China-India relations and lessons for Pakistan

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  • Islamabad is moving towards isolation

The last week of April 2018 was momentous as the Korean peninsula witnessed a landmark embrace between the hostile neighbours North and South Korea, thus putting an end to the 65 years old conflict. Meanwhile, in a parallel world, two Asian giants, China and India were meeting in Wuhan with a resolve to reset bilateral relations.

Although the two summits are not directly linked to each other, there is an implicit connection between them. Both events were somehow influenced by American ambitions to control foreign governments for its hegemonic goals, particularly its containment policy of China. Both US and China want to establish their supremacy over world affairs but their modes of execution are different. While US relies on its gigantic military power by keeping its footprint on foreign soils and strengthening its allies by providing them sophisticated military hardware, China on the other hand seeks a recognition of a responsible superpower driving its foreign policies through economic penetration for which its famous ‘Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)’ is the key of ignition.

There are various driving factors that tempted China to initiate a landmark dialogue process with India. China is not entirely happy with the way the Korean summit went off without its involvement, feeling completely sidelined and ignored. There is a common perception that the summit was an outcome of the back door diplomacy of the Trump administration. Secondly, China always took North Korea as a buffer zone against the South Korea where are stationed 28,000 American soldiers. It’s too far to suggest so at this moment, but if there is a possible unification of Korea in future, it will be a setback for China seeing US soldiers at its door step. US military evacuation from the Korean peninsula is very unlikely considering American ambitions for South China Sea and the East Asian corridors.

Pakistan is trapped in a security conundrum since its independence. Its foreign and domestic policies have been reactive

India has a unique geostrategic position in this scuffle. India, which will be the 3rd largest economy after US and China in 2030, will play a decisive role in determining which bloc shall control the region. China and India share an old history of hostile relations, border conflicts and claims on disputed lands. Recently, the world witnessed the 73-day military stand-off between the two countries at the Doklam plateau. Finally sanity prevailed at both sides and forces were withdrawn without firing a bullet. Dalai Lama’s visit to the China’s claimed Himalayan disputed state also caused friction between the two nations.

The US backs India as an ally against the rising power of China and thus provides it with nuclear and other military hardware. US also created QUAD that includes India, Japan and Australia to counter China’s influence in the region, particularly regarding South China Sea and Indo-Pacific region.

China has never been oblivious of US designs of encirclement in which India plays the central role. Xi Jinping has the realisation that China’s economic expansionist objectives and its BRI goals can’t be accomplished by indulging into armed conflicts, particularly with its gigantic neighbor India. He realises after QUAD that the entire region is slowly drifting into the American camp. Therefore Xi is proposing a policy of cooperation than conflict and is luring India by offering it what it wants; greater trade and economic incentives and a bigger role in Afghanistan. Xi has played a smart move by offering India in Afghanistan what India is already doing at America’s whims; infrastructure building and economic investment.

China’s exports to the US worth $500 billion are at the risk of imposition of trade tariffs as proposed by Donald Trump. This is another impulse for China to establish strong trade ties with India.

Wuhan summit is not just a one-sided show addressing only China’s ambitions. In fact Modi administration was never this enthusiastic in dealing with the Chinese as it is seen today. India is uncomfortable with Trump administration’s unpredictable policies that address mostly US interests only. US didn’t give a single statement in India’s favour during the Doklam stand-off. Trump’s recent unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal may jeopardise billion dollars’ worth of Indian investment in Chahbahar port that was initiated to counter CPEC. India seeks China’s concessions in dealing with Pakistan’s alleged policy of supporting insurgencies in Kashmir and Afghanistan, and also about Masood Azhar’s portfolio. India also wants China’s backing to secure membership of Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG). Furthermore, easing tensions on borders with China will save India’s energy and resources which it could divert towards Jammu and Kashmir to smash the insurgency.

There are important lessons that Pakistan must learn now and wake-up from the slumber of insensitivity towards world realities. It must understand that inter-state relations are always based on national interests and there are no permanent allies and foes in international politics. China has been bestowing blessings on Pakistan since decades because it suits their strategic goals against rising India, and if Beijing decides to embrace Delhi at some time, it will least bother about Islamabad’s apprehensions.

One may give a thousand reasons to suggest that Pakistan has a unique geostrategic location and world powers shall always need it in some way or the other, but the fact is Pakistan is moving towards isolation. Even if we ignore the other negative indicators including the crumbling economy and rising extremism against the minorities, world community believes in the narrative that the state of Pakistan sponsors terrorism across its borders. Iran threatened Pakistan with surgical strikes in Baluchistan last year. Even our time-tested allies have expressed their reservations over our security policies. China and Saudi Arabia recently withdrew their opposition to a US motion of putting Pakistan on the FATF watch list of terror-financing countries. Donald Trump is at the helm of world affairs and there should be no doubt that he does what he promises. Being blacklisted on FATF is equivalent to becoming Iran and North Korea with disastrous economic fallouts, and no one is sure if Pakistan is doing enough to evade it.

Pakistan is trapped in a security conundrum since its independence. Its foreign and domestic policies have been reactive to its uneven threat perception from India. That’s the reason its foreign relations have been immensely influenced by the military establishment. There is a common perception that Pakistani military runs the foreign policies and therefore its relations with other countries are driven by the security issues only. In simple words, Pakistan’s security policy is its foreign policy in which there is very little room for sustainable economic development.

There is only one way forward. Pakistan must come out of irrational security conundrum and focus on building economic ties with the outside world. Japan and South Korea are the best examples. Become an economic power and let the world protect you.