Financial Times on Andrew Small’s Book: China and Pakistan Make Oddball but Enduring Partners
By Daniel Pilling for the Financial Times
You could call them the odd couple. China and Pakistan have one of the closest yet least understood relationships in international diplomacy. On the surface they have little in common. China’s state is strong and its economy has been growing for decades. The Pakistani state, apart from the military, is weak and its economic performance has been disastrous. China is communist and religion is tightly controlled. Pakistan is Islamic and religious fervour is often out of control.
Despite this, the two have maintained a decades-long relationship. It has survived the vicissitudes of Pakistan’s military and civilian governments and of Islamabad’s shape-shifting relations with Washington. This week, Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, is visiting Pakistan to cement what Islamabad calls the “unshakeable bonds of friendship”. Next month could be even more important if Xi Jinping, China’s president, accepts an invitation to visit Islamabad for Pakistan Day celebrations.
We tend not to see things through Beijing’s eyes. If we are to make sense of shifting realities, we will have to try. From Beijing, the world can seem a hostile place. The US, with its unshakeable faith in liberal democracy, may not be actively seeking regime change in China but it would surely welcome the collapse of the Communist party.
In conjunction with other countries, including India, Australia and Japan, Washington is trying to contain China’s regional military ambitions. Neighbouring countries like the Philippines and Vietnam, which until recently had been reassured by Beijing’s “smile diplomacy”, have grown wary. Even North Korea, almost wholly dependent on Chinese largesse, has grown defiant.
Pakistan looks like Beijing’s one true friend. One of the first countries to recognise the People’s Republic in the early 1950s, Islamabad was a bridge between China and the US. When Henry Kissinger, who later became US secretary of state, made his secret visit to China in 1971 to prepare for normalisation of US-China relations, he sneaked in from Pakistan. And for Beijing, Pakistan has been a way to keep India off balance.
In return, Beijing has kept Pakistan’s military equipped when supplies dried up from elsewhere. Beijing also provided information and enriched uranium for Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. When a US stealth helicopter crashed during the 2011 operation to kill Osama bin Laden, the Pakistanis showed the wreckage first to the Chinese. China built Pakistan a deepwater port at Gwadar on the Indian Ocean.
Andrew Small, author of a book on the relationship, says Beijing has earned real leverage. In 2007, under Chinese pressure, Islamabad raided the Lal Masjid “Red Mosque” after militants kidnapped several Chinese citizens. Chinese pressure has been one factor behind Pakistan’s offensive against militant groups in North Waziristan. For years, the US pushed for the same thing without success. The China-Pakistan axis is worth watching if only because it shows the limits of Beijing’s non-interventionist policy. As it gets sucked into the global whirlpool, it faces the risk of blowback. China now has to deal with attacks by members of the Uighur, a Muslim minority ethnic group. Some may be ideologically inspired — if not planned — in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt. Like the US, Beijing worries Pakistan may not always crack down as hard on terrorists as it pretends.
Read the full FT article here.