Written By: Dr. Mirwais Kasi
Pakistan-China friendship hardly finds a parallel in modern international relations as it is based on mutual respect, mutual advantages and equality and it has the potential to maximize the advantages for regional countries. Pakistan-China relation has displayed durability which has adjusted itself according to changing regional and international scenarios. This bilateral relationship has undoubtedly emerged as a very strong friendship which serves as an exceptional example for the rest of peace loving nations.
Pakistan and China enjoy time-honoured and time-tested friendship which has often been termed as “higher than the mountains and deeper than the oceans".Pakistan-China relations, though bilateral, yet offer opportunities for regional and international peace. Whether it is South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa or other contiguous regions, Pak-China relations in some way promote peace, prosperity and stability. In this context, the Central Asian Republics (CARs) are also attracted towards Pakistan-China partnership for obvious advantages. Pakistan-China alliance and its positive effects on Central Asian States are determined by their security needs, economic advantages, and their desire to serve as the energy corridor. This approach of mutual cooperation also strengthens the peace prospects in the entire region. Pakistan gave enhanced focus to relations with CARs in the early 1990s. Pakistan shared history, religion and ethnic affinities with these countries. Further, Pakistan also offered a natural trade route for Central Asian states to reach out the world markets; thus lower their trade and economic dependence on Russia. Pakistan also developed institutionalized arrangements to promote cooperation in the economic and commercial fields. Similarly, after disintegration of the erstwhile Soviet Union, CARs also got a pivotal position in the region. Therefore in the fall of 1992, the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) expanded and Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan were included as seven new members of ECO. Member states set the common objective of establishing a single market for goods and services. The ECO states have great potential for promotion of regional trade and economic development, which is yet to be exploited. Through the ECO, many schemes and projects for intra-regional cooperation are rapidly emerging. Although, currently ECO is not a customs union nor common marketplace or a close economic bloc, but with the passage of time there is a possibility for the ECO – which is basically an economic association of regional countries – to assume a political responsibility on geopolitical canvas. In any such case the growing collaborations and understanding between Pakistan, China and CARs from the forum of ECO will improve in scope and significance towards regional peace and stability.
On the other hand, the sudden disintegration of the USSR presented both challenges and opportunities for China. One of the landmarks of Chinese foreign policy is that it has been peacefully dealing with all the challenges to explore new opportunities in the Central Asian region. China not only peacefully resolved its border disputes with Central Asian countries, but it also initiated economic relations with them. Central Asia has rapidly turned into a raw material supplier for China, while China on the other hand has emerged as a supplier of finished product in the shape of machinery, chemicals and hi-tech equipment for CARs. Several free economic zones have been established for promotion of trade activities between the two sides aiming at mutual advantages. China has been assisting various Central Asian Republics in exploration of oil and gas resources and has been involved in the construction of several oil and gas pipelines connecting different channels. Beijing is also trying to expand its military cooperation with CARs, particularly, with its two immediate neighbours, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In addition, Shanghai Five forum – predecessor of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), also played a significant role in bringing China closer to the CARs and leading them towards similarity of opinions and interests on a wide range of areas aiming to explore common interests. With the rise in non-traditional threats and vulnerability of CARs to these non-state actors, the security agenda of the Shanghai Five gradually began to expand.
Pakistan in this regard, through Gwadar Port and the CPEC, will play the role of bridge and the shortest link between China and African states. Also due to its Islamic ideological identity and OIC forum Pakistan wins the goodwill of many Muslim African stakeholders. Pakistan and China have thus gained valuable diplomatic support of African nations to defend their international interests.
Pakistan-China friendship has also played a positive and constructive role for Central Asian States. In 1995, Quadrilateral Agreement for Traffic in Transit; a transit trade agreement was signed between Pakistan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Later, Tajikistan also became a signatory of this transit trade agreement, which stipulates effective utilization of the Karakoram Highway (KKH) for trade between Pakistan and SCO member states via Kashgar. Although the agreement is still going through a transitional phase but in years to come its scope and significance will be expanded and it will attract more countries towards it. Furthermore, Pakistan’s entry into the SCO has a positive impact not only on Pakistan-China relations and CARs, but Pakistan-Russia relations as well. The SCO has been merging the interests of all these actors on regional and international level at a great pace and has been leading towards the rise of a new military, economic and resource-rich region in the world.
