FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
The 1960s were a complicated time for India’s foreign policy, particularly in relation to its northern neighbours. It was a decade in which we fought a war along our western frontier with Pakistan and along our Himalayan frontier with China, leading to the two of them forging a close association, soon cemented by the construction of the Karakoram Highway. An enemy’s enemy, after all, is a friend.
The friendship grew to a point where both China and Pakistan have described their alliance as “higher than the Himalayas, deeper than the oceans, and sweeter than honey”. Beyond such torrid rhetoric, the relationship held immense strategic value for both countries, with China offering Pakistan missiles and aircraft, and illicitly helping its nuclear programme. For several years, though, the partnership was largely military. Later, as India experienced its initial post-liberalisation boom, China’s interest in servicing the Indian market prompted it to get closer to New Delhi by striking ‘a better balance’ between India and Pakistan. Over the past few years, however, China and Pakistan have been drawing closer again—dangerously close from an Indian perspective. China’s mandarins have now coined a new epithet for Pakistan, describing it as ‘Ba tie’, or ‘iron brother’.
At the core of the new closeness is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), linking Kashgar, in China’s western Xinjiang province, to Gwadar, on the southwestern coast of Balochistan, which already includes energy deals worth $35 billion and infrastructure projects costing $11 billion. The CPEC windfall will potentially shore up Pakistan’s teetering economy, ensuring a stable western periphery for China. It will provide a foreign outlet for China’s enterprises, which are struggling with overcapacity at home. It will also have immense strategic value because it will secure China’s direct access to the Arabian Sea, ending its fear that a rival power could block the narrow Malacca Straits and hold the Chinese economy hostage. The CPEC is moving China and Pakistan to a place where they will be stakeholders in each other’s future, with the balance tilted in China’s favour given its greater economic and military might.
The new proximity has manifested itself on the global stage over the past few months—usually at India’s cost. China stonewalled India’s bid to enter the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in June, saying that if India is included, Pakistan should be too. It also blocked India’s demand that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) designate the Pakistani Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar a terrorist in March, and then again in September, even though Azhar’s organisation had already been banned by the UN committee.
These events highlight a strategic shift in China’s two-decade-old policy of attempting to walk the line between its historical ties with Islamabad and its sensitive but improving relationship with New Delhi. This is a critical issue that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping will have to address when they meet in Goa at the BRICS summit, Pakistan looming over them, conspicuous despite its absence.
As tension mounts in the region, particularly after the Uri terror attack and India’s retaliatory surgical strikes across the Line of Control, our cover story, written by Associate Editor Ananth Krishnan, who is based in Beijing, looks at the China-Pakistan embrace and why India should be worried about it. We examine what has brought the two countries closer together, where they are headed, and how Modi and his foreign policy experts should deal with it.
It is often said that China has become a superpower in many ways but has still not outgrown its Third World country mentality of only looking at narrow self-interest. As a superpower, it must surely see that terrorism is a global threat and supporting a state known for sponsoring terror shows its own inability to rise above selfish economic interest. It should take a far more long-term view by encouraging Pakistan to abandon this self-destructive path. Simultaneously it should work with India to bring peace and prosperity to the whole region. With the Indian and Chinese economies expanding at a pivotal moment in global politics, the payoff for this will be huge for all.