Balanced Act

Written by Syed Moazzam Hashmi  •  February 2011 PDF Print E-mail

Stepping forward after a well carved job back in South Asia, the Chinese leadership set out to redefine its regional interests with both Pakistan and India setting the trend to enter a bigger picture. The Chinese President Hu Jintao’s official visit to the U.S. in January maps out a peaceful cooperation on a wider range of subjects revolving mainly around economic issues and removal of suspicions on both sides.

Similarly, in painting a global picture of its ambitious economic dream, the dragon has started whipping its tail to meet the economic challenges the country would face in 2011. Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited both India and Pakistan in December to wipe the road clear of debris to streamline its economic, political and strategic interests with both rivaling nuclear states.

As is customary, India growled over China’s pouring a bucket full of some 35 billion dollars of deals on Pakistan. However, in the regional context the dimensions of tripartite relationship should not be mixed up and seen as two differently tailored dynamic set of policies, China aims to guard its regional interest by creating a win-win situation in its complex relationship with both Pakistan and India.

Sino-India relations appear to be well set on the course of economic interest but a deep strategic clash of interests exists between the two neighbors, whereas the Sino-Pakistan relationship is oiled by mutual strategic and political interests.

With China trying to balance the complicated relationship with India while addressing Pakistan’s concerns, one should avoid trying to equate the nature of Chinese relationship with India and as well as with Pakistan, because, they have their own unique individual dynamics.

There is a clash of interests in the Sino-India relationship because they both are aspiring for regional and global power. The bottleneck in this relationship is that India would never accept Chinese hegemony and would never work on China’s periphery.

Pakistan has always accepted China as a core element in the “all-weather” bilateral relationship, probably due to the fact that Pakistan is heavily dependent on China in all aspects, be it political, economic or strategic affairs. This clearly defines the separate parameters of China’s relationship with the two South Asian powers.

Despite its well done homework, China geared into 2011 with a bit of a bumpy start with reports that the French carmaker Renault had suspended employees on grounds of espionage. However, China’s notorious perpetration for industrial espionage and economic maneuvering hardly cast any shadow over President Hu Jintao’s Washington trip. The road map had already been set by U.S. President Obama’s administration for a cooperative and comprehensive relationship earlier in September 2010.

The incident would hardly matter in the bigger picture but it certainly created a stir in the international circuit. Based on a smooth track record of a bilateral relationship, Pakistan is quite confident that China would never hurt its interests, as both friendly countries have a basic understanding in the geo-political arena. And, also that China’s commercial, political, economic and strategic interests are very much intact with Pakistan.

Some analysts believe that in comparison with India, Pakistan’s commercial interest is less served, as most of the inked Sino-Pakistan agreements were a rehashing of already existing deals that serve Chinese interests better such as the balance-of-trade that is heavily tilted in favor of China. Sino-Pakistan trade has been quite so far limited but there are bright prospects of expansion and development.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao arrived on his first visit to Pakistan in five years with strategic cooperation, trade and investment offers in his briefcase. He pledged 20 billion dollars worth of investments in the next three years, with additional private sector trade deals worth 15 billion dollars.

The Asian giant has already donated 229 million dollars to Pakistan to help it recover from flood damages. It also awarded soft loans worth 400 million dollars. The agreements were aimed at increasing bilateral trade with Pakistan to 18 billion dollars by 2015, from an approximate seven billion dollars in the last fiscal year.

Earlier, before heading to Islamabad, the Chinese premier had signed 16 billion dollars worth deals with India. Sino-India bilateral trade would be doubled to 100 billion dollars by 2015 with minimum imbalance of trade. This fact wipes out the Indian fears regarding increasing Chinese cooperation with Pakistan.

Having an agenda of improving the Karakoram Highway, the spiraling eighth wonder of the world and the only road link with Pakistan besides a dirt track at Wakhan, holds strategic importance for both China and Pakistan. Almost 28 kilometers of the Silk route was washed away due to drastic climatic change last summer in the northern areas of Pakistan bordering China and this severely disrupted land route trade activity. The Chinese premier’s trip also highlighted development in the areas of oil and gas, mineral exploitation, space industry, oceanography, electronics and heavy industry.

Trade and energy are the two weak areas where China is paying attention to assist the energy starved Pakistan, the sixth most populous country in the world with a 4,800 mw of power shortfall.

During the Indo-U.S. energy deal in 2008, China had made it clear that there should be no discrimination in this regard. It flags the issue for two major reasons: Firstly, due to its own commercial interest of participating in building infrastructure, particularly, the nuclear power projects. Almost half a dozen Chasma nuclear power projects are being built by the Chinese. There was uproar in this regard in certain international quarters, but since the projects are being safeguarded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Chinese will go ahead with it.

Secondly, the strategic interest that China caters for, particularly with reference to the deepening U.S. involvement in the region and further intentions of penetrating into Pakistani territory. Despite all speculations and Pakistan’s deep involvement in the U.S. led war on terror, analysts believe that Pakistan is not ready to compromise its relationship with China.
While reducing its military sensitivities and improving economic cooperation with India, China is not ignoring Pakistani concerns vis-à-vis India’s development as a regional power and investment in Afghanistan. Even if the Chinese come to Afghanistan to fulfill their economic and commercial interests, it would be to Pakistan’s benefit.

China may have limited gain but in the regional scenario it is important for it to maintain and consolidate its all-weather relationship with Pakistan.

Syed Moazzam Hashmi is a political and security analyst, a senior journalist and former Political Affairs Advisor to the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi, Pakistan.

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