Amity Un­der Stress?

How much can the two coun­tries gain from an ‘all-weather’ friend­ship? With global dy­nam­ics chang­ing, Pak­istan needs to step up its game if it hopes to keep China in­ter­ested.

Southasia - - Cover story - By Si­jal Fawad

If the in­tri­cacy of geo-pol­i­tics had to be ex­plic­itly de­scribed, the in­ter­twined strate­gic ob­jec­tives in the ‘all-weather’ re­la­tion­ship be­tween Pak­istan and China will be a lead­ing prece­dent. Af­ter all, the strength of Pak-china ties sur­face in the lo­cal and global me­dia with vary­ing in­ten­si­ties as Pak­istan’s re­la­tions with su­per­power, US and ri­val neigh­bor, In­dia, wit­ness highs and lows.

The saga of the con­ven­tion­ally chanted ‘Pak-cheen-dosti’ (Pak-china friend­ship) has an­other coun­try play­ing a some­times di­rect and some­times in­di­rect, yet cru­cial role – In­dia. Lately, the in­flu­ence of the US has also brought in a bone of con­tention in the not-so-sim­ple dy­nam­ics of the amity be­tween China and Pak­istan.

His­tor­i­cally, China has eyed the oft­touted ami­able re­la­tions with Pak­istan as a hedge against its re­gional ri­val In­dia. Fol­low­ing the Sino-in­dian bor­der war of 1962, Pak­istan’s re­la­tions with China blos­somed with China ad­vanc­ing tremen­dous mil­i­tary aid to the coun­try - a move largely per­ceived by an­a­lysts as China’s at­tempts to stave off hos­til­ity from the In­di­ans. From mis­siles, air­craft and mil­i­tary train­ing to furtive co­op­er­a­tion in de­vel­op­ing nu­clear tech­nol­ogy, in­clud­ing nu­clear weapons, China’s sup­ply of arms has played a ma­jor role in strength­en­ing ties with a ‘de­fense-heavy’ Pak­istan.

Pak­istan has had its share of the prize too as far as Sino-pak ties are con­cerned. While the coun­try has re­lied on China, es­pe­cially with re­gard to mil­i­tary aid, to fend off threats of ag­gres­sion from its neigh­bor-cum-ri­val, the Red Dragon has also lent eco­nomic sup­port, es­pe­cially in the en­ergy and trade sec­tors, with the most prom­i­nent be­ing the de­vel­op­ment of the Gwadar Port. Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion, min­ing, power and en­ergy sec­tors have also wit­nessed ex­ten­sive in­vest­ments from the Chi­nese.

How­ever, this friend­ship of the past fifty years has been sub­jected to the va­garies of global pol­i­tics and trade over the last decade, with PakChina ties resur­fac­ing in me­dia talks, par­tic­u­larly hint­ing at the ques­tion of a pos­si­ble re­def­i­ni­tion of the con­ven­tional ‘friend­li­ness.’

With China’s vi­sion of en­hanc­ing its eco­nomic im­por­tance in the globe to­day – vi­sions that are ver­i­ta­bly see­ing the light of day – China’s pri­or­i­ties are in­flu­enc­ing the Pak-cheen Dosti panorama con­sid­er­ably. For once, in the much more glob­alised world of to­day, where emerg­ing mar­kets are gain­ing con­se­quen­tial promi­nence, In­dia has be­come a key trade part­ner of China. The ul­ti­mate eco­nomic goals have en­cour­aged China to turn to a re­vival of diplo­matic re­la­tions with In­dia, with the two coun­tries vow­ing to in­crease bi­lat­eral trade from $60 bil­lion in 2010 to $100 bil­lion by 2015.

Con­trast this with last year’s pledge be­tween Pak­istan and China to en­hance bi­lat­eral trade from nearly $4.5 bil­lion in FY2010 to $15 bil­lion by 2015 and the chang­ing eco­nomic re­la­tions in the In­dia-pak­istan-china tri­an­gle be­come ob­vi­ous. In fact, a closer look re­veals that it is China rather than Pak­istan which has gained from the sign­ing of the free-trade agree­ment (FTA) be­tween the two coun­tries in 2006. The struc­tural gaps in Pak­istan’s econ­omy are very much to blame for its ap­par­ent ap­a­thy in tak­ing ad­van­tage of the FTA; while imports from China have grown con­sid­er­ably, exports from Pak­istan to China have de­picted only mar­ginal growth, show­ing a widen­ing trade gap be­tween the two coun­tries.

Fur­ther, the re­cent with­drawal, due to se­cu­rity con­cerns, of the China

Kingho Group – one of China’s largest pri­vate coal min­ers – from a $19 bil­lion in­vest­ment deal in south­ern Sindh, puts a ques­tion mark over the ex­tent to which Pak­istan can rely on China.

The pres­ence of the US has also com­pli­cated this equa­tion where emerg­ing economies such as In­dia and China are gain­ing global im­por­tance. His­tor­i­cally, Pak­istan has re­lied ex­ten­sively on the US for eco­nomic and mil­i­tary aid, not pre­clud­ing its strate­gic in­ter­ests in all ges­tures of help­ing Pak­istan. The re­cent sour­ing of re­la­tions be­tween the US and Pak­istan af­ter the killing of Osama Bin Laden re­sulted in the lat­ter turn­ing to its ‘all-weather’ friend, and de­spite a cor­dial re­cep­tion, Is­lam­abad did not walk away with much gains.

Many ex­perts claim that China will be re­luc­tant to su­per­sede the su­per­power and act as a sur­ro­gate for the US in Pak­istan at a time when Bei­jing is brim­ming with global am­bi­tions. In fact, turn­ing to China as far as eco­nomic as­sis­tance is con­cerned is also not much of an al­ter­nate to US aid for Pak­istan, for the lat­ter has re­ceived over $95 bil­lion in aid from the US in the past 60 odd years – a whop­ping sum that Bei­jing, in all like­li­hood, will not match. Even net for­eign di­rect in- vest­ment by China in Pak­istan pales in com­par­i­son to that by the US. Be­sides the eco­nomic mis­giv­ings, strate­gic Sino-pak re­la­tions have come un­der test also be­cause of al­le­ga­tions of Pak­istani mil­i­tants spurring un­rest in the north-western Xin­jiang re­gion in China, rais­ing qualms about the strength of the ‘all-weather’ ties.

Thus, chang­ing am­bi­tions of the Red Dragon for a greater pres­ence in in­ter­na­tional trade and global eco­nomics have had a cru­cial im­pact on Pak-china friend­ship. Given China’s en­hanced pres­ence in global trade and greater role in in­ter­na­tional are­nas, Pak­istan needs to be proac­tive as far as am­i­ca­bil­ity with Bei­jing is con­cerned. With chang­ing global dy­nam­ics, Sino-pak ties are also bound to change and Pak­istan’s strate­gic ties with the coun­try have to be molded ac­cord­ingly. Blind­folded re­liance on China for all and sundry is not a panacea; Pak­istan needs to put its econ­omy and growth in top gear to gar­ner greater gains not only from China, but from other strate­gic al­lies too. The writer is a Re­search An­a­lyst at Daily Busi­ness Recorder and a stu­dent of Eco­nomics and Fi­nance at the School of Ori­en­tal and African Stud­ies.

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