Urvashi ANEJA

Diplomatic relations between Pakistan and China began in 1951, and relations between the two countries have been cooperative ever since, especially in the areas of defense, technology, and economics. China’s significant investment in Pakistan’s development, including monies for nuclear facilities, the port of Gwadar, and highways, helps China achieve access to natural resources and to extend its global sphere of influence.

The year 2006 marked the fifty-fifth anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and Pakistan. The bilateral relationship between the two countries has endured as a relatively uninterrupted, trust-bound and “all-weather relationship.” This tactical friendship has survived numerous geo-strategic changes: improved Sino-Indian relations from 1989 onward, the collapse of the Soviet Union, post–September11 developments, especially Pakistan emerging as a frontline state in the war against terror, as well as the recent Indo-U.S. strategic convergence.

A Short History

Pakistan recognized the People’s Republic of China in 1950 and was the third non-Communist state and the first Muslim state to do so; afterward the two nations established formal diplomatic relations. Bilateral relations were further emphasized at the Bandung Conference in 1955, where talks between the two heads of state played an important role in promoting understanding and developing friendly relations and cooperation between the two countries. In 1961, Pakistan furthered diplomatic relations when it voted for a bill concerning the restoration of China’s legitimate rights in the United Nations.

Deterioration in Sino-Indian relations, which culminated in the 1962 war, provided further opportunities for Sino-Pakistani cooperation, and in 1963 both countries signed an agreement on border relations and the construction of a road linking China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region with the northern areas of Pakistan. They signed their first trade agreement in 1963, and, in the years that followed, diplomatic exchanges increased significantly. Their strategic partnership was initially driven by the mutual need to counter the Soviet Union and India, and China supported Pakistan in its two wars against India in 1965 and 1971 with both military and economic assistance. The military alliance led further to the creation of a Joint Committee for Economy, Trade, and Technology in 1982, and in the late 1980s China began discussing the possible sales of M-11 missiles and related technologies to Pakistan.

In 1996, Chinese president Jiang Zemin paid a state visit to Pakistan during which the two countries decided to establish a comprehensive friendship. Relations since then have continued on the same steady path, especially as the United States, after the events of September 11, expressed a new strategic commitment to India. In 2005, China and Pakistan signed a landmark Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, whereby each committed that neither would join an alliance that infringed upon the sovereignty or security of the other, and that neither would conclude similar treaties with a third party.

During the post–Cold War era, China emerged as Pakistan’s most important strategic guarantor vis-a-vis India. China was the source of initial design information for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and assisted with the building of the latter’s nuclear technology complex. On the whole, China has been Pakistan’s most important source of modern conventional weaponry and a vital source of trade and investment. Moreover, given the American preoccupation with proliferation issues, China found in this military relationship with Pakistan to be a useful bargaining tool against Washington while discussing issues important to China like U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, for instance, and the deployment of the theater missile defense (TMD) system in East Asia. China’s close ties with Pakistan allowed the former a greater sphere of influence extending to South Asia, as well as a bridge between the Muslim world and Beijing. Within such a framework, the political scientist Kenneth Lieberthal posits, the driving factor for China was a hedge against India that also gave Pakistan access to civilian and military resources. The relationship, Lieberthal continues, is still of great strategic importance today, where, since the mid-1960s, the cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy has been its military relationship with China, and “now that China is trying to build its global sphere of influence—for which it needs Pakistan—it doesn’t mind if Pakistan becomes a regional power in the meantime” (Pan 2006).

Nuclear Cooperation

Pakistan hoped that a civil nuclear deal would fructify between Washington and Islamabad, similar to agreements between the United States and India. Once it became clear that no such deal would be forthcoming from Washington, Pakistan turned to China because the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal suggested both strategic instability and a security threat. China has been widely acknowledged as the source of Pakistan’s initial nuclear weapon strategy, a major partner in the development of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons complex, the major source of Pakistan’s short- and medium-range solid fuel missile technology, and the likely partner in the development of Pakistan’s Land Attack Cruise Missile. In 2006, China signed an agreement to cooperate in the peaceful application of nuclear power. Pakistan asserts that, having recorded one of the highest levels of economic growth in Asia during the first few years of the twenty-first century, it will need at least an eight-fold increase in its power requirements by 2013.

