Foundational basics of Pak-China strategic relations

  • The relation has grown over the years


By Dr Rajkumar Singh


Diplomatic relations were established in 1951 and strengthened by the Pakistani decision to join the Baghdad Pact (later SEATO) in 1954. The Pakistani attitude was praised by Chinese PM Zhou Enlai who declared at the Bandung Conference that the two countries had achieved a mutual understanding. He also defended Pakistan by saying that it ‘had no other motivation in joining the pact’ than protecting herself against any Indian attack. Soon Sino-Pakistan relations had been converted into a strategic link. Pakistan required China’s military equipment, technology, and political support to deny India’s dominance of the region. This converged with China’s rivalry with India. Even earlier Pakistan, despite its intimate relations with the Western military powers, continued to assure the Chinese leaders that they had no enmity against the Communist regime. At the moment China also realised that Pakistan nourished enmity towards India and would naturally like to come closer to China.

Relations improved during 1961-62 when US-USSR tension subsided and the Sino-Soviet schism took formal shape. Further the Sino-Indian war of October 1962 and bent of President Kennedy towards India paved the way for cordial relations. In the war Pakistan sided itself with China and branded India as the aggressor. This showed Pakistan’s expression of her anti-Indian policy and was a move to placate the Chinese. China, understanding Pakistan’s attitude, concluded a number of economic and cultural agreements with it, signed a border agreement and supported the latter on the issue of Kashmir by declaring that the fate of Kashmir should be decided by the people of Kashmir themselves. Thus, a convenient environment was provided to them in the early 1960s. If recalled the whole set of relations was based on statement made in 1959 by the then Chinese ambassador to the Indian Foreign Secretary face-to-face, ‘China dislikes to be concerned about the USA and China coming together’. He added: ‘It seems to us that you too cannot afford two fronts.’ It was a rather broad hint that India could face dangers if China were to build Pakistan up militarily. Since then, China’s military assistance to Pakistan has become a reality.

The 1960s made China’s relations with Pakistan solid from the viewpoints of mutual interest, regional strategy and the international milieu. China’s links with Pakistan were directed against India and obliquely, against the USA and the USSR. The association with Islamabad became very active and close after India’s defeat in the 1962 War. As a result, Sino-Indian relations deteriorated and China went a step further by offering military protection to Pakistan in the event of an Indian attack. It became clearer when in July 1963, Z.A. Bhutto declared: “An attack by India on Pakistan would also involve the territorial integrity and security of the largest State in Asia.”

Sino-Pakistan cooperation in sphere of arms supply and development of missile programmes continued to be intimate in the 1990s. China had established a deep relationship with Pakistan that had nothing to do with ideology or revolution

It was the starting-point of what is called the “Sino-Pakistan collusion” but Islamabad was more than conscious at the time and despite turning to China it was also normalising its relationship with the USSR as if to proclaim to the world the end of its alignment with the USA. President Ayub Khan in his memoirs called this diplomacy ‘walking a triangular tightrope’. Since no great power was wholly reliable and since each great power could be useful, it was necessary to cultivate good relations with all. The USA was necessary for continued economic and military assistance; China as source of strategic support that deterred India from major military action; and the USSR could possibly be useful if Pakistan could normalise relations and exert some influence on Moscow to reduce its level of support for India, or, conversely, increase support for Pakistan.

The Sino-Pakistan Collusion which took a definite shape in the 1960s has two parts– China’s arms supply to Pakistan and development of the latter’s nuclear capability. The process of arms transfer began with the conclusion of the first military agreement in July 1966 and has continued to this day. The magnitude of Chinese aid can be viewed from the fact that by 1970 ‘tanks supplied by China constituted 25 per cent of the entire tank force at Pakistan’s disposal. Aircraft supplied by China constituted 31 per cent of Pakistan’s air force, 65 per cent of all interceptor bombers and 99 per cent of its modern fighters’. The total Chinese military sales to Pakistan constituted 31 per cent of Pakistan’s $1,079 million arms procurement programmes, whereas the US contribution was only one per cent. The importance of this aid was evident from how it has greatly contributed to narrowing the gap that had begun to develop in the late 1980s between the Pakistani forces and the Indian forces deployed on the Pakistani front. However, this military cooperation failed to have any effect on Indian military behaviour in the wars of 1965 and 1971.

Apart from common hostility against India, another factor in building a close linkage was the Soviet threat to South Asia, highlighted by the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979. Consequently, until the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan; China and Pakistan, along with the USA; maintained a triangular strategic and military relationship in South Asia. Pakistan also became the largest recipient of Chinese economic aid.Pakistani PMMuhammad Khan Junejo expressed his country’s gratitude in July 1985, saying, “Pakistan today stands self-reliant in many of its defence requirements only because China had so generously transferred its technology and knowhow. It was with the PRC’s assistance that the Heavy Mechanical Complex at Taxila, the backbone for other major industrial projects, was set up. The factory at Taxila to rebuild tanks, the Heavy Forge and Foundry, the Aeronautical Complex at Karma and the textile machinery manufacturing units’ were all monuments to Chinese aid.

Sino-Pakistan cooperation in the sphere of arms supply and development of missile programmes continued to be intimate in the 1990s. Islamabad had started production of Main Battle Tank (MBT) Al-Khalid with Chinese assistance after a formal agreement was signed. For Al-Khalid research and development had started in 1990 and it was considered to be one of the most modern MBTs. It was mounted with a 125-mm smoothbore gun equipped with a dynamic muzzle reference system capable of firing all types of ammunition. Thus, China had established a deep relationship with Pakistan that had nothing to do with ideology or revolution.


The author is head of the Department of Political Science at BNMU, Saharsa, Bihar, India, and can be reached at [email protected]