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Pak-China friendship: Could it get any better?

2021 marks 70 years of Pak-China's diplomatic relations. In honor of this remarkable feat, Amna Saqib, a Research Officer at CISS discusses the two countries' cooperation. From economic cooperation to supporting each other on international forums, the Pak-China relations can be characterized as the epitome of peace, harmony, and stability for the South Asian region.

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Seventy years of ‘all-weather’ and ‘deeper than oceans’ time-tested friendship of Pakistan and China, has gone beyond the traditional diplomatic and political comfortability transcending to a broad-based framework integrating economics, trade, and defense dimensions.

The complexity and rationale of their relations could be assessed from the fact that Pakistan was amongst the first few countries to recognize the People’s Republic of China in the 1950s. Both states have constantly enjoyed a close, formidable, and mutually beneficial relationship, built on the strength of their successive achievements.

Likewise, in Pakistan’s foreign policy architecture, a friendly relationship with China has always been seen at a rising trajectory where their common interests and perceptions remain emblems of two-sided relations.

Read more: The man behind 70 years of Pak-China friendship

Since the very beginning, multiple contrasts have existed at many levels between the two neighbors. US was quite concerned about the Soviet expansion in Asia along with Pakistan’s Indian compulsions which provided incentives and opportunities for the US and Pakistan to form a close relationship in the early cold war years. However, Pakistan was cautious not to antagonize China by engaging in direct or indirect conflict with it.

Apart from supporting Pakistan in the 1965 and 1971 wars against India, China also helped Pakistan to become a nuclear power, by providing technological assistance and technical support to the nuclear program. Both the states not merely stood firm in the rocky pathway but also endeavored hard to expand their strategic partnership by signing a treaty of friendship, cooperation, and good-neighborly relations in 2005 and thereafter.

Read more: Dynamics of the Multifaceted Pakistan-China Relationship

China: Pakistan’s mega economic opportunity

In view of the strategic concerns, the geopolitical dynamics of Asia have also undergone a huge transformation over the past few years. The growing strategic partnership of India and the US in political, military, and economic areas affected the strategic balance in the region.

Subsequently, China as a regional power became the priority choice of Pakistan for mutual strategic interests. So, the geostrategic significance of Pakistan seems to have been reinforced for China both in South Asia and Indian Ocean Region.

For the moment, growing China presents an opportunity for Pakistan to leverage the growing economic and military ability of China and advance its interests in the region. Likely, the ongoing cooperation is much more comprehensive and wide-ranging than before, elucidating the mutual interest between Pakistan and China.

In economic cooperation, trade between Pakistan and China is increasing at a rapid pace with flexible trade agreements. Major components of their economic relations include bilateral trade, mutual investments, joint ventures, and financial aids or loans provided to each other.

Read more: China Pakistan Free Trade Agreement Opening bigger and brighter opportunities

Chinese exports to Pakistan make up more than 87 percent of the total trade volume. Pakistan’s monthly exports crossed $312.33 million in December 2020, according to the data of the General Administration of Customs of the People’s Republic of China (GACC).

From January to December 2020, China’s imports from Pakistan stood at $2.12 billion whereas China’s exports to Pakistan were recorded at $15.36 billion according to the same source. Moreover, the country’s exports from July 2020 to April 2021b rose by 13% to $20.8 billion compared to $18.4 billion years on year.

Simultaneously, The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is one of the leading projects under the Xi Jinping government’s signature Belt and Road Initiative, and its development has been intensifying Pak-China economic cooperation.

This project is further divided into short, medium, and long-term developments which are expected to be completed by 2030. Therefore, CPEC is a candid reflection of the shared economic and trade prospects, a ‘game changer’, and prospective for both big and medium powers in the region.

