Pakistan’s unique relations with China

Published: February 11, 2015
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

The news that the president of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, will be the chief guest at the March parade this year has been warmly received in Pakistan. President Barack Obama’s presence in New Delhi on India’s Republic Day parade and the heavy tilt of Narendra Modi towards aligning his country’s policies with Washington created unease both in China and Pakistan. President Xi’s visit will be reassuring and will provide good optics reflecting the strong bonds that exist between the two countries who have stood the vagaries of time. More recently, the extreme warm reception that General Raheel Sharif was accorded in Beijing and the strong statements made by the Chinese military leadership reiterating full support to Pakistan were also expressions of the same policy.

Sino-Pakistan relations, since the early 1950s, have been consistent, multi-faceted and span strategic defence, political, economic and diplomatic ties. China considers Pakistan useful in countering India, values its geostrategic position and considers it an important ally in the Muslim world.

In the field of defence, China has extended invaluable cooperation that extends to all three services. It has not only provided weapons and equipment but has also assisted Pakistan in developing a strong a defence industrial capability. The Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, Heavy Industries Taxila, several factories and production lines in the Pakistan Ordnance Factories, maritime projects for the navy and missile factories have been set up with Chinese assistance. In the 1970s and the 1980s, China set up major industrial units like the Heavy Mechanical Complex and the Heavy Forge Factory that helped build Pakistan’s intrinsic technological and industrial base.

The proposed $45 billion Pakistan-China Economic Corridor, which has strategic connotations when implemented, should provide a huge boost in transforming Pakistan’s economic landscape by linking south, central and western Asia. Development of the economic corridor and the Gwadar port as an energy hub by China are mutually beneficial projects. It will provide China access to the Straits of Hormuz, the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. The economic corridor will link Kashgar in China with Gwadar and open up enormous economic opportunities for both countries.

China today is clearly Pakistan’s top arms supplier, a position until recently held by the US. Chinese and Pakistani militaries carry out joint exercises and there is continuous exchange of high-level visits demonstrating that relations are robust. The PLA’s training establishments are major destinations for the Pakistan military. In September 2014, a flotilla of the PLA Navy ships made a friendly visit to Karachi. These were followed by several other visits of naval ships. At the diplomatic level, both countries cooperate closely at the bilateral and multilateral levels, and take common positions on global and regional issues.

China has, however, genuine concerns regarding growing radicalism in Pakistan. First, for its impact on Pakistan’s own stability and more importantly, its influence on the restive northwestern autonomous Chinese region of Xinjiang that has a significant majority of Muslim Uighurs and other minorities. While Pakistan is undertaking serious measures to ensure that dissident Chinese groups do not find sanctuaries in the tribal region, it remains a constant challenge to prevent their infiltration due to the porous nature of the border and the support they receive from different militant groups. If militants were to make major gains in Pakistan, Beijing would be very concerned of the impact and could review its policy.

While assessing Pakistan-China relations, one has to factor the latter’s current global interests and how these will play out in the long-term. Beijing’s economic and commercial links with the US are so closely intertwined that it is difficult for either country to disassociate itself from the other. China owes much of its phenomenal economic rise to the opportunity that the American market offered. No other country’s consumer market could absorb China’s huge manufacturing base. Moreover, China realises American power and its economic and political clout, and would like to retain a cooperative relationship.

Despite the border dispute and current tensions arising out of the US-Indian strategic alliance, China’s leadership has opted for maintaining good working relations with India. It has a growing economic and commercial relationship and trade between the two countries has reached $70 billion and is fast growing. Beijing understands the fallout of an adversarial relation with India on its economy. Its primary focus is on domestic development. China has always taken a position that time is on its side and it has shown extraordinary foresight in handling foreign relations with regional and global powers.

Pakistan will have to factor in China’s global perspective while formulating its future policy and expectations. There is also a lot that our leaders need to learn from the sophistication of China’s foreign policy. Despite US strategic convergence and growing support to India’s role at the regional and global level, China remains unruffled and poised. As President Obama stated, the “scope of our cooperation with China is unprecedented, even as we remain alert to China’s military modernization” while unveiling the US national security strategy of 2015.

Because of the very complex nature of its relations with India, Beijing is uncomfortable when India- Pakistan tensions aggravate. Clearly, China would remain supportive of Pakistan but would like it to manage relations with its adversary more subtly to retain an environment whereby it is not forced to take sides, especially when the two countries have growing economic and commercial interests, despite their strategic incongruence. Surely, the age of zero-sum diplomacy is over and China, like other world powers, would want to be on the winning side so as not to create problems for itself. On Kashmir, it would like Islamabad to take a more pragmatic attitude in its expectations. It has demonstrated great patience and maturity in dealing with the question of Taiwan and when it comes to the border dispute with India. Most striking in China’s foreign policy conduct is the balancing between economic, political and strategic interests.

