China’s Ties With Pakistan

Via Stratfor (subscription required), an interesting analysis of China and Pakistan’s recent discussions regarding greater economic cooperation and a strengthened strategic partnership.  Because the relationship now is concerned more with access to, and protection of, natural resources, Beijing is undertaking a serious reassessment of its ties with Islamabad, with an eye on Pakistani-U.S. relations.  As the article notes:

“…Beijing is growing increasingly concerned about the status of its trilateral relationship with Islamabad and Washington. The ongoing presence of Islamist militants training and recruiting in Pakistan — and, more significantly, the deterioration of the U.S.-Pakistani relationship — is spurring China to rethink its Pakistan policies and the limits of its commitment to its ally.

China’s ties with Pakistan have evolved over time. Although initially Beijing viewed Islamabad as a potential counterweight to India, the relationship now is concerned more with access to, and protection of, natural resources. Pakistan is currently one of several resource bridges China is considering — routes for the transit of energy from abroad (particularly Africa and the Middle East) that bypass the vulnerable Strait of Malacca, which is currently a major choke point in China’s resource supply lines. Beijing has discussed shipping oil or natural gas from Africa and the Middle East to Pakistan, and then running that by pipeline or rail into China.

Other commodities, too, could potentially reach China’s western and central provinces via the Pakistan route. This would reduce the number of ships carrying Chinese commodities around India, through the strait and up the South China Sea — distant sea routes that China lacks the naval power to protect. The pipelines, rails and highway routes through Pakistan to China are costly and technologically challenging, but Beijing views these — coupled with similar routes through Myanmar and land routes through Central Asia — as strategic supplements to its maritime routes, ideally providing redundancies and alternatives to reduce China’s dependence on any single vulnerable choke point.

But despite the long-standing relationship between Beijing and Islamabad, and the potential strategic and political benefits the relationship could provide China, Beijing is growing concerned about Pakistan — particularly the status of Pakistan’s relations with the United States. Beijing sees that Washington is beginning to view Pakistan as a battleground in its war against jihadists rather than an ally — and this raises a serious potential problem for China.

…Beijing now faces a much more substantial dilemma in Pakistan. China continues to call publicly for multilateral cooperation (involving China, the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan) to deal with the problem of Islamist militancy in Afghanistan and Central Asia. At the same time, for the benefit of its other allies, China is trying to demonstrate publicly its support for Pakistan (and Pakistan’s territorial integrity).

But if Chinese involvement begins to inhibit U.S. interests, China will be forced to weigh the potential benefits and risks of countering U.S. moves. And at the moment, despite the public show of support, this is a very real concern on the minds of Chinese policymakers. Beijing’s No. 1 security concern is at home. China is facing an economic downturn that threatens to exacerbate social tensions that have arisen over the unequal distribution of wealth and the consistent and rising gap between rural and urban, poor and rich. To deal with the domestic crisis, the key Chinese foreign policy is to avoid incurring the ire of Washington — to avoid exposing China’s domestic problems to potential meddling from the United States. The question now being asked is just how important Chinese relations with Pakistan are, compared to how serious the United States is in dealing with Pakistan.”

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 16th, 2008 at 1:12 pm and is filed under China, India, Pakistan.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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