Will China-India relations dent Pak-China relations?

Published: December 4, 2012

Unlike the Cold War standoff, one cannot argue that its rapprochement with India will affect China’s relationship with Pakistan because of the gravity of China’s interests in Pakistan. DESIGN: ERUM SHAIKH

China and Pakistan historically have enjoyed long standing, versatile and cordial relations. From the very beginning, in 1955, when the then Prime Minister Chaudary Muhammad Ali and his Chinese counterpart Zhou Enlai consolidated their support on mutual understanding, the relationship between the two countries have remained ‘tested by adversity’.

Pakistan was a key ally for China throughout the Cold War period in coping with India and the Soviet Union until the Gorbachev and Beijing reached and acceded to certain demands. However, many advantages were also accrued to Pakistan as a result of its alliance with a more culturally diverse,  communist country like China. It furthered Pakistan’s security, rendered Pakistan weaponry in the 1965 war with India and China adopted a pro-Pakistan stance on the Kashmir dispute.

However with the dawn of the current century, China’s relations with India and Russia have undergone a dramatic shift in strategic partnership from enmity to entente. In the case of Pakistan and India, the uncertain triangle of China-Pakistan-India has historically been constructed around the lines that the dilution of China’s relations with one country provides an impetus to China’s improvement in relations with other country. This current paradigm shift therefore gives rise to an important question;

What impact will the ongoing Sino-India rapprochements have on the Sino-Pakistan relations?

Will it lead to a weakening of Sino-Pakistan entente?

The answer I believe is no.

This is because there are essentially three underlying factors that continue to uphold the Sino-Pak cordiale despite China’s evolving economic relations with India and concurrent partnership with Russia.

The first rationale for China’s continued friendship with Pakistan lies in Beijing’s economic focus and its utmost priority of economic growth. During the Cold War, Pakistan was an important strategic partner for China in coping with India while at the moment China sees Pakistan in terms of its economic interests. China currently is the world’s second-largest consumer of oil. Apart from the significance of Pakistan’s strategic location, the Gwadar port situated in Balochistan has reinvented Pakistan’s regional significance as an energy corridor for China. China’s enthusiasm about the Gwadar port and its immense technical assistance to Pakistan is one such example of this economic co-operation between the two countries.

For China, the economic incentive for its heavy investment in the construction of this port lies not simply in all ‘weathered friendship’ dynamics between Islamabad and Beijing but in the strategic value attached to the Gwadar port, which for China is no lesser than that of the Karakoram highway.

This port provides China with the closest access point to the Persian Gulf and also renders an access route to the Arabian Sea’s warm water to many of the central Asian landlocked republics including the Chinese Xinjiang. Currently, China receives a majority of its oil supplies from the Middle East, but through this port Pakistan does not only provide China an alternate transport route linking from Pakistan instead of Iran and Sudan, but at the same time Pakistan has become crucial to China’s bid for regional influence.

Secondly, China at the moment is highly sensitive about the growing role of the United States in the region and the US leaning towards India in the Asian continent. To counter this, China perceives Pakistan as its best, if not its last, bet in terms of the diplomatic support which Pakistan historically has rendered to China. Whether it be the facilitation of the United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s visit to China through the diplomatic support of Pakistan in 1971, or the question of China’s right over Tibet and Taiwan, Pakistan has always advocated full diplomatic support in favour of China.

Importantly as well, was Pakistan’s valuable support for China to gain seat in the United Nations.

Thirdly, China’s interest in a stronger Pakistan parallels its own interests. It tantamount to China, that the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan does not get further exacerbated. For Beijing one way is to be aligned with Pakistan and cooperate in order to mitigate the outcome. Although China has its own reservations with US presence and its heightened activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, it certainly does not want the US to fail in Afghanistan. A failure of such magnitude could eventually drive radical elements into Chinese territory and with radicalisation of the region also acts as a trigger for extremism and separatist activities within Xinjiang, where separatist activities are already at peak.

A weaker Pakistan under the influence of the Taliban, or any other extremist group, for China acts as facilitator between various entities operating in Afghanistan, Pakistan and insurgent elements in its own region of Xinjiang. Thus, a progressive and strong Pakistan also benefits China because it mitigates the violent outcome in terms of the criminal elements operating in the Uyghur region of China. Therefore, it is China’s own domestic interests that make its role in the Af-Pak struggle is of great importance and its support for a strong, independent Pakistan is crucial for its own geo-strategic needs.

