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Foreign Relations- Pakistan & China

China is one issue on which there is a complete national consensus in Pakistan irrespective of the parties whether it is liberal, left-wing, right-wing or clerical parties, they all agree that the relationship with China is the cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy. China's primary foreign policy goals are to promote stability, fight terrorism, increase economic exchanges and support China's growing community of workers in Pakistan. They have a policy of non-interference in Pakistan's domestic affairs, but fully supported President Musharraf.

China has perhaps been Pakistan’s most consistent ally because of shared antipathies of other countries, such as India and Russia, but in the 1990s China assumed a more distant relationship as a result of India’s growing military prowess, Russia’s military decline, and other factors. However, China is alleged to have supplied Pakistan with ballistic missile and nuclear weapons technology in the 1990s, ostensibly to counter India’s nuclear weapons.

Pakistan's desire for maximum balance and diversification in its external relations led to close relations with China--a valuable geopolitical connection. In 1950 Pakistan recognized the new People's Republic of China, the third noncommunist state and the first Muslim country to do so. The deterioration in Sino-Indian relations that culminated in the 1962 border war provided new opportunities for Pakistan's relations with China. The two countries reached agreement on the border between them, and a road was built linking China's Xinjiang-Uygur Autonomous Region with the Northern Areas of Pakistan. China supported Pakistan diplomatically in both its 1965 and 1971 wars with India and provided Pakistan with economic and military assistance. Pakistan's China connection enabled it to facilitate the 1971 visit of United States secretary of state Henry Kissinger to that country, and in the 1980s China and the United States supplied military and economic assistance through Pakistan to the Afghan mujahidin fighting the Soviet occupation forces. Pakistan's ties with China remain strong, and friendly relations between the two countries continue to be an important factor in Pakistan's foreign policy.

China is Pakistan’s biggest arms supplier and provides it with financial assistance as well as much needed foreign investment. Islamabad's main purchases include Chinese tanks, fighter jets, patrol boats, guns, radars and other communications equipment. The February 2005 defense agreement with China continued with the joint production of JF-17 planes and tanks, as well as research and development programs that would lay the groundwork for future cooperation. Islamabad uses Chinese technology to develop home-made weapons with the goal of becoming more self-sufficient. It is harder for Pakistan to secure such technology transfers from American and European sources.

China is a more reliable partner at times of crisis because Pakistan's experience is that whenever there has been an escalation of tension with India, or there has been a crisis or a confrontation, the United States and European sources have sanctioned Pakistani weapons systems or suspended the transfer of equipment, even if the Pakistani contracts were ther.

At a 23 May 2006 conference celebrating 55 years of Pakistan-China relations, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz characterized the Sino-Pak relationship as a model bilateral relationship, in which both countries are committed to peaceful co-existence, sovereign equality, and non-interference in internal affairs. The conference was sponsored by the MFA-funded Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad (ISS). The guest of honor, PM Shaukat Aziz, emphasized Pakistan's deep military and economic relationship with China and noted that the bilateral relationship is not based on "transient interests", but is "higher than the Himalayas, deeper than the sea." He cited the recent Pakistan-China Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Good Relations as an example of a relationship characterized by peaceful co-existence, sovereign equality, and non-interference in internal affairs. He also noted China's possible future assistance in space technology, which would give Pakistan an entry into space programs.

Aziz praised growing Chinese investment in Pakistan, and thanked China for its assistance in constructing Gwadar port. He talked of upgrading the Karakoram Highway (KKH) to improve Sino-Pak trade, and without providing any detail, touched upon the prospect of constructing an oil pipeline from Gwadar to China. Notably absent in Aziz's comments was any mention of benefits from ongoing Sino-Pak free trade negotiations. After applauding China's assistance with the Chashma I and II nuclear reactors, Aziz emphasized that nuclear technology should be used for peaceful purposes. In a quick aside, he pointed out that a nation has the right to produce nuclear energy peacefully. This comment is a standard talking point when discussing the current controversy over Iran's nuclear programs.

His inflated praise of the Sino-Pak relationship -- characterized as one based on trust, entrenched regional interests, and an off-limits attitude toward the other nation's internal affairs -- offered a mirror image of common Pakistani sentiments about the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. By emphasizing that the Pak-Sino relationship is built on a solid foundation, as opposed to "transient" interests, Aziz reflected an undercurrent of Pakistani insecurity that the U.S. is not fully committed to a long-term strategic partnership. Pakistan and China had developed closer ties in recent years at a time of strained diplomatic relations between Islamabad and the United States. U.S. officials often question Pakistan’s commitment to fighting Islamic militancy on its soil, blaming these extremists for fueling the Taliban insurgency across the border in Afghanistan.

As of 2008 China had 5,000 laborers, 3,500 engineers and approximately 1,000 business people in Pakistan. Ensuring their security has become a big challenge given the growing incidence of violence and suicide bombings. On big development projects like the Gwadar port, the Pakistan provided 7,000 security guards to protect sites and workers. But individual Chinese workers are soft targets who are easily exploited by militants.

President Zardari traveled to China for four days in October 2008 on his first official state visit abroad. During his stay, Pakistan and China inked 11 deals in order to enhance economic cooperation in various sectors as part of a comprehensive strategic partnership. Both countries agreed that they share many economic opportunities which can be exploited to their mutual benefit. On October 15, protocols and Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) in the fields of infrastructure, information technology, energy, telecommunication, agriculture, industry, minerals, trade, and space technology were established. While the signing of these 11 agreements made headlines nationwide, these agreements primarily consist of non-binding Memoranda of Understanding which serve more as general umbrella agreements to indicate cooperation in various sectors rather than concrete, specific deals.

