After the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, and consequently the end of the Cold War, a debate started among scholars of International Relations about the possible structure of world politics and the role of the US in it. Francis Fukuyama’s End of History and Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations was among the major interpretations of the possible shape of international politics.
The first decade of the 21st century witnessed the American domination in international politics in the form of unilateral actions taken by the US against Iraq and Afghanistan. However, since the last five years, the US-China rivalry has become a leading theme of international politics.
Harvard University’s Professor Graham Allison initiated the debate when he evaluated the possibilities of the US-China rivalry in the backdrop of Thucydides’s trap—when a rising power (China) threatens to displace a ruling power (the US) and the most likely outcome is war.
In his book titled “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap” finds that how close the US and China are to the unthinkable and stressed that war between the US and China is not inevitable. However, he revealed what painful steps international leaders must take to avoid this possible disaster.
Graham Allison is the person who developed “foreign policy decision-making models” in his seminal piece “Essence of Decisions: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis” on the Cuban Missile crisis of 1962. Here, I am not going to assess the possibilities of war between the US and China, but rather to evaluate the impact that the US-China rivalry can exert on South Asia, especially Pakistan.
China’s engagement in Middle East and South Asia
It is important to mention here that China is engaging itself deeply with countries like Turkey, Qatar, UAE, and Oman. These gestures on the part of China show that China is growing its interest in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf and wants to secure its interests in the region and is willing to take pre-emptive measures to counter USA in the region.
China has agreed to invest $400 billion in Iran over 25 years in exchange for a steady supply of oil to fuel its growing economy under an economic and security agreement signed on Saturday 27th March 2021.
As per media reports, $400 billion of Chinese investments will be made in dozens of fields, including banking, telecommunications, ports, railways, health care, and information technology, over the next 25 years. In exchange, China would receive a regular and heavily discounted supply of Iranian oil.
As far as South Asia is concerned, China has a “time-tested” and “all-weather friend” Pakistan. With the signing of a border treaty in March 1963 settling its border with Pakistan, Pakistan found China as a counterweight to balance Indian threats.
China has always provided consistent, unconditional support to Pakistan on its nuclear program and the Kashmir issue. And, has always acknowledged Pakistan’s efforts in the war against terrorism even when the US and its western allies have had reservations about Pakistan’s commitment to the war on terror.
Previously, Pakistan has maintained good relations with both. Rather, China has been extremely tolerant of Pakistan’s more than-needed tilts towards the US during times when China and Pakistan have a convergence of interest against the US.
Since the Trump era, the US has changed its focus from Russia to China and started to treat China as a strategic competitor.
South Asia has become important to both the US and China for their economic objectives in Asia, especially for inter-regional connectivity. The US has established a strategic partnership with India which has to cater to the interests of both countries i.e. containment of China.
However, the Indo-US strategic partnership is going to imbalance the power ratio in South Asia. And, this situation is problematic for Pakistan. Because China’s rise has increased the importance of India for the US to advance its defense cooperation, it is obvious that leaning towards India to counterbalance China in South Asia has direct ramifications for Pakistan, thus disturbing strategic stability in South Asia.
Read more: Indo-US nexus in Indian Ocean & beyond
The peace process in Afghanistan is another important challenge for regional stability and peace. Peace in Afghanistan is also essential for the success of Chinese economic connectivity.
Similarly, Afghanistan in the post-American exit is also important for China because American presence in this region is a continuous threat for China, and stationing of the American troops in the neighborhood of Afghanistan (as the US is requesting Pakistan to provide bases for operating drones) could be used to contain China.
A tactical decision
After making huge economic investments under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) across the world, China has become an influential player in international politics. And, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), being the flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in South Asia has enhanced Pakistan’s role in regional connectivity.
Now, Pakistan has shifted from geopolitics to geo-economics and wants to connect itself economically with the rest of the world.
With China rising and picking Pakistan to be its frontline state in an economic initiative, Pakistan needs to make a choice to whom (the US or China) it gives priority. Infact, Pakistan should maintain a balanced relationship with both the US and China, and it should be Pakistan’s tactical decision to secure its interests.
Dr. Tahir Ashraf holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, and teaches at the Department of International Relations, Bahauddin Zakariya University Multan. He can be accessed at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.