On the Afghan front, China is vigilant of maintaining good relations with Kabul without offending the Pashtuns elements in the Taliban itself.

Thus, China today being a major power sees the world through the prism of its global interests. Unlike the Cold War standoff, one cannot argue that its rapprochement with India will affect China’s relationship with Pakistan because of the gravity of China’s interests in Pakistan.

Read more by Kashif here

Kashif Ali

Kashif Ali

The writer holds Masters in governance and public policy from Germany and works in the development sector. He tweets as @s_kashif8 (twitter.com/s_kashif8)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://India Feroz

    China is unlikely to toe either an India or Pakistan line but an independent one. Pakistan may toe the Chinese line on all issues which India is unlikely to, however no one in their right mind will jeopardize a $ 50 Billion trade relationship with India. The real shock for Pakistan will come when China votes for India when the permanent membership of the UN Security Council is expanded. Chinese are too practical and Business minded and cannot afford to antagonize the fastest growing market in the World of 1.2 Billion people. China will not accept a Taliban domination of Afghanistan again because of its Uighur problem. A country should have no friends or enemies, only interests.Recommend

  • Jim

    The author’s conclusion is correct but his reasoning is wrong. Pak-China ties will remain unaffected because Pakistan is largely irrelevant. The volume of India-China ties will dwaft anything Pakistan can buy or cell. China does not depend on Gawdar alone — or at all. Given Pakistan’s chronic instability and extremism, China has alternate plans and will not depend on Pakistan. And most of all, Pakistan exaggerates China’s friendship in a bid to remain relevant, Truth is China badly let down Pakistan in 1971, during Kargil, and in between and thereafter. When Pakistan was struggling during earthquake, floods, and many calamities, China did not even lift its finger to help; the U.S did. Yet the two sides make phony protestations about friendship taller than mountains ets. It is laughable. Recommend

  • Parvez

    The answer is certainly no, but not for the three reasons you have mentioned.
    Your reasoning is stuck in a 35 year old mindframe and the world has moved on, something we just do not seem to appreciate.Recommend

  • http://www.gmail.com Indian

    This is indeed a laughable, stupid blog…asking a question and then answering urself.

    Firstly, China India trade was USD 74 bn last year (almost 10 times that of pakistan). This is expected to reach USD 100 to as high as USD 300 bn in the coming decade (http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/746596.shtml)

    This is reason enough to do away with this stupidity of gwadar or any other great economic benefit pakistan provides. It is indeed laughable to even imagine the author considering pakistan as an economic bet. Forget it. its a failed state.

    The next big joke that the author cracked was pak being “the best best, if not last” for China in Asia. Dude, do u even know wats the total trade India has with east asia? More than USD 130 billion per year. India is part of the East Asia Union, pak and other small south asian punies around us are not. Why do u guys keep considering ur country as some mighty power, always to be used and abused by sm big power. Fact is – Pakistan is always a Superpower’s Keep…and it will remain that only, never get the sort of respect u want to be given.

    Wats really funny is Yousuf Raza Gilani saying Pak reappoached towards trade ties with India after China’s recommendation. This shows an in-depth picture of reality and your policy making.Recommend

  • http://hyderabad varuag

    I am in conformity with the end analysis though the rosy causality was more of a folk lore than serious introspection of history.

    For the purposes of brevity I shall not dwell into the UNSC seat for China but author is well advised to read the entire story as to how China ended up in UNSC. Though it is a accepted that the role of Pakistan to normalize US-China relationship was pivotal and Pakistan treated China much better than Nehru’s patronizing attitude (possibly one of my few grouses with Nehru).

    China has alternatives towards Gwader port. The internal security situation in Pakistan notwithstanding the emphasis on Gwader is more in the interests of Pakistan than China though if the security situation improves, Chinese interests will surge. As of now China is hedging Gwader with other ports and land infrastructure as the Kyaukpyu port and Myanmar land routes.