After President Zardari’s visit to China in October 2008, China agreed to provide Pakistan with two more nuclear power plants in addition to the Chinese-built nuclear reactor now at Chasma in Punjab and the one in progress. While Pakistan denies any such reports, the Indian press has frequently maintained that China has offered to upgrade Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capacity.

Defense Cooperation

Pakistan’s relationship with China has been the anchor of its defense and foreign policy since the 1960s. Defense cooperation is especially important for Pakistan as China serves the purpose of a high-value guarantor against India. China has proven to be a reliable supplier of conventional military equipment for Pakistan, selling F-7 fighters and a version of the T-96 main battle tank. The fighter aircraft JF-17 Thunder, a joint development of China and Pakistan, began production in 2008 at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex in Kamra. It has been opined that this enhanced military cooperation could herald a shift in the center of gravity from Europe to Asia, with China at the forefront, followed by Pakistan.

In the spring of 2006 Pakistan clinched a $600 million defense deal with China, which included the construction of four F-22P frigates for the Pakistani Navy, the upgrading of the Karachi dockyard, and the transfer of technology for the indigenous production of a modern surface fleet. The first of these frigates was launched in Shanghai in April 2008. Two more frigates will be built in Shanghai and the fourth one at the Karachi dockyard.

Trade and Energy Cooperation

Pakistan is not merely expanding its defense cooperation, but is also improving its economic cooperation with China, thus attempting to reposition itself as an important trade route in South Asia. Both countries signed an agreement to promote bilateral trade and cooperation. From 2006 onward, the two countries will implement the first p
art of the free trade agreement. As tariffs drop to zero, the zone could emerge as a possible commercial hub of the region.

Both countries agreed to step up cooperation in the energy sector, promising to give China access to the gas and oil resources of Central and Western Asia. China supports oil and gas exploration in Pakistan, and promises to help Pakistan in developing its coal, lignite, and renewable energy resources. As the two countries explore joint ventures in the field of energy, there are already major infrastructure projects underway, namely the port at Gwadar, the Karakoram highway, and the coastal highway.

Gwadar Port and Karakoram Highway

China is projecting its might across the subcontinent through its strategic presence at the Gwadar Port project, located in Balochistan province on the Arabian Sea at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Construction of the port began in March 2002 after the Chinese agreed to provide $198 million of the $248 million required for the first phase of the project. China has also invested in support infrastructure by financing a highway link from Gwadar to a central Balochistan town, connecting Karachi and Quetta. Just 420 kilometers from the strait of Hormuz, through which nearly 40 percent of the world’s oil supplies flow, the port is strategically located to serve as a key shipping point in the region. Its great strategic value augments Pakistan’s importance in the region while allowing China to diversify and secure its crude oil import routes and simultaneously gain access to the Persian Gulf.

China is also planning to build a 90-kilometer highway link connecting the Chinese side of the Karakoram highway to the Russian-built highway network that already connects all five Central Asian republics. This regional highway network will directly link Gwadar to Xinjiang and to the landlocked Central Asian republics. The Karakoram highway and the coastal highway will both serve as vital trade routes.

Through the construction of the Gwadar port, Beijing also will gain considerable influence in the region, giving it a strategic entrance to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, while allowing it to closely monitor U.S. naval activity and U.S.-Indian maritime cooperation.

For Pakistan as well, the benefits are profound. Gwadar, designated as a “sensitive defense area,” would inhibit India’s ability to blockade Pakistan, and would permit China to supply Pakistan by land and sea during wartime. The construction of the port and the highway, by making Pakistan a regional trade hub for commercial traffic, would also boost domestic economic development, and would influence the geo-strategic environment of the region. The port will enable the transfer of Central Asia’s vast energy resources to world markets, earning Pakistan significant profits in transit fees, as well as attract considerable investment into Balochistan. Although construction was beset by violence from Baluch nationals protesting against the federal government and the construction of the Gwadar port, it became fully operational in 2008. Additional phases will include additional terminals and docks.

