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Oleg Popadyuk

PhD in Law, MGIMO University

During his visit to China in July 2013, Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif described the relationship between the two countries thus: “Our friendship is deeper than the deepest sea in the world, and is higher than the highest peak in this world”.
China and Pakistan are two very different countries, with different histories and cultural and religious traditions, and opposing political ideologies. But there is something that connects them. What it is that makes them “all-weather friends”?

During his visit to China in July 2013, Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif described the relationship between the two countries thus: “Our friendship is deeper than the deepest sea in the world, and is higher than the highest peak in this world”. And in an article published on the eve of his arrival in Islamabad in April 2015, President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping said that, although this was his “first visit to Pakistan”, he felt that he was “going to visit the home of [his] own brother”. China and Pakistan are two very different countries, with different histories and cultural and religious traditions, and opposing political ideologies. But there is something that connects them. What it is that makes them “all-weather friends”?

What does China Offer Pakistan?

Although diplomatic relations were established between China and Pakistan in 1951, the two countries did not begin to cooperate closely until the mid-1960s. Back then, the military and political situation in South Asia was particularly tense. China and Pakistan became friends according to the principle of “the enemy of mine enemy is my friend”. Pakistan needed a strong partner to rely on in its standoff with India, all the more so as the United States, a traditional ally of Pakistan, regularly imposed restrictions on the country because of its domestic and foreign policy. At the same time, China was concerned about India’s growing influence and authority in Asia, especially as a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement.

China has played a key role in the development of Pakistan’s industrial base, as well as its transport and energy infrastructure. The construction of the highest altitude road in the world, the 1300-kilometre Karakoram Highway, has become a symbol of China–Pakistan relations.

Until the mid-1960s the military and political situation in South Asia was particularly tense. China and Pakistan became friends according to the principle of “the enemy of mine enemy is my friend”.

Today, trade and economic links between the two countries are growing rapidly. In 2005, bilateral trade between the two countries amounted to $3 billion. Experts have predicted that it will be around $15 billion by 2015. Business contacts were given a huge boost in 2006 with the creation of a free trade area between China and Pakistan. China has become Pakistan’s main foreign trade partner, accounting for almost 17 per cent of the country’s turnover. However, the structure of bilateral trade between the two countries is skewed in favour of China, which mostly supplies industrial and hi-tech products to the Pakistani market.

In early 2015, large-scale investment in the joint China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was announced. The corridor will connect Gwadar Port in Pakistan with China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region via a network of roads and railways, oil and gas pipelines and power transmission lines. China has promised to invest $46 billion in the Pakistani economy by the end of 2017.

The construction of the highest altitude in the world, the 1300-kilometre Karakoram Highway, has become a symbol of China–Pakistan relations.

The project is of strategic importance to Pakistan, which will receive investments equal to 20 per cent of its GDP. Pakistan has a historic chance to seriously move forward in addressing socioeconomic development issues. With the help of Chinese money, Pakistan will be able to improve its transport infrastructure, patch up the holes in its energy security, build new production facilities and create jobs. Eventually, Pakistan will become an energy transport hub.

The deep-sea Gwadar Port located in the immediate vicinity of the Persian Gulf was erected with the direct participation of China, which provided 75 per cent of the financing. According to the Government of Pakistan’s plans, the Gwadar cluster will become the driver of the country’s economic development that will attract major financing from abroad. The project has attracted the attention of Iran, which intends to build a large oil refinery near Gwadar for $4 billion and the attendant oil transportation infrastructure.

Another landmark project in the construction of the “Peace” gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan, which will extend as far as China. Iran will thus emerge from its current isolation and gain access to new markets, while Pakistan will receive additional volumes of cheaper energy resources, and China will get another energy supply route. It is possible that these initiatives could be linked with Russia’s and Pakistan’s plans to build the $2.5-billion Karachi–Lahore gas.

With China’s help, Pakistan has increased the nuclear component of its energy mix. China has already built two power generation units at the Chashma Nuclear Power Complex, with two more reactors planned for 2018. Peaceful nuclear energy already accounts for 3.3 per cent of Pakistan’s electricity generation. For the purposes of comparison, this figure is only 2 per cent in India, which has great scientific and industrial potential.

China has played a key role in strengthening Pakistan’s armed forces. It is the main supplier of weapons to the Pakistani army. Thirty-nine per cent of all foreign-bought weapons in Pakistan come from the Chinese military-industrial complex. The United States, for its part, accounts for 24 per cent of the total. China, which became the world’s third largest supplier of arms in 2014, sends 41 per cent of its military products to Pakistan.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan gave a strong impetus to Pakistan–China military contacts. It was via Pakistan that funds were distributed and arms supplied, and Afghani mujahedeen were trained in the country. And it was not only the United States that provided this assistance, as China, which had strained relations with the USSR at the time, also did its part. As a result, Pakistan, China and the United States made up an informal coalition against the Soviet Union.

With China’s help, Pakistan has increased the nuclear component of its energy mix.

