By Khalid Iqbal
The enduring relationship between China and Pakistan has evolved into a significant and enduring partnership over the years. Established in 1951, their diplomatic ties have transformed into a profound friendship, with both countries collaborating across various domains. This alliance, solidified during Pakistan’s tumultuous early years, received critical support from China during moments of crisis, including the full-scale wars of 1965 and 1971.
China’s unwavering support for Pakistan on the Kashmir issue and its substantial investments in infrastructure projects within disputed territories underscore the depth of their partnership. Collaborative efforts gained momentum in the early 2000s through the development of the Gwadar Port and the signing of a free trade agreement in 2006. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), initiated in 2015 under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has further solidified their economic ties.
Nevertheless, recent years have witnessed a gradual growth in CPEC-related infrastructure projects due to economic challenges in both nations. China’s economic growth slowdown has raised questions about the sustainability of its investments in Pakistan. Furthermore, a surge in terrorism and extremism in Pakistan has strained the alliance, with attacks directly targeting Chinese nationals.
In spite of these hurdles, the China-Pakistan partnership remains unyielding, underpinned by shared strategic interests and mutual trust. China’s decision to extend a $2 billion loan to assist Pakistan in its economic crisis reaffirms its dedication to the relationship. The CPEC project, a flagship initiative under BRI, seeks to link China’s Xinjiang region with Pakistan’s Gwadar port via an extensive network of roads and railways. This endeavor has attracted significant foreign direct investment, bolstering Pakistan’s economy and enhancing regional connectivity.
Though concerns regarding the slow development of industrial and special economic zones within CPEC persist, progress is evident. Notably, regional authorities, such as the Punjab government, have allocated lands for these zones, indicating potential for further advancements. Nonetheless, while progress is underway, economic collaboration remains an area that requires joint effort and time to reach its full potential.
In contrast, the cornerstone of their bilateral cooperation – security – has witnessed extensive collaboration in recent years. Pakistan and China stand as reliable partners, sharing strong alignment on military cooperation and strategic issues in regional security and counterterrorism. This collaboration is grounded in their recognition of the importance of a stable and secure regional environment.
This partnership is well-exemplified by the statement of former Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who referred to the People’s Liberation Army and Pakistan Army as “brothers in arms,” jointly safeguarding “our collective interests.”
China’s pivotal role in maintaining the regional balance of power in South Asia is evident. China remains Pakistan’s largest source of arms, accounting for nearly 40 percent of Chinese arms exports. The military collaboration between China and Pakistan from 2017 to 2021 outpaced China-Russia military engagements, highlighting Pakistan’s preeminent position as a military collaborator with China. This collaboration encompasses joint exercises, defense cooperation, and the exchange of military technologies and expertise.
China’s renewed support for Pakistan’s stance on critical matters like Afghanistan and the Kashmir dispute underscores their shared interests. China’s immediate call for a U.N. Security Council meeting in response to escalating tensions between India and Pakistan in 2019 demonstrates China’s unequivocal support for Pakistan on the global stage.
China’s recent engagement in the China-Afghanistan-Pakistan foreign minister dialogue underscores the significance of a stable Pakistan in its regional context. China’s efforts to mediate in the Middle East and engage with the Taliban regime showcase its commitment to a prosperous Pakistan that can counterbalance India’s ambitions and safeguard Chinese interests.
Pakistan’s value as a partner has increased in light of mounting pressure from U.S.-led allies and the deepening collaboration between India and the United States. Despite occasional differences, both countries grasp the significance of their partnership. Their relationship, rooted in mutual trust and shared values, remains robust.
Economically, CPEC has been a transformative initiative for Pakistan. The project’s ambitious goal of enhancing connectivity between China and Pakistan through roads, railways, and energy infrastructure has attracted considerable foreign direct investment. CPEC holds the potential to drive Pakistan’s economic growth and development. However, the realization of CPEC’s potential hinges on addressing various challenges, including security, political stability, and financial sustainability. Collaborative efforts are vital to ensure the seamless execution of CPEC projects and the resolution of any emerging issues.
Hence, the China-Pakistan relationship stands as a bedrock of both countries’ foreign policies. Their partnership, founded on mutual respect and shared aspirations for regional peace, stability, and development, has weathered challenges. As long as both nations continue to prioritize their strategic collaboration and shared interests, the China-Pakistan alliance will endure as a pivotal force shaping the region’s geopolitical landscape.