Diplomatic relations between Pakistan and China were established on 21 May 1951, shortly after the defeat of the Republic of China in 1949. While initially ambivalent towards the idea of a Communist country on its borders, Pakistan hoped that China would serve as a counterweight to Indian influence. India had recognized China a year before, and Indian Prime Minister Nehru also hoped for closer relations with the Chinese. However, with escalating border tensions leading to the 1962 Sino-Indian war, China and Pakistan aligned with each other in a joint effort to counter perceived Indian encroachment. One year after China’s border war with India, Pakistan ceded the Trans-Karakoram Tract to China to end border disputes and improve diplomatic relations.
Pakistan’s military initially depended almost entirely on American armaments and aid, which was increased during the covert U.S. support of Islamic militants in the Soviet war in Afghanistan. America under US President Richard Nixon supported Pakistan in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. However, the period following the Soviet withdrawal and the dissolution of the Soviet Union led indirectly to the increasing realignment of America with the previously pro-Soviet India. The Pressler Amendment in 1990 suspended all American military assistance and any new economic aid amidst concerns that Pakistan was attempting to develop a nuclear weapon. Given the support that Pakistan had given them during the War in Afghanistan, many Pakistanis saw this as a betrayal that sold out Pakistani interests in favor of India. This belief was further strengthened as India had developed a nuclear weapon without significant American opposition, and Pakistan felt obligated to do the same. Consequently, the primarily geopolitical alliance between Pakistan and China has since 1990 branched out into military and economic cooperation, due to Pakistan’s belief that America’s influence and support in the region should be counterbalanced by the Chinese.
With the war in Afghanistan leading to renewed relations with the U.S., there is a general sentiment in Pakistan to adopt a foreign policy that favors China over the United States. Washington has been accused of deserting Pakistan in favor of a policy that favors stronger relations with India, while Pakistan sees China as a more reliable ally over the long term. Since 9/11, Pakistan has increased the scope of Chinese influence and support by agreeing to several military projects, combined with extensive economic support and investment from the Chinese. This is partially due to Pakistan’s strategy of playing off the two powers against each other, but also a genuine effort to prevent America’s influence in the region from becoming too strong. In return, the Chinese hope to strengthen Pakistan as a counterbalance to American and Indian influence.
The People’s Republic of China enjoys strong defense ties with Pakistan. This relationship between two adjoining Asian countries is important in the world’s geo-strategic alliances. The strong defense ties are primarily to counter regional Indian and American influence, and was also to repel Soviet influence in the area. In recent years this relationship has strengthened through ongoing defence projects and agreements between Pakistan and China.
Since 1962, China has been a steady source of military equipment to the Pakistani Army, helping establish munition factories, providing technological assistance and modernizing existing facilities. The countries are involved in the joint venture of several projects to enhance military and weaponry systems, which include collaborating in the development of JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft, K-8 Karakorum advance training aircraft, space technology, AWACS systems, Al-Khalid tanks and the Babur cruise missile. The armies have a schedule for organising joint military exercises. China is the largest investor in the Gwadar Deep Sea Port, which is strategically located at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz. It is viewed warily by both America and India as a possible launchpad for Chinese naval operations in the Indian Ocean. However the Gwadar Port is currently delayed due to a multilateral diplomatic standoff between the project leaders and the Singapore government.
China has supplied Pakistan with equipment to advance their nuclear weapons program, such as the Chinese help in building the Khushab reactor, which plays a key role in Pakistan’s production of plutonium. A subsidiary of the China National Nuclear Corporation contributed in Pakistan’s efforts to expand its uranium enrichment capabilities by providing 5,000 custom made ring magnets, which are a key component of the bearings that facilitate the high-speed rotation of centrifuges. China has also provided technical and material support in the completion of the Chashma Nuclear Power Complex and plutonium reprocessing facility, which was built in the mid-1990s. Economic trade between Pakistan and China are increasing at a rapid pace and a free trade agreement has recently been signed. Military and technological transactions continue to dominate the economic relationship between the two nations, although in recent years China has pledged to vastly increase its investment in Pakistan’s economy and infrastructure. Among other things, China has been helping to develop Pakistan’s infrastructure through the building of power plants, roads and communication nodes. CPEC is a corridor that will change the game for both China and Pakistan. With several advantages on the table, this big economic initiative can open up new frontiers of progress between these two nations. However, this ambitious project faces numerous external threats in addition to internal ones that put its success in jeopardy at every turn – not to mention minor political stability in Pakistan itself. Any government in charge of CPEC must be able to complete its term to avoid jeopardizing all the hard work that has been put in so far by both countries.