President Zardari also reportedly met with representatives from important Chinese institutions such as China International Capital Corporation, Export and Import Bank of China, Sinoma Group (cement manufacturing), MCC (steel construction company), All China Federation of Industry and Commerce and Industrial Commercial Bank of China. The media reported that they showed a keen interest and willingness in enhancing the existing cooperation in the banking, agriculture, and financial sectors, as well as in the cement, and steel industries.

In a rare public statement about the US, Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Lou Zhaohui told reporters on 07 May 2009 that China was concerned about increasing U.S. influence in the Af-Pak region. He noted that China was cooperating with both Pakistan and the US on counterterrorism and said China and Pakistan are developing a joint counterterrorism strategy. Lou underscored China's investment in Pakistan and interest in a long-term strategic partnership.

Lou made the remarks during a visit to the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He stated that the number of foreign forces in the region is "too high" and that U.S. strategy needs "corrective measures" to contain terrorism. Lou noted, "We are cooperating with the U.S. and Pakistan in the fight against terror." He cited China's own struggle with militants in western China, claiming the militants had received training in Pakistan's Federally-Administered Tribal Area and Afghanistan during the 1980s. He also stated that China is "in close liaison with the Interior Ministry for the security of over 10,000 Chinese engineers and technical experts in Pakistan." He said that Chinese officials were discussing a joint counterterrorism strategy with Pakistani counterparts.

As evidence of China's commitment to investment in Pakistan, Lou claimed that as of 2009 there were over 60 Chinese companies operating in Pakistan carrying out 122 projects involving about 10,000 Chinese engineers. Lou also expressed interest in enhancing cooperation on hydroelectric projects and agriculture. Establishing a long-term strategic partnership with Pakistan is one of China's top priorities, he added.

Lou's remarks came on the same week as the U.S.-Pakistan-Afghanistan trilateral meetings in Washington. Also the same day, it was reported that Pakistan's Ambassador to China presented four Chinese officials the Hilal-i-Pakistan, Pakistan's highest civil award--the same one presented to SCA Assistant Secretary Boucher. In his remarks at the event, the Pakistani Ambassador stated, "Pakistan's one true friend is China." It was not surpriseing that the Pakistani MFA would be reaching out to reassure Beijing of its continued importance despite renewed U.S. interest in Pakistan. There may be a simple explanation for the usually circumspect Chinese to speak out suddenly on their "concerns" regarding US-Pakistan relations, especially in front of this particular audience; as the multi-million dollar decision to purchase Chinese locomotives over a competing GE-Marubeni bid came under increasing scrutiny for alleged Chinese bid irregularities, the Chinese may be feeling increasingly pressured in their key commercial relationships here and were decidedly uncharitable about it.

By late 2011 Relations between Pakistan and the United States had sunk to their lowest point in decades. And to make up for the rift, Pakistan put renewed emphasis on its outreach to China and Iran as possible alternative partners. But, analysts are skeptical just how big a role either country could play in Pakistan. The U.S. commando raid in Pakistan earlier this year that killed Osama bin Laden was a triumph for America's war on terror. But a setback for relations with Pakistan. Relations suffered further strains last month when Admiral Mike Mullen, the outgoing top US military officer, accused Pakistan's intelligence service of colluding with Islamic insurgents in Afghanistan. Meng Jianzhu, China's minister of Public Security, visited Islamabad to discuss Chinese concerns that Islamic militants use Pakistan as a base to launch attacks in China.

China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang says his country is committed to consolidate its “traditional friendship” with Pakistan and strengthen strategic cooperation. The Chinese leader spoke May 22, 2013 in Islamabad after a visit to India. Premier Li praised the decades old friendship between China and Pakistan as “an invaluable asset” and emphasized the need for further strengthening “strategic cooperation in all areas.” He added that the bilateral relationship “stands out as an excellent example” for ties between countries of different social systems.

“That I have come to Pakistan in my first overseas visit as a Chinese premier is intended to show the international community that China is committed to consolidating its traditional friendship with Pakistan and deepening the strategic cooperation between the two countries," said Li. "I am convinced that no matter how the international situation may evolve China and Pakistan should always remain each other’s trustworthy partner and reliable brother.”

In July 2013 newly elected Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has picked China as his first overseas trip. That is no surprise to South Asia experts in Washington who say Pakistan has always considered China as one of its most trusted allies. Many in Pakistan say China has been their closest friend, and that the relationship with Beijing is more important for Islamabad than ties to the United States, particularly for trade and defense. Sharif’s party won the May 11 general elections with the promise to improve country’s bad economic situation. So the Pakistan-China relationship should be focused on the economy.

By 2013 more than 120 Chinese companies were doing business in Pakistan and some 14,000 Chinese workers as well as engineers were working on different projects in the country. Bilateral annual trade rose to $12 billion in 2012 and both sides aim to take it to $15 billion within next three years. Beijing has also helped Islamabad establish three nuclear power plants while a fourth one is in the pipeline.

Pakistan's growing purchases of Chinese military hardware helped Beijing become the world's fifth biggest exporter of conventional arms, overtaking Britain. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute says Pakistan bought 55 percent of China's weapons exports in the years 2008 to 2012. Pakistan and China are longtime allies.

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Page last modified: 22-02-2018 18:48:05 ZULU