    The most crucial help to China as far as Pakistan is concerned is the unequivocal support for China on human rights issue. While not debating the merits of the issue, the current perception in the west is negative regarding China’s human rights record. So Pakistan helps in ensuring that most of the Islamic world including the OIC remain on its side as far as the Xinjiang province goes. So much so that Saksgam valley, which was a part of J & K was ceded to China by Pakistan. Also the religious right in Pakistan take up diverse issues throughout the world but stays clear of the Chinese red lines. With trouble brewing in South China sea, China will want to have solid allies that will toe the line as and when required.

    Trade from Chinese point of view is sitting pretty. Being in the western camp means Pakistan had negligible NTBs and as such was a dumping ground for big nations including China. What the US does overtly through the usage of drones, the Chinese do covertly through the usage of friendly trade dumpings. The WTO disputes resolution is full of all sorts of complaints by US, China and India against one another but Pakistan is game to such trade distortions and it plays to the benefit of China.

    So all in all its a mutually reinforcing cycle that will perpetuate in the foreseeable future. China will be helpful as long as Pakistan turns a blind eye to Xinjiang. Otherwise the China of today has actually cultivated strong trade ties with most of the arab world and its dependence on Pakistan as a lever to the Islamic world is gradually diminishing. China believes in cold pragmatism and its growing trade ties with India will not affect its strategic interests in Pakistan. China is firmly rooted in an ancient statecraft wisdom that values self-interest and not emotions.Recommend

  • Harshvardhan Sharma

    @Haha you beauty……. man that was coolRecommend

  • Harshvardhan Sharma

    Poor Pakistan is paranoid as everRecommend

  • Sonam Shyam

    The author has wasted a lot of time and space in analysing Pak-China relations. The simple fact is that India is the common enemy of both and therefore Pakistan-China friendship will remain. Recommend

  • Ali

    @Indian, International relations are understood in certain context, they are not driven by hypothetical, emotional assumptions you are making. I agree with author, he has raised some pertinent points which I guess can be gauged by people who have certain background in political science or international relations not like you who make such trivial assumptions. Recommend

  • http://www.zaidzamanhamid.wordpress.com Zaid Hamid

    China is our all weather friend and we have exclusive rights on China. Who will we turn to after US cuts off the aid?

    We reject Indian effort to dent Pak-China relations.Recommend

  • Hasan

    This is such an irrelevant article. Looks as if written by a Govt. mouthpiece of a high school student of history. China has successfully converted pak into their subordinate colony. They have captured all our industries, our military hardware and all strategic programs, our power, ports, roads, railways, airlines, telecom, transportation… from needle to cellphone, all sectors are controlled by chinese who are reaping billions in profit sending back beijing. We are disposable liability for the chinese, who only cares for their people. Pak is supported only enough to needle India and keep them busy. We are nothing but pawns in hands of chinese if the author opens his eyes and look deep.Recommend

  • Vikas

    Please go and play cricket with a friendly nation(China).
    Then ask Chinese Air Force as to why they are not using JF-17.
    And then, why are they not financing Daimler Basha dam?

    And, didn’t you guys feel ashamed when you took money from us after the floods.
    For God’s sake, show some self respect.Recommend

  • Raj – USA

    What is more relevant for Pakistan is to asses its relationship with other Muslim countries around the world. I cannot think of even one Muslim country that has a positive opinion of Pakistan and all Muslim countries have negative opinion of Pakistan. It is going to surprise Pakistan when China sides with India to stabilize Afghanistan. China knows very well that Pakistan can never be and shall never be a positive influence in Afghanistan, and siding with Pakistan will be detrimental to its own relationship with Afghanistan. Afghans know very well that Talibans can only bring violence and not a vision for the prosperity of Afghanistan. They may be constrained now but to think that Talibans are the future rulers of Afghanistan is total ignorance. What is one of India’s strength in its relationship with Afghanistan? You need to visit New Delhi and see the Afghan community there. When Afghans were forced to flee their country, many intellectuals moved to India and the indoctrinated or willing to be indoctrinated moved to Pakistan. Recommend

