Geopolitics

The Chinese vision of Sino-Pak strategic partnership : I
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Issue Vol 25.3 Jul-Sep2010 | Date : 13 Oct , 2013

Nawaz Sharif and Li Keqiang

What was China’s mega-strategy at the outset in setting up ties with Pakistan? According to Mao Zedong’s calculations, Pakistan was nothing but China’s easy access to the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. Besides China’s building up of economic and military partnership with Pakistan, the most significant element in Sino-Pak relations lies in the fact that China has been using Pakistan as an economic and military corridor to reach the Middle East and Africa.

With the foreseeing of a more cordial bond between China and Pakistan, China clearly visualizes “Pakistan as having been strapped on to the war machine of China.”

China set up its diplomatic ties with India on 01 April 1950; and with Pakistan on 21 May 1951. Six decades have passed since then. What sort of strategic considerations did China have in forging long-term all-weather alliance with Pakistan—remained largely speculative in India mainly due to the inaccessibility of the Chinese views published in the Chinese language news media.

How does China view Pakistan and the latter’s ties with the USA, how does it view Pakistan’s China policy in the context of India, and how does it consider the post-Musharraf regime in Pakistan—can only be decoded by delving into the varied observations expressed in the Chinese print media, electronic media, and most importantly a number of websites labelled as “military”. China’s obsession with Pakistan is also an interesting highlight herein.

Love for Military Rulers

On 17 October 2008, a website text1 stated that the new Pakistani President’s visit to China and his signing of a 15-point agreement including military and economic partnership was indicative of Pakistan’s total dependence on China. It also said that China felt happy that Pakistan was no longer wavering between China and the US. China considers Pakistan “as its mutually-complementary strategic partner in terms of economic cooperation”; and “as a faithful ally in forming military strategy.” The Chinese observation takes an interesting turn when Pakistan is named as “Hsiao-Pa” which connotes Pakistan’s junior or lower position vis-à-vis China’s. With the foreseeing of a more cordial bond between China and Pakistan, China clearly visualizes “Pakistan as having been strapped on to the war machine of China.”

China considers that ever since the setting up of Sino-Pak diplomatic relations, there has been no sense of loss irrespective of who ruled Pakistan”¦The Sino-Pak relations is thus summarized that whatever time it might be, China will offer powerful backing to Pakistan like a big brother.

China feels nostalgic about the Musharraf days. The military dictator appeals China much more than a democratically-elected Zardari. China criticized Zardari for not embarking on a trip to China after taking the President’s office, and instead choosing to visit the West first. Termed as his being in league with the US democrats, Zardari first visited the West. And “when his wish-list remained unfulfilled, he ran back to China. When such good neighbourly relations turn into a ‘special relationship’, it virtually indicates that the Sino-Pak relations have actually moved a bit backwards.

Pakistan needed a soft loan of about US $1.7-2 billion. This amount could be met by China.” President Zardari’s first post-election trip abroad was not China. The image-conscious China felt displeased because projecting Pakistan as China’s junior partner received a jolt in the eyes of the international community. An officiating Head of State making his maiden trip abroad to China—carries significance in the eyes of China which has started viewing the world in a bipolar perspective. China considers that ever since the setting up of Sino-Pak diplomatic relations, there has been no sense of loss irrespective of who ruled Pakistan. China also thinks that it understands Pakistan the best, and the latter’s need to have its diplomatic space. The Sino-Pak relations is thus summarized that whatever time it might be, China will offer powerful backing to Pakistan like a big brother.

In the recent years, following the global strategic expansion by the US, its intense efforts to contain China and its underhand dealings with Pakistan by aiding it in order to oppose India—have all become stealing the thunder from China. China all along has been exercising a soft power influence over Pakistan. But this became restricted after the general elections in Pakistan. Serious problems arose in the traditional alignment. The basic objective of the US has already been fulfilled.

Further intensification of US efforts is bound to alter Pakistan’s policy towards China. The Pakistani army has already been made dysfunctional by the US. A person like Musharraf is difficult to emerge. —Thus China laments the apparent absence of Musharraf-like figure who could solely dance to China’s tune.

The opening of Pakistan suits the basic strategy of China. It also diverts worlds attention from Sino-Pak military ties and acts as an effective shield.

In the course of the recent Sino-Pak high-level talks, it has been found that the bilateral ties were sought to be expanded particularly in the economic and cultural exchanges and were not solely restricted to military cooperation as before. Such comprehensive partnership would not only have the potential of consolidating Pakistan’s countering of external interference, but would also enhance its subversive activities. For such objectives Pakistan must have to lean against a powerful mountain, and therefore it needs to hasten its steps in rushing into the laps of China.