China played a decisive role in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme. Pakistani nuclear scientists and military experts were trained in China, which shared its scientific developments and designs with them. Pakistan was privy to Chinese missile technology and the necessary strategic materials, including highly enriched uranium.

Today, China and Pakistan are actively engaged in joint military and technical research, organizing the production of military equipment. The most successful example is the JF-17 combat aircraft, which is in service in Pakistan. There are also plans to export the vehicle to a third country; negotiations with Myanmar, Argentina and Nigeria are ongoing.

Thirty-nine per cent of all foreign-bought weapons in Pakistan come from the Chinese military-industrial complex.

Military and technical cooperation between China and Pakistan will only intensify. And emphasis will be placed on the latest hi-tech models. An agreement has been reached on the sale of eight Chinese Type 041 diesel-electric submarines to Pakistan, half of which will be built in Pakistani shipyards. Negotiations are also under way on Pakistan purchasing more than 300 Chinese Type 99 tanks. Pakistan is planning on transitioning to the Chinese BeiDou Navigation Satellite System. According to the Pakistani military, American GPS is unreliable, as it may be switched off in the event that an armed conflict breaks out.

Military and technical cooperation between China and Pakistan will only intensify.

China–Pakistan links are developing at the expense of U.S.–Pakistan relations. The reason for this is the short-sighted policy of the United States. U.S. drones regularly violate Pakistani airspace when searching for terrorists and carry out missile and bomb strikes that claim the lives of civilians. The U.S. Special Forces’ Operation Neptune Spear to liquidate Osama bin Laden 50 kilometres from Islamabad caused widespread outrage. Washington did not give the Pakistani side fair warning, fearing that the information would be leaked.

Unlike the United States, China does not interfere in the internal affairs of Pakistan and does not impose its own model of development on the country. On the contrary, it cooperates with Pakistan based on the principles of respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity. As a result, there have been no sudden changes in China–Pakistan relations, as they do not depend on the domestic political situation in the country. And this includes as a result of military coups, which happen quite frequently in Pakistan.

Pakistan: The View from Beijing

REUTERS/Lintao Zhang
Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with
Pakistan's President Mamnoon Hussain at
The Great Hall Of The People on
September 2, 2015 in Beijing, China

Chinese and Pakistani interests are based on goodwill, connected more with achieving geopolitical goals and ensuring national security.

Pakistan has become a key partner for China on the world stage, serving as a bridge between China and the capitalist world. The first direct flights from Beijing to a non-socialist country were to Islamabad. It was with Pakistan’s help that a breakthrough in China–U.S. relations was made in 1972, when President Nixon visited China and met with Mao Zedong. Islamabad has also served as a mediator between China and the Islamic world.

China has gained access to the latest western development through Pakistan. In the early 1980s, for example, Pakistan acquired a fleet of American F-16 fighter jets, which the United States only supplied to its closest allies in NATO. With the silent assent of the Pakistani side, Chinese experts were able to study the avionics and other technological aspects of the aircraft, which they then used to design and build their own J-10 model.

Pakistan has become a key partner for China on the world stage, serving as a bridge between China and the capitalist world.

Despite the close cooperation between China and Pakistan in the military–technical sphere, cooperation in nuclear energy remains very sensitive. China has never formally been an ally of Pakistan and has never given the country direct military support. China has repeatedly rebuffed Pakistan’s requests for aid during the many India–Pakistan conflicts, refusing to send its troops to fight against India.

For a long time, China saw Pakistan as a counterbalance to another power, namely India. Relations between the two Asian giants of China and India have historically been very uneven and contradictory. In recent years, however, cooperation between the two countries has entered a qualitatively new phase, and opportunities for developing extensive trade and economic cooperation links have opened up. In 2015, a target of $100 billion in bilateral trade was set. This kind of economic interdependence significantly reduces strategic risks and the possibility of the situation spinning out of control.

Pakistan: A Bridge between China and the Middle East

China has gained access to the latest western development through Pakistan.

China’s dependence on imported energy will continue to grow, and this means that it will try to diversify its supply routes. To this end, China is stepping up its energy cooperation with Russia and expanding delivery through Central Asia. For China, Pakistan is the shortest transport corridor providing access to the Persian Gulf, where Saudi Arabia alone accounts for 16 per cent of China’s oil imports.

This is why China is prepared to invest significant financial resources into the development of the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor. The corridor will significantly reduce the delivery time of oil from the Middle East to China, which at present travels 16,000 kilometres across unstable sea areas and the narrow and vulnerable straits of Hormuz and Malacca. The project will be part of China’s far more ambitious Silk Road Economic Belt initiative, which will work closely with the Eurasian Economic Union.

For China, Pakistan is the shortest transport corridor providing access to the Persian Gulf.

