Chinese premier’s visit underscores depth of Pak-China relations
The recently concluded two-day visit to Pakistan by the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is of great significance for both the countries in the context of their bilateral relations, regional strategic interests and the emerging global scenario. In the domain of bilateral relations both sides expressed their unflinching resolve to further strengthen the processes, arrangements and agreements for enhancing economic cooperation between the two countries under the Five Year Development Programme and also to hold negotiations on concluding China-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement, through the signing of twelve agreements and MOUs, including the agreement for creating the economic corridor between the two countries, besides China expressing its willingness to help Pakistan in tiding over the energy crisis. China is already helping us in the field of civilian nuclear technology in the backdrop of US-India agreement in this area.
Therefore it can be safely concluded that his visit did help in expanding the scope of bilateral relations and taking them to a new level of mutually beneficial relations that has remained the hall mark of all the interactions between the leaders of the two countries ever since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in the early fifties. These relations have withstood the vicissitudes of times. The Chinese Premier therefore was right on spot when the likened the friendship between the two countries to an evergreen tree. He also had the opportunity to meet Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani prime minister in waiting with whom he will have to interact during the next five years for furthering the strategic interests of the two friendly countries. His statement that China would continue to support Pakistan in its efforts to uphold independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity and in the achievement of national stability and development was reassuring.
Viewed in the regional context, the visit came at a time when the power dynamics in the region are likely to undergo a radical change in the backdrop of the US pull out from Afghanistan and both the countries being important stakeholders in peace in the region, especially Afghanistan, need to find a common strategy to cope with the emerging challenges and making sure that the exit of US from Afghanistan does not push the country back to the turmoil of the pre-9/11 era, scuttling the chances of common objectives of the two countries in fighting terrorism, building regional linkages and promoting shared economic prosperity through trans-regional projects like Central Asian like CASA-1000 and TAPI Gas Pipeline that an energy starved country like Pakistan badly needs. Both countries on the bilateral level as well as within the framework of SCO must pursue these objectives vigorously.
Chinese Premier, before coming to Pakistan visited India and visibly made overtures to normalize relations between the two countries. That seems a well thought strategy on the part of the Chinese leadership to mend fences with its neighbours, or at least to have conflict-free ties with them, so that it can pursue its regional and global strategic and economic interest unruffled. The hand-shake with India however will not be at the cost of Pakistan. India is a rival of China in the region while Pakistan is a trustworthy and tested friend.
The US is trying to wriggle out of the conflicts in Middle East and Afghanistan and contemplating a future that is more focused on the Indo-Pacific region, however it will maintain its presence in these lands through its non-combatants for a long time to come, despite ending fighting probably by the end of 2014. The shift in the US policy to turn its focus on the Indo-Pacific region is dictated by surge in the Chinese influence on the world stage, India’s thrust as a regional superpower, opening up of Myanmar to the outside world and the US’s own interests in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The Indian Ocean washes onto our shores and is connected with South China Sea and Western Pacific. Half of the world cargo passes through these waters. A big chunk of South China is a disputed territory with huge mineral deposits at the sea bed which America is salivating to exploit. That makes the projection of its military power in the region a foregone conclusion.
Successful states like US are wealth engines whose outward thrust to advance their commercial and entrepreneurial interests propels expansion. New markets for new products become a perennial goal for them with the accompanying need to protect those growing markets through military power. US has the largest navy in the world and the carrier fleet is the principal tool by which it projects its military power. The American focus on Indo-Pacific region will be both as a market and a zone of military power to protect the assets thus created.
China has steadily increased its interests in Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar and the Philippines which are already nominally allied to the US It also has shown a strong propensity to project its interests commercially rather than ideologically across the South Asian States and much of central Africa. It has built or is building ports in Bangladesh, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. These have not been done for only trade purposes; they also have military application as well. The Chinese Navy participated in the anti-piracy operation in the Somalian Sea in 2011. It is investing heavily in submarines and its first aircraft carrier will be operational within the decade.
The Western countries and US are already weary of economic prowess of China and its growing influence in the region and its ever increasing global outreach. China in all probability is going to be their main rival in the economic and military domain in the years to come, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. The US and its allies like UK and France support catapulting India as a regional super power and have signed agreements with India for the transfer of civilian nuclear technology, enhancing trade and helping her to generate 40,000 MWs of electricity. That clearly indicates that in the games that these powers are playing on the global chess board, Pakistan does not really figure anywhere. Even in Afghanistan, the US wants to assign bigger role to India after US pulls out from there. So the emerging regional and global realities dictate an impregnable solidarity between Pakistan and China on the issues that affect the economic and security interests of the region as well as their own national interests and simultaneously standing together on matters of interest at the global level
The writer is an academic.