Similarly, China has provided all-out assistance for the development of Gwadar deep sea port in Pakistan and due to its strategic location, Gwadar has the potential to become a gateway to Central Asia and Xinjiang. Similarly, through a road network Pakistan-China will also offer outlets to Russia towards warm waters as well. Through KKH even Iran can access China via land route from Pakistan, and, CPEC also provides an opportunity to India for access to Afghanistan, CARs and Iran via Pakistan. Pakistan and China have been working on up-gradation of KKH realizing its importance. The up-gradation of the KKH is a Pakistan-China initiative to generate north-south and east-west economic corridors. Pakistan and China's commitment to establish an economic corridor gained momentum after Chinese President's visit to Pakistan in 2015 which assured Chinese heavy investment for CPEC having the potential to achieve regional connectivity objectives.
The smaller states of South Asia have seen some real Indian interference and military quests since 1947. India is the only South Asian state which has fought the most wars with its neighbours. Besides that India has also been involved in water sharing conflicts with three important states of South Asia namely; Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. In addition, India not only nuclearized South Asia, but also promoted nuclear and missile race in the region.
Pakistan-China relationship also plays an important role in South-Asia, although India enjoys a little better position in the region due to its size, population and political clout. However, though India has failed to convince the South Asian neighbours to take India as an opportunity rather than a grave threat. India is seen as a problematic entity by most South Asian states and as an irritant and an unbalancing actor in South Asia because of hegemonic Indian objectives in the region. The smaller states of South Asia have seen some real Indian interference and military quests since 1947. India is the only South Asian state which has fought the most wars with its neighbours. Besides that India has also been involved in water sharing conflicts with three important states of South Asia namely; Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. In addition, India not only nuclearized South Asia, but also promoted nuclear and missile race in the region. Pakistan-China relationship became a positive balancing factor in South Asia. Even sane indian voices admit the positive balancing effect of Pak-China collaboration on the region. It has helped in maintaing nuclear balance and thus minimized conventional arms race. Such developments changed the aggressive nature of India towards its small South Asian neighbours. Since the border agreement was made between Pakistan and China the situation in Kashmir got a bit complex for India. As China became a stakeholder, it shattered the Indian dreams of gaining control over the whole of Kashmir against the will of Kashmiri masses by negating their right to self-determination.
Likewise, this bilateral relationship has relevance and significance for U.S., Africa and Gulf region as well. Pakistan-China relations with the United States of America saw many ups and downs and it's difficult to describe the nature of the relationship between Pakistan and U.S. and U.S. and China. During the Cold War era Pakistan and U.S. were allies against the communist bloc, however, Pakistan-China collaborations, which began in late 1950s, initially became an irritant between Pakistan and the U.S. Later because of Pakistan, the U.S. and China came closer. The 1990s saw strained relations of the U.S. with Pakistan and China, the main divergent factors being Chinese assistance to Pakistan in missile and nuclear sectors. However, after 9/11 Pakistan became an ally of the U.S. in the War on Terror without compromising its close links with China, and, on the other hand China emerged as one of the biggest economic partners of the U.S. while both continue to be strategic adversaries of each other and their interests do clash at various points on trajectory. Despite many diverging elements, considering U.S. relations with Pakistan and China, the significance of Pakistan and China and their bilateral relations' significance for the U.S. cannot be ruled out completely. The economic partnership between the U.S. and China, Pakistan-U.S. partnership during times of crisis and the geo-strategic importance of Pakistan makes Pakistan-China partnership significant and relevant for the U.S. The United States has also been seeking Pakistan and China's assistance in achieving peace and stability in Afghanistan and addressing climate change, counter-terrorism, non-proliferation and promotion of human rights. The U.S. seeks Chinese support particularly in Asia-Pacific, including the Taiwan Strait, South China Sea and East China Sea. Similarly, the geo-strategic location of Pakistan also attracts the U.S. because it can serve as a gateway to CARs and offers a route from energy efficient states to energy deficient states. Chinese role in the development of ports, roads and railway network facilities make Pakistan-China relations relevant and significant for the U.S. as well.
