Strategic dimension of Sino-Pakistan Relations

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A strategic relationship is one of the most important aspects of multi-dimensional China-Pakistan Relations. China-Pakistan cooperation is not a coincidence but is based on sound geo-strategic and realist calculations.[1]  Pakistan is strategically significant for China as the country is holding a prestigious position in the Islamic world and is acting as a gateway for China to access the resource-rich Middle Eastern region. China has vested its long-term strategic goals in the form of the developmental initiative CPEC which is a mega project of $62 billion.[2] For Pakistan, China is at the pivot of its strategies as Pakistan is surrounded by an unfavorable environment in terms of its relations with its neighbors. Pakistan has least secured eastern and western boarders along with an unstable country Afghanistan on North. The only option which is left for Pakistan is its north-eastern neighbor China which is culturally and ideologically different. Despite differencing ideologies Pakistan and China still share a reciprocal relationship in many affairs like Kashmir, Taiwan and matters related to Tibet and Xinjiang. If Pakistan considers Uyghur and Taiwan issue as an internal matter of PRC than China reciprocates by supporting the stance of Pakistan on Kashmir issue. Though bilateral relationship evolved extensively over the years but what remained intact was the common enemy India and Sino-Pakistan strategic cooperation which is counter-balancing Indian threat in the region. In realm of international politics, a famous ancient proverb ‘enemy of your enemy is your friend’ best describes the relationship between ‘Iron brothers’.[3] Another interesting fact about trilateral relations (Pakistan, India and China) is that they are the only Asian states having nuclear weapons declared and China aided Pakistan to acquire these weapons.

Amid these circumstances Pakistan is acting as a card which China can use at any time against mutual enemy India who is an ally of US. The strategic relationship between Pakistan and China is not as simple as it seems instead it entails complexity in the form of great power politics between US, China and India. In Pakistan-US-China strategic triangle, China is trying to keep US out of the South Asia by countering him through his alliance with Pakistan who in turn is an enemy of India. This leaves us with the two most important reasons why China is so interested in Pakistan; First is curtailing rise of India who is in boarder dispute with China and second to counter US who is a close ally of India. For this purpose, China provides extensive military and economic aid to Pakistan to strengthen social, political and military institutions of Pakistan. In November 2020 when Chinese defence minister General Wei Fengshe visited Pakistan he signed a MOU to enhance defence cooperation and remarked: “China is willing to strengthen strategic communication, enhance strategic mutual trust and strengthen strategic cooperation with Pakistan.” [4] From providing VT-4 battle tanks to exporting Chinese made combat drones, China Pakistan military and strategic cooperation is deepening with each passing day.

But this Chinese aid also sparked criticism including the fear of ‘Chinese diplomacy’ to get access to Pakistan’s strategic assets. The need of the hour is to properly asses Chinese strategy and how Pakistan can get benefited from this asymmetric cooperation.  With US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the role of Pakistan is redefined and it is important for Islamabad to recognize that succeeding in its geo-strategic pivot requires pursuing meaningful reforms that improve Pakistan’s overall economic outlook.

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