrorism and the next round of consultations will be held in Islamabad during 2014.
Future Engagements. Few of the future projects between both countries are as under.
• AEW&C. The PAF and Chinese aviation industries have mutually agreed for long term collaboration and co-development in the fields of aircraft manufacturing and other related fields including AEW&C. An MOU was signed in Islamabad between the PAF and the Chinese Aviation Company, CETC, for the improvement and further development of Chinese AEW&C which will be delivered to Pakistan in coming years.
• UAVs. Islamabad and Beijing inked two new military procurements contracts during the visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to Islamabad last year, which included the procurement of 20 CH-3 Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAV) developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp (CASC). The CH-3 is a Medium-Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) unmanned platform and is capable of battlefield reconnaissance, fire adjustment, data relay, intelligence collection, ground-strike missions and electronic warfare missions.
• Type 054A Jiangkai Stealth Frigate. China has agreed to assist for the purchase of the Chinese 4400 ton frigate. This agreement will clear the financial problems of the Pakistan Navy and it will be able to purchase new generation Stealth Type 054A Jiangkai II Multi-Role frigate which is equipped with the HQ-16 medium-range air defence missiles.
• FC-20 / J-10B Fighter Jet. PAF is also in process of receiving its first FC-20 / J-10B fighter jet which is powered by indigenous WS-10 engine.
• Submarines. China has also agreed to provide training to the personnel of the Pakistan Navy on the Chinese submarines. Pakistan and China have already agreed earlier this year to jointly develop and co-produce diesel electric submarines fitted with the Air Independent Propulsion to meet Pakistan Navy's long standing requirement of six new generation of submarines.
• Al-Khalid II. Pakistan and China have recently signed a contract to manufacture an upgraded version of the jointly developed Al-Khalid-I tanks with a name of Al Khalid-II. The contract was signed by Pakistan's Heavy Industries Taxila and China's NORINCO at the Ministry of Defence Production. The joint marketing of the Al-Khalid tank with China would open up potential markets.
• Armaments for Pakistan Aviation and Navy. The recent agreements will get Pakistan, FT-5 small-diameter bombs for Army Aviation, and the Type 022 Hobei-class catamarans for Pakistan Navy. The FT-5 small-diameter bomb contains a 35 kg warhead and has a circular error probability of 15 metres, or less than 50 feet. FT-5 have already been ordered for JF-17 Thunder aircraft.
Pakistan-China ties are to reach new heights as the two countries are also planning to link the Karakoram Highway to the Gwadar port in Balochistan through the Chinese-aided Gwadar–Dalbadin railway which extends up to Rawalpindi. The idea encompasses greater promotion of regional welfare and rapid economic growth which would reap enormous benefits for both the countries.
The bilateral ties between both the countries are based on very strong footing and both have been cooperating in almost all the fields. The number of military-related patents secured by China's defence industry have increased by an average of 35% per year during the past decade, indicating rapidly developing indigenous capabilities. Pakistan should accrue max advantage to "fast track" defence research and development programmes and enhance industrial capability by encouraging innovation.