China-Pakistan relations that are based on mutuality of interests seem destined to grow. Pakistan should, however, remain sensitive to the complexities that surround this relationship and factor these in.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th,  2015.

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Reader Comments (31)

  • R.Subramanian
    Feb 11, 2015 - 12:33AM

    It seems both China and Pakistan are too much worried about Indo-US relationship.

    Apart from terrorism India won’t care much about Pakistan’s relationships with other countries. Due to China’s arrogance today it is a virtually friendless country in its neighborhood (except Pakistan and N.Korea)..

    China Pakistan relationship is purely based on enemy’s enemy is my friend, apart from India centric nothing else in China Pakistan relationshipRecommend

  • 3rdRockFromTheSun
    Feb 11, 2015 - 12:50AM

    China – Pakistan relations are primarliy based on ‘containing India’ – and there is nothing wrong with that; as long as both parties realize why they are in the relatonship. Afterall – it should always be the interest’s of one’s own country first. The problem arises when one party starts imagining a non-existent “love” between two disparate peoples!

    US, China and India are three large world economies; and cannot eixst so if they ingnore each other. Whatever be the political considerations, these three countries understand the impaortance of sound economic ties with each other and thus maintain those ties. This is NOT a zero-sum game.

    The sooner Pakistan realises this, the better it is for them. Recommend

  • Rahul
    Feb 11, 2015 - 1:01AM

    Pakistanis should remember that China sided with the US and India during the Kargil misadventure and Pakistan stood isolated.Recommend

  • Sunil
    Feb 11, 2015 - 1:18AM

    Mutual interest is India and being enemies, nothing else ties the two countries.Recommend

  • Cool Henry
    Feb 11, 2015 - 3:52AM

    Pakistan has proven to bend over backwards to be able to be seen in company of bigwigs. At one time, it was tight friends with the US. Now it’s all weather friendship with China. Both, US and China have been ruthless in pursuing their own sovereign interests. And have forced Pakistan to dance to its tunes. So, I don’t see much hope or benefit for Pakistan in this equation. China will keep Pakistan dancing to it’s tunes as long as it serves it’s interests and drop it like a fly in the plate when necessary. Wonder when Pakistan will start giving top priority for the well being of it’s masses and not worry about false pretenses in the world affairs.Recommend

  • Gulshan
    Feb 11, 2015 - 4:20AM

    So what is the Lt. General suggesting? China was advising us all along, maybe for the last ten years, along similar lines. But it is we who wanted to pursue with the thousand cut strategy. Forget, Kashmir and the hate India mindset. If we have to save the sinking ship, called Pakiistan, then we must look inwards and stop ranting about Kashmir, cultivate a live and let live mindset and change the hate preaching ideologies shouted by the mullahs, leaders and the hate preaching text books.Recommend

  • Feb 11, 2015 - 4:53AM

    Lets burst this bubble.

    1) China is allowing India into SCO. Pakistan, not.

    2) China is allowing India into ASEAN. Pakistan, not.

    3) China has $3 Trillion in Forex Reserves. Yet, Pakistan had to go to IMF for loan twice in 2 years.

    4) China is a NSG member, also an IAEA member. It isn’t offering Pakistan NSG waivers and IAEA approvals for nuclear commerce, like US did with India.

    What is China actually giving away to Pakistan? As far as I now they are “selling” you their goods(more like dumping and a one way street) and military hardware. They are not giving it away for free.

    To India they are allowing entry to SCO and ASEAN! India can then Veto Pakistan’s entry. Why not Pakistan first?

    China could have blocked India’s entry into NSG. It didn’t. Why not? Without NSG waiver, India-US nuclear deal was not possible.Recommend

  • Aussie
    Feb 11, 2015 - 5:25AM

    There is an incredible difference in the nature of our historic alliance with the USA and China, from the opportunistic and heavy-handed to the sublime. Up till the 1990s, the only industrial units the USA had supplied to Pakistan were a GM car assembly plant (Gandhara Motors) and a GM car tire factory (National Tires). I am forgetting the latter massive and strategic McDonald’s, KFC, Pepsi and Coco Cola investments.

    For the incredible sacrifices rendered by the military and civilians of Pakistan in the two Afghan wars, one form of appreciation shown by the USA has been to transfer free of cost the highly sought after MRAP Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles to various countries. We lost Maj. Gen Sanaullah and other officers to a single roadside ambush. The free transfer of these vitally needed vehicles so far is Afghanistan(over 500), Uzbekistan(328), Croatia (212), Jordan (131), Burundi, Djibouti, Poland, and Uganda. Last on list is Pakistan (20), which inexplicably has just spent $198 Million of its funds to procure new MRAPs at $1Million apiece from the USA manufacturer Navstar.

