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Xi Jinping in Pakistan: Shifting Alliances in South Asia

“America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.” Henry Kissinger

Rapidly unfolding events confirm shifting post-cold-war alliances in South Asia. Chinese President Xi Jinping is starting his first state visit to Pakistan to commit investment of over $45 billion in Pakistan, representing the single largest Chinese investment in a foreign country to date.

This investment is part of China's “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which is a global project in character and scope representing China’s inexorable rise on the world stage as a superpower. The Pakistan part of it is variously described as Pakistan-China "economic corridor""industrial corridor", "trade corridor" and "strategic corridor".

Pak-China Industrial Corridor Source: Wall Street Journal

Chinese and Pakistani naval forces have also agreed to boost maritime security cooperation in the Indian ocean with the sale of eight diesel-electric AIP-equipped submarines capable of carrying nuclear weapons. This cooperation is aimed at defending against any threats to shipping lanes in and out of Pakistani ports serving the planned Pak-China Corridor.

Russia, too, has lifted arms sales embargo on Pakistan and agreed to sell weapons and make energy infrastructure investments.  Plans are in place for first-ever Pakistan-Russia military exercises.

These development come on the heels of US President Barack Obama's second visit to India and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent tour of Western capitals with the signing of deals confirming Modi's India's status as the West's latest darling.

How strategic are China-Pakistan ties? I am reproducing the following post I published about two years ago:

China's new Prime Minister Mr. Li KeQiang has just ended a two-day visit to Pakistan. Speaking to the Senate, Li declared that "the development of China cannot be separated from the friendship with Pakistan". To make it more concrete, the Chinese Premier brought with him a 5-points proposal which emphasizes "strategic and long-term planning", "connectivity and maritime sectors" and "China-Pakistan economic corridor project".

 

Source: China Daily

 



From L to R: Premier Lee, President Zardari and Prime Minister Khoso

Here's a recent report by  China's State-owned Xinhua News Agency that can help put the Chinese premier's speech in context:


“As a global economic power, China has a tremendous number of economic sea lanes to protect. China is justified to develop its military capabilities to safeguard its sovereignty and protect its vast interests around the world."


The Xinhua report has for the first time shed light on China's growing concerns with US pivot to Asia which could threaten China's international trade and its economic lifeline of energy and other natural resources it needs to sustain and grow its economy. This concern has been further reinforced by the following:


1. Frequent US statements to "check" China's rise.  For example, former US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a 2011 address to the Naval Postgraduate School in California: "We try everything we can to cooperate with these rising powers and to work with them, but to make sure at the same time that they do not threaten stability in the world, to be able to project our power, to be able to say to the world that we continue to be a force to be reckoned with." He added that "we continue to confront rising powers in the world - China, India, Brazil, Russia, countries that we need to cooperate with. We need to hopefully work with. But in the end, we also need to make sure do not threaten the stability of the world."

 

Source: The Guardian



2. Chinese strategists see a long chain of islands from Japan in the north, all the way down to Australia, all United States allies, all potential controlling chokepoints that could  block Chinese sea lanes and cripple its economy, business and industry.

 



Karakoram Highway-World's Highest Paved International Road at 15000 ft.



Chinese Premier's emphasis on "connectivity and maritime sectors" and "China-Pakistan economic corridor project" is mainly driven by their paranoia about the US intentions to "check China's rise" It is intended to establish greater maritime presence at Gwadar, located close to the strategic Strait of Hormuz, and  to build land routes (motorways, rail links, pipelines)  from the Persian Gulf through Pakistan to Western China. This is China's insurance to continue trade with West Asia and the Middle East in case of hostilities with the United States and its allies in Asia.

 

Pakistan's Gawadar Port- located 400 Km from the Strait of Hormuz



As to the benefits for Pakistanis, the Chinese investment in "connectivity and maritime sectors" and "China-Pakistan economic corridor project" will help build infrastructure, stimulate Pakistan's economy and create millions of badly needed jobs.


Clearly, China-Pakistan ties have now become much more strategic than the US-Pakistan ties, particularly since 2011 because, as American Journalist Mark Mazzetti of New York Times put it, the  Obama administration's heavy handed policies "turned Pakistan against the United States". A similar view is offered by a former State Department official Vali Nasr in his book "The Dispensable Nation".

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Views: 1015

Comment by Riaz Haq on May 15, 2019 at 3:39pm

#Russia’s sales of T90 #tanks and Pantsir SAM #missiles to #Pakistan would be Russian #arms industry’s biggest ever in its (to-date minuscule) arms trade with Pakistan, shifting the balance of #Moscow’s relations with #India and #Pakistan. @Diplomat_APAC http://thediplomat.com/2019/05/russias-looming-arms-sale-to-pakista...

On the heels of the recent tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad, news broke out that Pakistan is set to purchase the Pantsir surface-to-air missile system and T-90 tanks from Russia. If true, this deal would be Russian industry’s biggest ever in its (to-date minuscule) arms trade with Pakistan and would have the potential to shift the balance of Moscow’s relations with the two South Asian neighbors and rivals.

--

But there is a second reason to watch these developments with both an attentive eye and a cool head. Such a purchase would cause a small political earthquake, and its epicenter would be located in India. By allowing its companies to sell so much weaponry to Islamabad, Moscow would jeopardize its already decreasing arms trade with its traditional South Asian client: New Delhi.