Backed by Pakistan, China is building up its geopolitical influence. Gwadar Port will be used as a stronghold for the Chinese Navy as well. Such a move would strengthen China’s presence in the Indian Ocean and allow it to control the main trade routes. The United States, of course, would look unfavourably upon this, as it actively seeks to limit China’s development. India will be equally unimpressed if the Chinese Navy takes up permanent residence in the Indian Ocean, right on its doorstep.

Gwadar Port

Source: Gwadar Port

We must also mention the factors that may hinder the implementation of the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor project. Above all, we are talking about the technological and engineering challenges of erecting facilities at high altitudes. The operation of the Gwadar– Xinjiang pipeline, which will pump oil at an altitude of 4500 metres, will have huge energy requirements, thus increasing the overall cost of the project.

The instability of the political situation in Pakistan is another factor that has to be considered. The federal government cannot give absolute guarantees of security. Armed separatist groups operate in Balochistan province. In 2011, China’s largest coal company, Kingho Energy Group, refused to carry out a large-scale project in the country because of the terrorist threat. To reassure its Chinese partners, the President of Pakistan, Mamnoon Hussain, has promised to deploy an additional army division in Balochistan to protect joint projects.

Another important area of China–Pakistan cooperation is the war against terrorism, which presents a serious threat to the security and stability of the two countries. It is well known that Pakistan, particularly its Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, has far-reaching connections in various Islamist terrorist groups. It is through Pakistan that China was able to establish contact with the Taliban movement, which promised to leave China off its list of priority targets and not support the Uyghur separatists. The leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan guaranteed that the Uyghur separatists, who were trained in Afghanistan would not attack China.

Trade and economic contacts between China and Pakistan will thus continue to grow.

Pakistan and China are important partners in resolving the situation in Afghanistan, working together to counter threats emanating from that country. The destabilization of Afghanistan is incredibly dangerous for both China and Pakistan in terms of the transport and energy routes that have been set up in the region. The Islamist wave could sweep through Pakistan and even reach the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where the Uyghur separatists are a serious headache for Beijing.

China is actively involved in the Afghan reconciliation process. A strategic trilateral dialogue between China, Afghanistan and Pakistan has been launched. The representatives of the Afghan Taliban who took part in negotiations in China in 2014 are also involved in these discussions. Beijing understands that one of the main conditions of settlement is the socioeconomic revival of Afghanistan. To this end, it has promised to increase capital investment in the Afghan economy.

The war against terrorism will be more effective after Pakistan joins the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and becomes involved in the work of its Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure and other agencies that coordinate the activities of the special services of the SCO’s member states.

Pakistan and China: The Prospects for Cooperation

picture alliance / Photoshot / Vostock Photo
Sergei Uyanaev:
Beijing-Islamabad: Continued “All-Weather”
Dialogue

Pakistan has a strategic significance for China. The transport corridor is an additional source of resources. It could also provide a boost to China’s western regions, which are lagging far behind the eastern part of the country in terms of development. Trade and economic contacts between China and Pakistan will thus continue to grow. Pakistan will become more involved in the “Sinosphere”, in large-scale integration initiatives in China, which will increase export capital and invest in more attractive projects.

China will try especially hard to bring Pakistan into its orbit, pushing out the competition, primarily the United States. It will also strive to keep the economic expansion of another influential south Asian power, namely India, in check.

Pakistan’s main goal is to create the most favourable conditions for Chinese capital. The country simply does not have any other opportunities to solve its pressing social and economic problems. This is why the Pakistani authorities will do everything in their power to ensure the safety of Chinese investments and experts. In particular, China will assist in attempts to “negotiate” with the separatist and terrorist groups in the hope that they will not “touch” infrastructure and industrial facilities built using Chinese money.

Pakistan’s main goal is to create the most favourable conditions for Chinese capital. The country simply does not have any other opportunities to solve its pressing social and economic problems.

The military and political importance of Pakistan as a counterweight to India will decline. In general, the standoff in South Asia, particularly between Beijing and New Delhi, will cool off. Relations with India will improve. Both countries cooperate within the BRICS and SCO structures, and China has no interest in putting its huge investments in jeopardy because of a regional conflict.

At the same time, military cooperation between China and Pakistan will expand. In general, Pakistan has a capacious arms market. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) data, in the period 2010–2014, Pakistan was the fifth largest importer of arms with a share of 4 per cent. In the long term, the Pakistani army may adopt Chinese military standards. Beijing will thus ensure standing orders for its military-industrial complex and consolidate its presence and strategic influence both in Pakistan and in the vitally important Middle East.

For Pakistan, China will remain practically the only partner that it can count on in its rivalry with India. Without Beijing’s assistance, Islamabad will not be able to maintain strategic parity with New Delhi.

What is more, China’s significant success and its growing geopolitical influence and ambitions are of concern to the United States. Tension between the two countries will increase in the short term, and the focus of China’s strategic policy will shift to the Asia-Pacific Region. China is therefore interested in a peaceful and reliable home front and business-like non-confrontational relations with its western neighbours. In keeping with one of its main foreign policy principles, economics define geopolitics.

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