    To bring about some balance to this lop-sided equation, we must offer to China the shared use of our airbases, naval facilities, and strategic military assets as we have done in the past to the USA. Chinese stealth technology, long range strike fighters, missiles, and advanced radar should be based throughout the length and breadth of Pakistan to enable the sharing and training of our personnel in familiar conditions. This will greatly reduce the military expenditure the Country can ill-afford.

    Chinese long range patrol aircraft flying through the Straits of Hormuz, visiting Iran, etc., will also bring about a much needed balance in Geopolitics in our region.

    Aussie: Shahid Saleem Arshad, Sydney


  • Iqbal
    Feb 11, 2015 - 7:17AM

    This is, indeed, a realistic perspective with pragmatism as its main plank. One factor not explicitly stated is the asymmetric nature of the Pak-China relations. It is heavily tilted on the latter side, since China virtually calls each and every shot. Therefore, robust the relationship may be, and even time tested, but yet Pakistan cannot take it for granted, even in the immediate future, be it India or extremism or any other issue.Recommend

  • Babloo
    Feb 11, 2015 - 7:58AM

    China thinks about asking Pakistan to stand , but even before China speaks, Pakistan reads Chinese mind and starts jumping to please the Chinese.Recommend

  • vinsin
    Feb 11, 2015 - 8:30AM

    It was India who helped China in the creation of North Korea for the security of China and also to ease China invasion of Tibet.
    It was Menon who declared Pakistan as only enemy of India in 1955 when Pakistan proposes military unity against China.
    This is the first time since independence when Indian foreign policy except for Pakistan is more coherent.Recommend

  • Prakash
    Feb 11, 2015 - 9:04AM

    As per Pak FO Chinese President visit on Pakistan date is not certain, but Author has taken it as granted.When India’s NSA visited China ,President of China met him braking the protocol but he did not met General Raheel Shariff.Recommend

  • Frank Vahid
    Feb 11, 2015 - 9:22AM

    Unique Relation.
    Yes that of a slave and a master.Recommend

  • kris
    Feb 11, 2015 - 10:22AM

    Pakistan is UNIQUE. So, all Pak’s relations are UNIQUE. Please explain to us what is this ‘uniqueness’ – Officially a terrorist country?Recommend

  • Feb 11, 2015 - 11:32AM

    Pakistan and india has only option, peace and dialouge, India making good relation with America, definitely Pakistan will make strong bonds with China, Saudia, turkey, Russia,,,,, and other Islamic countries Recommend

  • Indian_Troll
    Feb 11, 2015 - 11:42AM

    A country got to do what it got to do to protect its interest… It is another matter wether they are real or percived….Pakistan is right in assuming it has unique relationship with all countries of the world even the Chinese…after all it is independent sovereign nation… @INDIANS give it a break pakistan is a small country trying to feel secure and equal with respect to India …. but deep down they know the truth….let us not rub it in….best is to let them enjoy the fruits of their labour….let us just enjoy the show…….finally tribune thank you for providing a platform to understand how Pakistan works and thinks…. It is great entertainment trust me Recommend

  • Meshuga
    Feb 11, 2015 - 11:54AM

    @Cool Henry: Bending backwards is OK. Not its opposite.Recommend

  • Meshuga
    Feb 11, 2015 - 11:57AM

    @Gulshan: I didn’t see anything in this piece that could be taken for an “insider’s knowledge”. Mostly commonsense.Recommend

  • Meshuga
    Feb 11, 2015 - 12:18PM

    @BruteForce: And remember, with the US, Pakistan was receiving state-of-the-art (comparatively speaking) military hardware. With China, it is mostly second-hand technology borrowed (or stolen?) from Russia. Why not just buy directly from Russia? The China-Pakistan “jointly” developed fighter jet (JF-20????) unveiled last year looks like something out of the Korean War. That, dear friends, is the Chinese technological might! The stuff they are producing and flooding the world with is all derivative commodity products of foreign technology and design, either copied, stolen (as Intellectual Property protections are non-existent in China), or produced through joint ventures. Apple’s smart phones, iPads, iPods are produced by quasi-slave workers living in densely crowded dorms, paid a coupla dollars per day, and allowed just a few hours of rest. In other words, their vaunted technological prowess is merely a shining shell with an empty core. All done with mirrors. (Eventually, American, European, and Japanese companies will move their factories to other countries.)Recommend

  • whats in the name
    Feb 11, 2015 - 12:20PM

    @Unique Relation.
    “Yes that of a slave and a master.”
    Yeah Yeah, where in master and slave are both happy and comfortable with the relationship without holding any grudges against each other.Recommend

