Modi-Obama or Nawaz-Jinping: Which should be worried?

Published: April 24, 2015
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PM Nawaz arrives at Islamabad airport to welcome his counterpart. PHOTO: AFP

We are lucky to have a neighbour like the People’s Republic of China, a country which has always stood with us unconditionally. I have always been fascinated with our relationship with them. While the Chinese president’s visit to Pakistan is making headlines these days, I feel that we should revisit our historic relationship and the strong bond we have developed so far.

Pakistan was the first Muslim country which accepted China in 1950 and ended diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Then, in 1962, the Sino-Indian border conflict took place, which laid the foundation of a strong friendship that was to change the course of history in the coming decades. Three years later, during Pakistan’s war with India, it was officially declared that both Pakistan and China shared a common enemy – India. This common rivalry with India was more than just a cause in establishment of this great alliance in Asia.

Pakistan, after its second Kashmir War with India, inferred that it could not rely upon the US and Great Britain to ensure its defence. The US, asserting itself as a strong ally of Pakistan, never actually came to help when it was needed. It was because the US wanted to keep neutrality and the policymakers of the super power considered it risky to side with Pakistan against India as it could force India to struggle against American influence in the region.

Pakistan understood its need for a stronger ally.

In the 70s, when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto became the prime minister, Pak-China relations boosted sky high. The common strategic interests of the two countries proved to be a driving force behind formation of a staunch alliance. Although USSR and China had been enjoying friendly relations, China backed Pakistan in its indirect war with USSR. In the United Nations, China has always endorsed Pakistan’s point of view regarding the Kashmir problem and in the UN Security Council, it acts as Pakistan’s representative because anything which jeopardises Pakistan’s interests is vetoed by China.

Rarely have I ever seen an international bond so strong and concrete as Pakistan’s is with China.

During the period of sanctions due to nuclear weapons development, it was China which supported Pakistan’s fluctuating economy and kept providing technological assistance in various fields to Pakistan, including defence. Later, both countries jointly developed a fourth generation multirole combat aircraft named Joint Fighter, designated as FC-1 and JF-17 in China and Pakistan respectively.

Pakistan navy was strengthened with the provision of powerful modern submarines. China aided Pakistan army to equip itself with modern weaponry and fulfil the demands of modern warfare.

China has, in every step of the way, helped Pakistan.

However, the biggest gift is yet to come in the form of the Pak-China economic corridor, which would link Pakistan’s Gwadar Port to China’s autonomous territory Xinjiang. China is the biggest investor in Pakistan and has been developing one of the world’s deepest seaports, Gwadar, whose strategic importance is eye-catching and has turned out to be a cause of leaving India and Iran in a spot of bother. Once completed, the Gwadar Port will turn out to be a gateway to Central Asia and Europe. Pakistan will make billions in terms of allowing the usage of corridor to China and other countries. India, therefore, has promised to sponsor Iran’s Chabahar Port, some 100 miles away from Pakistan’s Gwadar, in order to reduce its strategic importance.

Even if India succeeds with Iran, I doubt that Chabahar will be as successful as Gwadar. Why? Because India is no China; the resources which China can employ are a lot more sophisticated than what India could ever afford.

Global politics is a game of national interests and China is no exception to this theory. Pakistan is of enormous importance to China. Chinese President Xi Jinping has hammered the $46 billion project which would cut China’s current trade route distance to less than half and will also guarantee protection to the Chinese trade ships which face risk in the hostile Indian waters at the juncture.

The Chinese trade route will become completely secure and way cheaper. The distance between China’s main port Shanghai and Xinjiang is more than the distance between Xinjiang and Gwadar. Therefore, Gwadar port is always the best option to be used for Xinjiang, instead of Shanghai. While Pakistan, in addition to earning billions, will have secure waters. The way China is trying to facilitate Pakistan by investing billions of dollars in different sectors – including energy – shows that China is not merely using Pakistan for its interests but it really wants to change the game in favour of its South Asian ally.

Pakistan made an extra effort this time, to welcome President Xi. JF-17 Thunders escorted him as he arrived in Pakistani airspace. A warm welcome was ensured by Pakistan to let the Chinese president know that Pak-China friendship is Pakistan’s top priority. The chiefs of Pakistan’s armed forces were also present to honour him.

Pakistan wants China to back it and emerge as its prime strategic partner in the region, which would take Pakistan to its destination of becoming an Asian tiger. Pakistan has many enemies and few friends – and among those few, China is the only one which has played a role of a fantastic strategic partner.

It is being observed that Pakistan has now decided to shape its foreign policy in light of its national interests and is about to come out of the deadly influence of United States, which has provided Pakistan with nothing but terrorism and bloodshed. And the fact that China has been anticipated to overthrow the current super-power in times to come is always an added advantage.

In the global school playground, Pakistan is the shorter kid who needs the support of a bigger kid, in order to survive the bullies. And right now, China is the only bigger kid who is willing to help us out. We need to do all we can to keep China on our side.

Abubakar Farooqui

Abubakar Farooqui

A pre-engineering student at PakTurk International College. He is a keen observer of international politics and and current affairs. He tweets as @AbubakarTweets (twitter.com/AbubakarTweets)

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