  • Ibrahim

    Why the hell Pakistan is proving its relevance vis a vis China? The Gwadar port, the oil, the Taliban, Xinjiang. Is author wants showing carrot and stick to China at the same time?…the author does not know that the China is more interested in the oil from Turkemenistan and other central asian countries than getting it through from unstable and unreliable Pakistani situation. Yes of course China is friend of Pakistan (what benefit china will get when Indian threats will disappear?) but why to loose your heart when you see growing Indo-China relations. There are number of countries in the world who are not too close with either of super power namely USA and China. Are they not surviving? Then why so much anxiety when you see USA or China leaning towards India. Recommend

  • JOHN

    china is a business country.if it had wanted to control the world it could have done it 500 years back when it had the largest and most powerful naval fleet………….china lacks in natural resources and arable land…and it is expected that it will expand to central asia. it has already build a highway through afganistan linking central asia to china…afganistan is the number priority for china and it will support it to the maximum to make it self reliant and strong . India is still in russian camp and pakistan is still considered as a USA ally……….china might have already drawn plans to divide pakistan between afganistan and india to make its border secure on the west front.Recommend

  • Nathan

    Every country India and China included frame their foreign policy on national interests.The border between India China is quite not a gunshot because these are mature nations unlike the India Pakistan border. China calls part of India South Tibet but neither country has sent terrorist/ mujaheddin/ freedom fighters by whatever name called. Pakistan is not respected by anybody certainly not China , Please wake up.

    Instead of such useless exercises about will China give up on Pakistan because of India ( What nonsense?) make Pakistan strong and stop being the cesspool of international terrorism . Every country will want to make friends with Pakistan.


  • http://ET Indian

    This is a useless article cuz when the author chooses article title like “Will China-India relations dent Pak-China relations?” then he must explain what are those factors India and China relations have that may potentially effect China Pakistan ties that’s what the reader wants to read but instead in reverse direction of articles title the author talk about existing factors of pak-china relations and also gave conclusion of no effect on ties.Then Mr author why drag India into your article.I cannot understand what the author actually wants to say,he talks about dent but no mention of dent in his article.China Pakistan ties everybody knows but how India China ties can effect China Pakistan ties that you must explain to reades.Recommend

  • Sudheer

    This is a shallow analysis. Author’s arguments have been effectively repudiated by @Indian and there is no need for me to elaborate on it any further. However, I would like to shed some light on this oft repeated lie about the unusual importance of the Gwadar port. The truth is this port has a very limited commercial value, at least for China. That’s because, if anyone thinks that China lies just across the Karakorum, then he is badly mistaken. The real China lies thousands of miles away from Indian sub-continent. It lies in the Chinese east coast, stretching from Manchuria in the North to Hunan and Hainan in the South. Great Himalaya and Plateau of Tibet, also known as the roof of the world, physically separates Indian sub-continent from China. Therefore, carrying goods from Gwadar port to the mainland China crossing the vast, treacherous and hostile mountainous region is a pipe dream. It still may not be impossible but certainly would be prohibitively costly.
    Apart from the above fact, one should not forget that China’s entire western and northern neighborhood(CAR&Russia) hold huge hydrocarbon reserves. It is already exploiting this wealth, although, Middle East still remains a major source of China’s petroleum imports. But, that is because of the strategic thinking as no country wants to depend on just one region for its vital energy security.
    But, the biggest irony of all in this “strategic location hungama” is that, Pakistan can exploit its geographical location only by allowing India to use it! Sadly, though, many in Pakistan believe that allowing India to use its territory for trade is against Islam!!!Recommend

  • gp65

    @Parvez: “The answer is certainly no, but not for the three reasons you have mentioned.”
    You usually provide very level headed and rational comments. SO I would like to hear what the reasons are according to you.

    China has a veto in UN security council, so it does not need Pakistan’s support diplomatically though converse is definitely true (just as dring cold war period, India relied on USSR veto). SO your 2nd reason for why China needs Pakistan is without merit. As for the 3rd reason ” China’s interest in stronger Pakistan parallels its own interests” – you have not provided good supporting reason for that claim in the explanation that follows this assertion.

    My own perspective is that Pakistan and China relationship hasalways been one where China dictates and Pakistan follows in lieu of China’s veto in UN security council.This can be seen by the type of reception PM/PRewsident of Pakistan get during their frequent visits to China and the type of reception given when relatively junior Chines functionaries visit Pakistan.Recommend

  • 3rdRockFromTheSun

    “My enemy’s enemy is my friend.”