  • shameen
    Feb 11, 2015 - 12:41PM

    No doubt, Pak-China relation is unique in its nature. China has always been supportive in every trouble. Pakistan has strategic relationship with China because its arch rival, India is world’s top arms buyer. With massive defense budget India threatens survivability of Pakistan. To counter this threat Pakistan gets weapons from friendly states. Its India that drag pakistan to weapons business. Recommend

  • Ravindra Sharma
    Feb 11, 2015 - 1:26PM

    why are you fooling the people of sub continent sir ? Neither U S is angle nor China is and neither U S will give India even a penny in free nor China will give to Pakistan so why these euphoria ? Hard reality is that no body , no nation can give give any thing to others without any interest . U S will sell obsolete defense technology to India at a high cost and China will sell her untested nuclear reactor to Pakistan at a very high cost and keep 2.2 Crores people of Karachi in constant fear . So this high time not make foolish our own people in the name of jingoism .Recommend

  • asif riaz
    Feb 11, 2015 - 1:48PM

    China didn’t support pak in 1971 war. Also china turned his back on kargil and also stood with USA in post 9 11 when usa was putting undue pressure on pakRecommend

  • bahadur khan
    Feb 11, 2015 - 2:08PM

    It all began in 1958-59, Dalai Lama and his tibetans were given refugee till today. Today there are more than 2 million tibetans in India. India was punished in 1962 for this. Th 1965 invasion of J&K by pak regulars was done with Chinese coaching, From that time China has exploited the inability and insecurity of Pakistan. 1962 bonus prize was exchange of territory with Pakistan in Aksai Chin J&K. Along with India, Bangladesh, Bhutan will be squeezed when dams on Bramhaputra will be built. Slowly the circle of pearls will squeeze pakistan economically, and for supporting the turkics in Sinkiang.Recommend

  • Feb 11, 2015 - 2:46PM

    Things are not what as they seemsRecommend

  • Deepak
    Feb 11, 2015 - 4:23PM

    It’s colonial mindset, visits don’t amount to much unless there is substance, person chemistry and friendship is unreal in world, make your nation so strong that it can withstand any pressure! There are no friends in international relations, there are only common interests.

    Pursue them. And invest in good system and unbiased rule of lawRecommend

  • Bilal
    Feb 11, 2015 - 4:58PM

    A friend of mine is in China these days and it so reassuring to hear all those stories of common Chinese showing so much love and respect for Pakistanis there.It is a bidirectional relationship.On side not why do Indians feel incumbent to comment upon any post related to Pakistan and China’s friendship?And interestingly they will always say we don’t care.Why come and comment here than?
    I think they just can’t controle their inner hatred for both Pakistan and China.Recommend

  • John B
    Feb 11, 2015 - 7:40PM

    The private sector investments from India into the US is far greater than the US investment in India, at the moment. Literally, the US subsidiary of Indian private companies are nearly in every state. Similarly, China-India have mutual transborder investments in billions.

    Everyone is talking about defense transactions only. However, the defense transaction will Influence foreign policy only a little, where as private sector impact starts from grass root level and has greater impact. It will be foolish for the US to exclude India because PAK is an “alley” on war on terror. Conversely, The US will be breathing down on the PAK neck to address India concern.

    @Aussie has been asking for mine resistant vehicles from the US. It is not going to happen for crossing the LoC. Recommend

  • Vakil
    Feb 11, 2015 - 10:12PM

    …Most striking in China’s foreign policy conduct is the balancing between economic, political and strategic interests.
    — this is precisely the problem Masood sahab (from a Pakistani perspective viz-a-viz India) when it comes to ‘those who have the power’. What it simply means is that contentious i.e. ‘unsolvable’ issues are put on the back-burner, and over a period of time quietly buried (though for the sake of optics or academics it will be ‘kept alive’). This kind of thing works when there is no emotional or ideological luggage behind it — as in the case of India-China. Can the same be even remotely possible between your country and India? I will leave it for your educated mind to guess :-)Recommend

  • Agrippa - The Skeptic
    Feb 12, 2015 - 12:01AM

    @ Aussie
    “Chinese stealth technology, long range strike fighters, missiles, and advanced radar should be based throughout the length and breadth of Pakistan to enable the sharing and training of our personnel in familiar conditions. This will greatly reduce the military expenditure the Country can ill-afford.
    Chinese long range patrol aircraft flying through the Straits of Hormuz, visiting Iran, etc., will also bring about a much needed balance in Geopolitics in our region.”

    What a brilliant idea. Just to carry it forward:

    Why not ask Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang to run Islamabad from Beijing?
    It will save horrendous amount of money – runnnig a Govt. is very expensive!

    Better still hand over the sovereignty of the nation to the Chinese. Recommend

  • Adeelrafeeq
    Feb 27, 2015 - 11:05AM

    i live pak china Recommend

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