CHINA UNLIKELY TO GIVE UP ON PAKISTAN IN SHORT TERM

K R Sudhaman

Economic and strategic relations of any country are never static in a changing and dynamic World order. Geopolitical considerations are always a factor. No nation will pursue its international relations for the benefit of a third country. What is important is to develop a relationship that is matured and worked out in a manner that is mutually beneficial.

Pakistan is certainly a thorn in promoting the ever growing Sino-Indian relations. If Pakistan is important for China from strategic point of view to contain India, It is more important for Beijing to maintain cordial relations with India in the face of thriving bilateral economic relations, more so after the US-China trade war.

China, which sees Pakistan as a time-tested ally, has lately adopted a cautious attitude regarding Kashmir issue. This is not because of its perceived closeness to India, but due to the changed international and domestic scenario. At the domestic level China is confronted with Tibet issue and unrest in Xinjiang.

In Xinjiang, the Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism is raising its ugly head. These terrorist organizations are possibly getting assistance from groups in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asian Republic. Since territorial integrity is important for China, it therefore is really hard for her to support the secession of Kashmir or
any territory within India.

But at the same time China feels Pakistan holds immense geo strategic significance to it. Pakistan is situated at the cross road of three regions that are South, Central and West Asia. The Gwadar Port in Pakistan, being built by China, is critical for trade, which Central Asian Republic do through Russia and Europe. Also Gawdar port is important to realize China’s Blue water Navy ambition in the Indian Ocean.

It is in this context, China has embarked upon its ambitious $60 billion project One-belt-One Road via its traditional silk route passing through Karakoram. India is however objecting to it as it is passing through Gilgit-Baltistan, India’s territory occupied by Pakistan and some portion by China after the 1962 Sino-Indian war.

There is also some shift in China’s policy towards India in the face of growing economic relations and the consensus emerging globally to fight the menace of Islamic terrorism particularly after 9/11 terror attack in the United States. This is precisely the reason that China which openly supported Islamabad during the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak War took a neutral stand during the Kargil War and subsequently Beijing has urged India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir issue bilaterally.

In the light of this reality, when the question of India’s security comes, both China and Pakistan will remain a threat and hence India’s defence and security policies had to be prepared appropriately.

Accordingly, India has ever growing strategic relationship with Russia and now United States and Japan, the three most important World powers.

Ideally India and China should forge a new strategic alliance, but being two major emerging powers in the World, there are rivalry as well despite the fact that the two countries have had trade and religious ties from ancient times. Also, the two countries see themselves as competitors.

Besides, China has already emerged as superpower and hence wants to put road blocks in India’s rise. But it would be in mutual interest for the two to come together. However this is not going to happen any time soon.

So propping up Pakistan against India is therefore a low-cost option for China to contain India so as to ensure that New Delhi remain grounded in South Asia and serve Beijing’s long-term geo-strategic interest. China also sees India as an obstacle in its hegemony tendencies. India’s Pak centric obsession gives China, a greater freedom of action in Asia and helps Beijing achieve strategic aims better without any competition from India.

Hence China will not let go any opportunity that comes its way to use Pakistan against India. So China will never abandon Pakistan but at the same time it will not be totally against India. It will therefore soften its stand on Kashmir gradually, which will be directly proportional to the growing economic, strategic and military strength of India.

So the strategy for India should be to leapfrog in economic development as China did in the last 3or 4 decades so that India’s importance grew in the international arena. At the same time it should keep up is pressure to form a global alliance to fight the menace of terrorism of which Pakistan is its fountain head. While China may want to use Pakistan to contain India, Beijing is also wary of Islamic terrorism in its own backyard.

China, having borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan in Xinjiang, fears Islamic fundamentalism is fomenting trouble in its sensitive western region with sizeable muslim population. There is a growing fear in Beijing that this fundamentalism may become a cause of harm in harmony in the rest of China. This is one of the reasons that in a recent statement Chinese external affair minister stated that Pakistan is not China’s ally but China’s neighbour. Such a statement was just beyond comprehension a couple of decades ago.

So there is shift in Chinese thinking about Pakistan. So China will use Pakistan as a pawn to serve its strategic interests, but will lessen the role of Pakistan in her
foreign affairs. Its support to Pakistan will gradually get moderated. China also understands now its nexus with Pakistan cannot block Indian growth.

In this changing global order, it is advantage India as far as mobilizing diplomatic, economic and strategic offensive against Pakistan is concerned. There is already growing international support to isolate Pakistan, which is shattered economically because of its state policy of aiding and abetting terrorism. With China also gradually drifting away from Pakistan, It will be sooner than later, a global alliance will be formed to tackle the menace of terrorism.

But it will be long drawn affair and India will still have to play its cards well so as to ensure that it did not rub China on the wrong side to ensure this changing trend in Beijing does not get reversed.

K R SUDHAMAN, A SENIOR JOURNALIST, WHO HAS BEEN EDITOR IN PRESS TRUST OF INDIA

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