    The only underlying principle behind China’s close relations with Pakistan. Sure, China and India are trade partners and business between them is booming; but they also share a fractious border AND are economic & political rivals. They both have large populations with growing energy needs, and are looking for more markets for their products. China will do anything it can to keep India tied & occupied elsewhere to gain an advantage, and India will do the same (they’re finally waking up and courting Vietnam and others in China’s backyard!). As they say in mafia movies – “it’s not personal, it’s business”.

    As someone already pointed out, your “higher than mountains, deeper than oceans” friend played no part in helping you during the 65, 71 and 99 conflicts with India, nor have they come rushing to help you tide over economic and natural disasters. Why would they rely on your port when you cannot guarantee the safety of goods plying that route into China.

    So, please set aside any delusions of grandeur about Chinese “love” for Pakistan or Pakistan providing any economic benefit to China. As long as China and India are rivals, Pakistan will have a “special” relationship with China. Recommend

  • Prerna

    The Pakistani desperation to be China’s best friend is simply heart-breaking.Recommend

  • damod bansal

    For China, Pakistan in only matter as long as china does not have good relation with India.Once they have good relation and have sorted out their boundaries issue. The points the writer have mentioned would become irrelevant for China. Recommend

  • Another Indian

    I agree with author.. china will continue to keep ties with Pakistan to counter US influence.. Gwadar is an imp. port for China and they can’t give away such a strategic position.. that’s why such eagerness to complete the project and control the operation.. As far as energy security goes, I think China will not depend on Pakistan because of instability.. and ofcourse they need Pak to protect their investments in Afghanistan..

    Good article..

    -Another IndianRecommend

  • What D. Fiqh

    Free Tibet Now !!Recommend

  • http://india indian

    china is against india in getting permanent membershipp, even though they says it supports india for getting permanent membershipRecommend

  • choclat85

    No I don’t think that India and China relations can dent Pakistan and China relations because friendship between countries depends on national interests and China and Pakistan are best friends because we have shared national interest. Deterioration in China and Pakistan relationship can only happen if bigger powers such as USA, China, Russia all become friends.Recommend

  • Parvez

    @gp65: That is very kind of you Sir. As I tried to explain the mindset here is dated and self involved, while China (especially its leadership) and the world have moved on. To keep it short, I would agree with a lot of @Jim’s comments.Recommend

  • Milind

    The author has omitted a critical point in the analysis – spectre of terrorism in Pakistan. As it is the Chinese are jittery about connections between militants in Pakistan with the ones in Xinkiang province. This may jeopardize China-Pakistan relations more than the India factor.

    As Feroz pointed out above, the Chinese are practical and won’t jeopardize relations with India easily. In fact Pakistanis who are considering China as their saviour/godfather (against India and probably U.S.) may be in for a rude surprise, if China-India relationship deepens. This pattern occured earlier, after the demise of India’s godfather U.S.S.R… Conventional logic held that India was orphaned and the scales were tilted in Pakistan’s favour, with their U.S. godfather intact. However as we know, U.S. established ties with India to the chagrin of Pakistan. If the practicality of the Chinese is any indication, this may repeat again.Recommend

  • Cry Me a River

    Gwadar !! WTH!!! It needs nearly $900 million for Phase 2 expansion. PSA came up with those numbers in 2007 and now it’s 2012.

    Transporting Oil from Gawadar through Karakoram > Tarim Basin >Tibet > East Coast through pipelines and Rail/Road ??? Economics ???

    Now checkout the Shwe Gas Movement Project (Shwe Gas Pipelines) from Arakan to Kunming under construction by CNPC.

    How about you guys transfer Agha Waqars tech to China so that they can get rid of their dependence on hydrocarbons like Pakistan has done.

