Sweeter than Honey
Pakistan and China are celebrating 2011 as a year of friendship to mark the 60th year of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Pakistan-China friendship, which is described by the leadership of both countries as higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, and of late, sweeter than honey, is a unique case in the international system we are living in. Although it is not a relationship based on love, as many would like us to believe, but rather on sound geopolitical and realistic considerations, it is unique in a number of ways, though its continuity can’t be taken as given. Would Islamabad and Beijing ever lose warmth in their relationship? In keeping with a number of developments at regional and international levels, are there any challenges which both need to address to make this friendship stronger? Or, in simpler words, what lies ahead for Islamabad and Beijing?
Relations between the two countries were established in the 1950s when Pakistan decided to recognize the People’s Republic of China. The relationship strengthened in the late 50s and 60s and since then, both countries have cooperated and supported each other on various forums. China ended Pakistan’s search for a balancer in its relations with India. Both countries exchange high-level visits regularly and have signed a number of pacts and agreements. China provides Pakistan with economic, military and technical aid and assistance and, on its part, Pakistan supports China on issues of Tibet, Xinjiang and human rights, etc. Pakistan played a pivotal role in bringing U.S. and China together and arranged Henry Kissinger’s secret visit to soften ground for U.S. President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China. Pakistan also supported and assisted China in establishing contacts with the Muslim world.
Pakistan and China are collaborating in a number of sectors, especially defense, trade, energy and development. Since the 1960s, China has been the most important supplier of military equipment to Pakistan. The JF17 Thunder is a mark of this defense cooperation. China has also helped Pakistan in establishing new and improved existing ammunition factories. Economic relationship between both countries is improving and they signed a free trade agreement few years back.
China has invested in a number of projects in Pakistan, mostly related to energy production, building roads, gold and copper mines, etc. The most important and commonly known joint project is the deep-sea port at Gwadar. According to one Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) report, “the complex, inaugurated in December 2008 and now fully operational, provides a deep-sea port, warehouses, and industrial facilities for more than twenty countries. China provided much of the technical assistance and 80 percent of the funds for construction of the port. In return for providing most of the labor and capi-