The Soviet Union, and later the Russian Federation, kept a strict policy of not selling weapons to Pakistan, while remaining India’s close political partner and selling a lot of military hardware to New Delhi. This, however, changed beginning in 2014, when Moscow and Islamabad signed an agreement to cooperate in the area of defense. The deal paved the way for the first-ever purchase of Russian military equipment by Pakistan: in 2015, the parties agreed that Islamabad would buy Mi-35M attack helicopters. A lot of eyebrows were raised in New Delhi, and Russia’s clear position on the side of India was not so obvious anymore.

The further purchase of Russian Mi-171E helicopters attracted less attention but possibly had a significance of its own. The aircraft were supposed to be of the civilian variant and destined to be used by the government of the province of Balochistan, and yet were reportedly used for night vision missions during the anti-terrorist Zarb-e-Azb operation. All of this was sided with a visible rise in a number of bilateral visits (a trend that actually started in 2012-2013) and a commencement of a series of joint Russia-Pakistan military exercises.

And yet so far the numbers are not astonishing. Russia has actually sold four Mi-35Ms and a few Mi-171Es to Pakistan. This cooperation is important politically, but constitutes a drop in the roaring rivers of international arms trade. I would doubt if Moscow could suddenly jump from this level to providing hundreds of tanks to Pakistan without anybody blinking; every large military deal requires a lot of political backing and maneuvering. The deals do suggest certain policy changes, however, and a growth of multilateral attitudes on all sides.


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It is an exercise in multilateralism for all concerned parties: each capital is constantly testing what are the redlines of others in the ever-changing circumstances. The theory of a swap in global alliances of India and Pakistan is mistaken simply because New Delhi has no international alliance to abandon in the first place. Having left the dichotomies of the Cold War well behind it, India is now not aligned to any single global power; it is on its own side (although it is happy to enhance its partnership with the United States on various levels). But as India’s cooperation with Russia has become pragmatic, far from exceptional, and not ideology-driven, New Delhi will also have to come to terms with the fact that Moscow is treating this relationship the same way

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 9, 2019 at 7:43pm

“...[R]ivalry with #China is becoming an organizing principle of #US #economic, #foreign and #security policies....This means control over China, or separation from China”. #US has already chosen #India as its ally. Neutrality not an option for #Pakistan https://www.dawn.com/news/1487040

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The US is arming India with the latest weapons and technologies whose immediate and greatest impact will be on Pakistan. India’s military buildup is further exacerbating the arms imbalance against Pakistan, encouraging Indian aggression and lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons in a Pakistan-India conflict. Washington has joined India in depicting the legitimate Kashmiri freedom struggle as ‘Islamist terrorism’.
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A hybrid war is being waged against Pakistan. Apart from the arms buildup, ceasefire violations across the LoC and opposition to Kashmiri freedom, ethnic agitation in ex-Fata and TTP and BLA terrorism has been openly sponsored by India, along with a hostile media campaign with Western characteristics. FATF’s threats to put Pakistan on its black list and the opposition to CPEC are being orchestrated by the US and India. The US has also delayed the IMF package for Pakistan by objecting to repayment of Chinese loans from the bailout.
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AFTER the secretive Bilderberg meetings in Switzerland last week, Martin Wolf, the respected Financial Times economic columnist, wrote an op-ed entitled: ‘The 100 year fight facing the US and China’. Wolf’s conclusions are significant:

“...[R]ivalry with China is becoming an organising principle of US economic, foreign and security policies”; “The aim is US domination. This means control over China, or separation from China”. This effort is bound to fail. “This is the most important geopolitical development of our era. ...[I]t will increasingly force everybody else to take sides or fight hard for neutrality”; “ Anybody who believes that a rules-based multilateral order, our globalised economy, or even harmonious international relations, are likely to survive this conflict is deluded”.

Pakistan is near if not in the eye of the brewing Sino-US storm. Neutrality is not an option for Pakistan. The US has already chosen India as its strategic partner to counter China across the ‘Indo-Pacific’ and South Asia. The announced US South Asia policy is based on Indian domination of the subcontinent. Notwithstanding India’s trade squabbles with Donald Trump, the US establishment is committed to building up India militarily to counter China.

On the other hand, strategic partnership with China is the bedrock of Pakistan’s security and foreign policy. The Indo-US alliance will compel further intensification of the Pakistan-China partnership. Pakistan is the biggest impediment to Indian hegemony over South Asia and the success of the Indo-US grand strategy. Ergo, they will try to remove or neutralise this ‘impediment’.

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Even as it seeks to stabilise the economy and revive growth, Pakistan’s civil and military leadership must remain focused on preserving Pakistan’s security and strategic independence. The alternative is to become an Indo-American satrap.

A better future is possible. But it is not visible on the horizon.

Against all odds, presidents Trump and Xi may resolve their differences over trade and technology at the forthcoming G20 Summit or thereafter. Or, Trump may be defeated in 2020 by a reasonable Democrat who renounces the cold war with China. Alternately, Modi may be persuaded by Putin, Xi and national pride not to play America’s cat’s-paw and join a cooperative Asian order, including the normalisation of ties with Pakistan. Yet, Pakistan cannot base its security and survival on such optimistic future scenarios. It must plan for the worst while hoping for the best.

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