Read more: Chili farming under CPEC set to boost agriculture sector

Pak-China nuclear cooperation

Additionally, both the states enjoyed a good appreciation and a long history of nuclear energy cooperation. When all Western countries were against and reluctant to support establishing Pakistan’s nuclear program, China, on the other hand, facilitated in building the ‘Khushab’ reactor which played the main role in plutonium production of Pakistan.

Furthermore, China National Nuclear Cooperation also contributed enough to expanding Pakistan’s efforts in its uranium enrichment capabilities by giving 5,000 custom-made ring magnets to process the uranium enrichment.

China and Pakistan concluded a comprehensive agreement for civil nuclear technology in September 1986 that paved the way for the supply of K-2, K-3, and five nuclear power plants at Chashma, and further reprocessing of plutonium in the mid-1990s along with the supply of nuclear fuel for these power plants under IAEA safeguards.

Read more: Safe Clean energy to come very soon to Pakistan, K-2 Nuclear Power Plant by China’s CNNC

This continued assistance further consolidates the seven decades-long bilateral relations between the two states. Hence, it contributes to Pakistan’s pursuance of its socio-economic uplift by sustainably increasing the overall share of nuclear power in the country’s energy mix. Certainly, this can be counted as a unique example of “South-South” cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

A common enemy encouraging a defense partnership

Beyond the energy and economic factors of the partnership, at the diplomatic level, there is deepening high-level strategic engagement and prioritization by Chinese policymakers of the bilateral relationship with Pakistan. Since 9/11 their relationship has an advanced high level of understanding for the expansion of mutually beneficial strategic and defense cooperation.

Due to the convergence of interests and mutual trust, both states have maintained their strategic direction and stability; their security and defense cooperation has been enhanced due to their common enmity with India.

Read more: China Pakistan sign defence pact to counter US-India

This has been led by complex defense and security cooperation to ensure peace and stability in South Asia by providing support for Pakistan’s defense capabilities with extensive military and technological cooperation, reinforced in recent years. To put it simply, the pursuance of survival and security is fundamental to China-Pak relations.

China has supplied Pakistan Chengdu J-10B and Lockheed Martin F-16C Block 52/60 which will fight equal to the armament supplied to India by the USA. In the manufacturing domain, both the states are working on many projects to enhance military and weaponry systems.

It includes the development of the JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft, K-8 Karakorum advance training aircraft, a tailor-made training aircraft for the Pakistan Air Force based on the Chinese domestic Hongdu L-15, space technology, AWACS systems, and Al-Khalid tanks for which China has granted a license for production.

Read more: New JF-17 Thunder fighter jets enhance PAF’s strike capabilities

A time-tested relationship

On the international multilateral forums, Pakistan and China have always supported each other such as UNSC, SCO, FATF, and NSG. At the same time, China has always stood by Pakistan’s stance on the IOK issue. Together they reciprocated each other on multiple issues as well for instance Bangladesh’s case for UN, vis-à-vis, Pakistan braced China on its “One China” national policy.

Pakistan also supported China’s position on Taiwan, Hongkong, Xinjiang, South China sea, human rights, etc. Likewise, the project of CPEC has provided ample opportunities including academic cooperation to increase the connectivity via cultural exchange and joint ventures between both states.

The salient features of this time-tested relationship include reciprocity, mutual trust, and all-encompassing cooperation. In consideration of all trends and trajectories between China and Pakistan, a prospective and promising strategic future is seen ahead.

Now, time will show that how a strategic relation has comprehended a much broader spectrum of cooperation and that the prodigious collaboration and understanding would continue to enable both countries to conceivably work together for mutual economic, political, and security interests.

Read more: China, Pakistan agree to safeguard multilateralism, support UN central role

For the record, 2021 has been marked as 70 years of the glorious diplomatic relations of Pakistan and China, which will be characterized as the epitome of peace, harmony, and stability for the South Asian region.

Amna Saqib is a Research Officer at the Center for International Strategic Studies, CISS Islamabad. She can be reached at aamansaqib89@gmail.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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