In case of Africa, Pakistan and China attach great importance and relevance to this region as well. Both China and Pakistan have been sympathetic to the African position on many international issues and they have often sided with African countries in the UN Security Council. Pakistan and China, in terms of their relations with African states have turned to a new page with better understanding and cooperation with the objective to gain maximum advantages. Currently, Pakistan and China are interacting with African states on two levels:
Pakistan is also vital for Persian Gulf States since most of them strengthened their ties with the emerging super power China through Pakistan. Similarly, through land route Pakistan is the easiest and shortest choice in linking the Persian Gulf region with China, coining it as gateway between them. The strategic location and construction of Gwadar Port provides transit trade and oil supplying opportunities to China and Persian Gulf States through economical and secure options.
I. Through bilateralism via diplomatic, political, social and economic sectors.
II. Through multilateralism via regional, ideological and international forums.
China in particular provides alternate options to African states, by offering them aid and assistance without preconditions and dictations. China seeks natural resources while African nations need her support to explore their resources; consequently the two sides' interests converged to explore mutual advantages. Pakistan in this regard, through Gwadar Port and the CPEC, will play the role of bridge and the shortest link between China and African states. Also due to its Islamic ideological identity and OIC forum Pakistan wins the goodwill of many Muslim African stakeholders. Pakistan and China have thus gained valuable diplomatic support of African nations to defend their international interests.
In addition to above, counter-terrorism has also enhanced the understanding between Pakistan, China and African states. Terrorism became a global problem and African nations are also suffering because of it. They keenly observe Pakistan-China role in the war against terrorism and want to follow the same strategies to eliminate safe havens of terrorists from African land. In this regard, Pakistan and China's contributions are countless; they are not only exporting arms to governments of African countries, but through UN peacekeeping mission they train the local security forces to combat terrorism. As a result, Pakistan-China relations and relevance for African nations became more dynamic and constructive contribution towards peace and stability.
Similarly, in order to comprehend Pakistan-China relations' worth for the Gulf countries, it may be concluded that their ties have been framed through bilateral and multilateral collaboration in diplomatic, security and socio-economic sectors.
Religious similarity, Pakistan’s strategic location and its identity of being a military power among Islamic states have made Pakistan a natural ally of Persian Gulf States. Pakistan, despite its economic and social problems in recent years remains the ultimate hope for many of the Persian Gulf States, particularly after growing distrust towards the western powers. Similarly, Gulf States, particularly Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member countries, i.e., Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain, are important from economic perspective for Pakistan as they always assisted Pakistan during the time of crisis.
Pakistan is also vital for Persian Gulf States since most of them strengthened their ties with the emerging super power China through Pakistan. Similarly, through land route Pakistan is the easiest and shortest choice in linking the Persian Gulf region with China, coining it as gateway between them. The strategic location and construction of Gwadar Port provides transit trade and oil supplying opportunities to China and Persian Gulf States through economical and secure options. China’s emergence as regional economic and military power and its expertise in the high-tech sector are attracting Gulf States towards China. Both Pakistan and China significantly developed friendly ties with Persian Gulf States without getting involved in their internal differences. Pakistan and China also maintained a balance between their relations with Iran and other Arab countries which is not less than a landmark of China and Pakistan's foreign policies. Both Pakistan and China now represent themselves as time-tested, credible, cordial and capable allies of Persian Gulf states and GCC members in particular.
To conclude, it can be said that Pakistan-China friendship hardly finds a parallel in modern international relations as it is based on mutual respect, mutual advantages and equality and it has the potential to maximize the advantages for regional countries. Pakistan-China relation has displayed durability which has adjusted itself according to changing regional and international scenarios. This bilateral relationship has undoubtedly emerged as a very strong friendship which serves as an exceptional example for the rest of peace loving nations. With the development of the CPEC, the Pakistan-China alliance presents opportunities that may lead towards security, prosperity, peace and regional and international balance that makes this bilateral relation significant and relevant not only for regional actors but for the rest of the world as well.
The writer is Assistant Professor at Department of International Relations, University of Balochistan, Quetta.