Challenged by hegemonic and secessionist forces, and surrounded by regional disputes, China is looking out for an effective point of breakthrough. China’s traditional instrumentality has been the policy of mollification towards foreigners. That is to exercise cultural and economic influences. The opening of Pakistan suits the basic strategy of China. It also diverts world’s attention from Sino-Pak military ties and acts as an effective shield.

Pakistan: Some Popular Public Perceptions in China

On 22 May 2009, a website report2 expressed anxiety over the US effort to take over the control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. And that such a plan would have the possibility of breaking up the Sino-Pak strategic ties. On 2 October 2009, while celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Luo Zhaohui, the Chinese ambassador to Pakistan, said at a function in Islamabad that Pakistan being the first Islamic country to have recognized the PRC has been helpful to China in several significant occasions. Without such cooperation from Pakistan, China would not have been having a friendly environment in its neighbourhood.

Let us explore how the Chinese view the Sino-Pak relations in the context of India. In one of the blogs3 dated 9 January 2009, titled “The Wavering Pakistan”, one can find the following observations:

During the Chinese Presidents visit to Pakistan in 2008, some people in Pakistan vociferously demanded that Pakistan be “turned into a province of China”; and also hoped that China would be lenient towards certain political weakness and superficiality of Pakistan.

  • The present global situation does not allow optimism. The continuous war in the Middle East has been threatening the energy supply to China. The Gulf of Aden has become a den of pirates. The “strategic opening up” of new oilfields in the East China Sea has left some leeway for China. Of all the secret anguish of China, nothing can be greater than the fact that “our brother, the junior Pak has been seemingly in harmony but actually at odds with us.”
  • When China reinforced its army in the northwestern regions, netizens started rating this move as aiding junior Pak to terrorize India.
  • The new democratic government in Pakistan in its current foreign policy has probably grossly ignored the great role played by China in support to Pakistan. The importance attached towards furthering Pakistan’s relationship with the West has evoked China’s suspicion, jealousy and dissatisfaction. [Here Chinese media repeatedly quotes statements by the former Pakistani air-marshal and vice-admiral.]
  • As the ‘Mumbai incident’ has dragged till today, India in recent times has handed over its ‘evidences’ to various great powers in the world. But rarely has the Indian external affairs minister held ‘close’ negotiations with the Chinese foreign minister.
  • After coming to power, the new regime in Pakistan firstly went on a secret visit to Britain, demanding the restoration of its “British Commonwealth member” status.
  • All the governments in Pakistan after assuming power were bound to make their maiden trip abroad to China. [The Chinese government has considered that Zardari’s not attaching the earlier importance to China as an aberration in Pakistan’s foreign policy]
  • During the Chinese President’s visit to Pakistan in 2008, some people in Pakistan vociferously demanded that Pakistan be “turned into a province of China”; and also hoped that China would be lenient towards certain political weakness and superficiality of Pakistan.

China’s Geopolitical Mindset

Clearly the wild ambitions of China get exposed between the lines of such report. The following views reveal the Chinese mindset:

After the Mumbai carnage in November 2008, the Chinese policy-makers were quite worried whether India would launch an attack against Pakistan.

  • In its race with the US in terms of capturing energy resources across the world, China finds itself somewhat insecure so far as Pakistan’s new alliance with the West is concerned. China treats Pakistan as an easy passage of resources to the Middle East and back. Pakistan’s alliance with the West makes China shaky and doubtful about its objectives, often clandestine in nature. Pakistan is sought to be projected by China as a junior, unequal ally that ought to remain a ‘tributary state’ to China for all times.
  • It has become amply clear, even to netizens that China has been playing direct or indirect role in fomenting trouble in India by virtue of aiding Pakistan.
  • A military junta taking power in Pakistan suits China the most. A democratically-elected government is bound to tilt towards the US or the West. Therefore, China disfavours a democratic government in Pakistan.
  • While fully endorsing the official Pak position of denying its role in the Mumbai carnage, China wants to show its “big brotherly Asian superpower” status by suggesting that India should have sought consultations with China in this matter, indirectly seeking to show India as trying to reach a peaceful compromise with Pakistan, and China’s role as a peace broker.
  • China’s ever-increasing expansionist hunger is best exposed in its wanting to virtually annex Pakistan or bringing Pakistan under its full control when Pakistan is sought to be shown as ‘a province of China’, ostensibly by a section of the Pakistani public. After the Mumbai carnage in November 2008, the Chinese policy-makers were quite worried whether India would launch an attack against Pakistan. Thousands of Chinese technicians are working in different areas of logistics in Pakistan, including nuclear installations. In a case of attack on Pakistan, Chinese interests would have been seriously affected.

China’s anxieties following the Mumbai carnage were expressed thus: “When the Middle East crisis is intensifying, when Indo-Pak war is on the verge of breaking out, China’s energy security faces an unprecedented threat. One morning if China’s energy security is controlled by others, then its achievements during the last 30 years of reform would be irrevocably lost.