Sino-Pakistani Relations: Assessments and Conclusions

The emphasis on trade and energy cooperation makes it appear that Pakistan is attempting to create a new strategic framework, outside military cooperation, through economic cooperation. If the expansion of Gwadar port facilities does fructify, Pakistan will be almost guaranteed a further “all weather relationship” with China for many years to come, with the extension of the Karokaram highway serving as a symbol of this calculated friendship. Pakistan could become a trading center for the region and receive substantial amounts of foreign direct investment to facilitate domestic development. For China, Pakistan could emerge as an energy hub as well as a low-end manufacturing center.

The 2005 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation set the foundation for relations between China and Pakistan. Meetings between the two countries since then have reaffirmed the friendship and understanding between them. Demonstrations of this relationship include Pakistan’s support for China’s policies in Tibet; Pakistan, unlike other countries, welcomed the Beijing Olympic torch relay with no protests. The two countries have pledged to collaborate in economic development, especially expansion of free trade agreements, and in technology, such as the procurement by Pakistan of a Paksat-1R telecommunications satellite from a Chinese company. Other areas of collaboration include mineral development, environmental protection, cultural exchange, and scientific and agricultural research.

This article was adapted with permission from a report by the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. ICPS Special Report 26: “Pakistan-China Relations: Recent Developments (June–May 2006).”

Further Reading

Chaturvedy, R. R. (2006, February 14). Interpreting China’s grand strategy at Gwadar. Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Article #1939. Retrieved February 5, 2009, from http://www.ipcs.org/article_details.php?articleNo=1939

China, Pakistan agree on basic terms of free trade pact. (2006). Retrieved February 6, 2009, from http://china.org.cn/english/international/168733.htm

Gwadar’s rich potential. (2006, June 13). The Dawn. Retrieved February 6, 2009, from http://www.dawn.com/2006/06/13/ed.htm#2

Haider, Z. (2005). Baluchis, Beijing, and Pakistans’ Gwadar Port. Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, 6. Retrieved February 6, 2009 from http://www.stimson.org/southasia/pdf/GWADAR.pdf

Joint statement between China and Pakistan, October 2008. (2008). Retrieved February 6, 2009, from http://www.cfr.org/publication/17543/joint_statement_between_china_and_pakistan_october_2008.html

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China. (2005). Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Good Neighborly Relations between the People’s Republic of China and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Retrieved February 13, 2009, from http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/wjb/zzjg/yzs/gjlb/2757/2759/t190504.htm

Niazi, T. (2005). Gwadar: China’s naval outpost on the Indian Ocean. China Brief, 5. Retrieved February 5, 2009, from http://www.jamestown.org/programs/chinabrief/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=3718&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=195&no_cache=1

Pan, E. (2006). China and Pakistan: A deepening bond. Retrieved February 6, 2009, from http://www.cfr.org/publication/10070

Ramachandran, S. (2005, March 4). China’s pearl in Pakistani waters. Asia Times Online. Retrieved February 6, 2009, from http://www.atimes.com/atimes/south_asia/gc04df06.html

Text of the joint statement between the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and People’s Republic of China. (2006). Retrieved February 4, 2009 from http://www.mofa.gov.pk/Press_Releases/2006/Nov/Joint_Statement.htm

Thornton, T. P. (1995). Foreign security relationships. In Blood, P. R. (Ed.), Pakistan: A country study (6th ed., pp. 300–301). Washington, DC: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress.

Things will develop in the opposite direction when they become extreme.


Wù jí bì fǎn

Source: Aneja, Urvashi. (2009). Pakistan-China Relations. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 1704–1708. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Pakistan-China Relations (Bājīsītǎn hé Zhōngguó de wàijiāo guānxì 巴基斯坦和中国的外交关系)|Bājīsītǎn hé Zhōngguó de wàijiāo guānxì 巴基斯坦和中国的外交关系 (Pakistan-China Relations)

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