    Wakey! Wakey!Recommend

  • zoro

    Grow up …. Kasif Ali …Recommend

  • gp65

    I’m a she not a he. So Sir does not apply. Always enjoy reading your posts.Recommend

  • Parvez

    @gp65: Thanks for that because ‘ gp65 ‘ really disclosed nothing. Recommend

  • Sab33N

    What baffles me completely is the excitement I see in the comments being posted by Indians on a Pakistani website on a blog which is not even intended to bash India.. It’s actually quite surprising .. Indian desperation to keep itself involved in debates revolving around Pakistan and Pakistanis. I sometimes wonder that if Pakistan is so insignificant and irrelevant, what makes an Indian jump with excitement to even bother taking time out and commenting.. Are they all Faarigh ..Dont they have anything better to do?? .. It sure seems like it .. !

    Whilst I agree that this analysis is pretty far fetched and based on an assumption that China values its ties with Pakistan, it is quite shocking to note that some Indian’s believe that China will support its permanent membership in the UN .. Now that to me seem even more far fetched then this delusional blog itself.

    Yes India is doing billion dollar trade with China and India is this and India is that .. With a population of 1 Billion and a country that size, I dont think it is remarkable to the least.. It should do billion dollar trade .. For crying out loud look at its population, its size .. But still if Indian’s themselves cannot stop comparing India with a country (Pakistan) having less then one quarter of it’s total population and size, then obviously, that country is not that irrelevant .. Is it?? .. Think about it :)Recommend

  • Clear Black Bag

    “Will China-India relations dent Pak-China relations?”
    This shall never happen doesn’t matter how strong and endured China and India relations are and shall be in the future because Pakistan-China relations’ nature is entirely different and no one can create any misunderstandings,misconceptions and engulfment in Pakistan-China relations now and in the future…..Recommend

  • Gratgy


    But still if Indian’s themselves cannot stop comparing India with a country (Pakistan) having less then one quarter of it’s total population and size, then obviously, that country is not that irrelevant

    Ironically, isn’t this what the entire article is about,

    India+China Vs Pak+China (or rather impact of India+China on Pak+China)

    Mathematically cancel China on both sides of the equation we are left with

    India Vs Pakistan.

    So wouldn’t the comments be India vs Pak?Recommend

  • Jim

    @Sab33N You raise valid points. Indians visit Pak news sites mainly as a source of entertainment, to read some of the fantastic, delusional nonsense we read here — interspersed with the occasional erudite commentary from the likes of Khaled Ahmed. Then there is also the schadenfreude factor — it is so cathartic to see Pakistan getting destroyed by the same terrorism that it nurtured to damage India. Many of the posts/responses to the articles are giving Pakistanis a reality check — your country is a sad minion of U.S and China, living off the crumbs they and the Gulf states sweep off the table; there is not a single country that looks up to you, and you are seen with contempt across the world, including in the muslim ummah. And you are right, there simply isn’t an equal=equal between India and Pakistan. Pakistan is basically 3-4 divided provinces of India, and even that you have not been able to integrate or keep happy. In short, Pakistan is a repudiation of the idea of India and we look at your websites to see how badly your misguided idea of nation-building, based on religious differences, exclusivism, and bigotry, has gone wrong. It is a fascinating spectacle — like watching a building burn. Recommend

  • Kashif Ali (Author)

    Having read all the comments above, I’m pretty sure majority of the people either haven’t actually read the article or were unable to comprehend the point I have made. Criticism is appreciated but naive rejection can’t stand on its own. Anyways Thanks people for your comments :)Recommend

  • aaaa

    pakistan plays cricket all over the world, dont get so upset that india lost
    why should China Finance Bashanga Dam ?? its a private investment nothing to do with Pak Govt and why are you so obsessed with Pakistan ?

    No matter how much China-India trade, China will never abandon Pakistan, just look at China-Japan Trade, China doesnt care and will always act in its national intrest.

    The Chinese Military is heavily pro Pakistan,so you are living in fantasy land

    China will no longer be neutral in international affairs and the flag of pakistan will fly over the red fort in Delhi Recommend

  • Hassan

    its not just whats on the surface. whats underneath is also important. the uncapped coal (185 billion tones), oil and other precious resources in pakistan. where there is coal there is gold and diamonds. Guess whats happening around the world of paper currency my indian friends. wont be long when you are sitting on a pile of paper and so does china. and china knows that. Oh and i wonder where did this declaration came from a few months ago “AN ATTACK ON ISLAMABAD WILL BE AND ATTACK ON BEIJING”. Recommend