The rise of China will be delayed by half a century. At this historic juncture, by wrongly estimating the global situation, Zardari has become the most infamous crook of all times in Pakistan. This old chap assumed political power by flaunting the banner of his dead wife. What can China expect from such a man without backbone? He is a man willing to be a running dog of imperialism, the one who betrays the friend and comrade-in-arms. When one becomes a dog of an aristocrat, the beggars naturally do not dare to belittle him. But the aristocrat’s dog is after all a dog.

Pakistani officials have been explaining this away by claiming that his (Zardari) visit to New York was not a bilateral visit to the US and that his first official bilateral visit would still be to China. However, China had indirectly voiced its anger”¦

The past glory of the British Empire has already vanished. Its control over the Commonwealth has not been as before. All the former colonies are looking forward to be self-reliant. But Pakistan is begging for its inclusion in the Commonwealth. Have we cold-shouldered him? Or is it an inevitable choice made by a mean person? China feels that only a military-administered Pakistan would be most trustworthy. China sincerely cherishes the memory of comrade Musharraf!”

China’s tension with Zardari was expressed in a website report4 thus: Before his election as the President, Zardari had stated that his first official visit as the President would be to China to underline the importance attached by him to Pakistan’s relations with China. He did not keep his word and instead went on a private visit to the United Arab Emirates and the UK and then on an official visit to New York to attend the UN General Assembly session. Pakistani officials have been explaining this away by claiming that his visit to New York was not a bilateral visit to the US and that his first official bilateral visit would still be to China. However, China had indirectly voiced its anger over this issue and the delay caused in recovering the kidnapped Chinese workers.

Pakistan’s efforts to have the two Chinese engineers kidnapped by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan on August 29, 2008, released before Zardari’s visit have not succeeded. These engineers are believed to be in the custody of the TTP in the Swat valley of the North-West Frontier Province. They were working in a project of a Chinese mobile telephone company in Dir district of NWFP. The TTP has been demanding, inter alia, the release of its members in the custody of Pakistan. The Pakistani authorities have not agreed to this. Nor have they been able to mount an operation to rescue them.

‘Nuclear’ Issues

Of major interest to Pakistan is the possibility of Chinese assistance in helping Pakistan acquire a waiver of the restrictions on nuclear trade with it by the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, similar to the waiver granted to India by the NSG at the instance of the US on September 5, 2008. Before the visit of President Hu Jintao to India and Pakistan in November 2006, the then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had taken up with China the question of Chinese assistance for the construction of more nuclear power stations in Pakistan.

Before the visit of President Hu Jintao to India and Pakistan in November 2006, the then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had taken up with China the question of Chinese assistance for the construction of more nuclear power stations in Pakistan.

China has already supplied one 300 MW nuclear power station to Pakistan named Chashma I. This is already functioning. A second power station named Chashma II, also of 300 MW, is presently under construction. The NSG restrictions did not apply to them. It has reportedly agreed in principle to supply two more to be named Chashma III and IV, provided the NSG grants a waiver to Pakistan from the restrictions. Zardari is expected to discuss with the Chinese the adoption of the same procedure as was followed by the US and India, with China taking the initiative for getting a waiver from the NSG.

On 29 March 2010, a Pakistani website5 reported: “Pakistan in ‘civil nuclear deal’ with China.” The report said, “Pakistan has entered a civil nuclear deal with China for the establishment of two nuclear power projects of 640 megawatts in Chashma. The breakthrough deal – under which Pakistan would be provided a loan, technology and installation facilities – was finalised ahead of the latest round of the Pak-US strategic dialogue, as the federal cabinet granted financial approval at a meeting on March 24.”

Sources privy to the deal said the federal cabinet had approved an inter-government framework agreement on the financing of ‘Chashma Nuclear Power Project 3’ and ‘Chashma Nuclear Power Project 4’ with China.

The sources said under the agreement, China would provide 82 percent of the total $1.912 billion financing to Pakistan as a 20-year soft loan, with an eight-year grace period. The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission would be the executing agency for the establishment of the two plants – which would be completed in eight years.
The sources said each 320-megawatt unit would contain a nuclear steam supply system, a turbine-generator set and the associated auxiliary equipment and installations.

Chinese sources quoted a US research report saying that the distribution and density of nuclear weapons around China is the highest in the world. The report gives the details of how Pakistan’s nuclear installations came thrice under the Taliban attack in 2007 and 2008. In order to fend off attacks from India, Pakistan has set up most of its nuclear installations in its northwestern region, and around Islamabad and Rawalpindi. But these regions are close to or even fall within the sphere of influence of the Taliban.

Continued…: The Chinese vision of Sino-Pak strategic partnership : II

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Prof. Priyadarshi Mukherji

Prof. Priyadarsi Mukherji, Chairman, Centre for Chinese & South-East Asian Studies, JNU

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