China's 'Win-Win' Diplomacy

Focus

The highly anticipated state visit of President Xi Jinping to Pakistan is a landmark official tour for more than one reason, writes Shaheli Das

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan from April 20-21 has drawn the attention of the world. The Sino-Pakistan relationship was best described by Pakistan’s former President Rafiq Tarar in one of his poems, “Friendship [is] higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, and sweeter than honey”.1 President Xi’s visit holds great significance in view of the on-going power transition in the international sphere and power struggle within the region to acquire the ‘big brother’ status.

Pakistan’s Importance to China

Strategic relations between China and Pakistan have been a subject of much debate amongst scholars who have found difficulty in defining it due to two fundamental reasons: the lack of sufficient reciprocity in the relationship as well as diversity in terms of the structure of their political systems, lack of parity in the level of development and finally, distinct social cultures.2

Notwithstanding these visible distinctions, it cannot be ruled out that the mainstay of China’s foreign policy in South Asia is directed towards its thriving bilateral, political and strategic relationship with Pakistan. A number of factors may be identified as imperative to China recognising Pakistan as its key bilateral and strategic ally. These include:

• Recognition of India’s growing power profile and its foreign policy tactic of active engagement with other major powers have led China to become an important ally of Pakistan. The ‘anti-India’ element has acted as a common ground in the Sino-Pakistan relationship and China has repeatedly used the Pakistan card against India.

• China’s active engagement with Pakistan in terms of offering development assistance and aid to the state, which is in a state of constant political turmoil and social unrest due to militant activities, would grant it the image of being a responsible stakeholder in the Asian region.

• As China’s rise as a global power gradually becomes a reality, it is confronted with territorial disputes with several countries across the world. There is much criticism about China’s “assertive” posture in terms of its foreign policy stance. Thus, friendly and peaceful bilateral relations with Pakistan would allow it to be seen as a ‘benign’ major power.

• China seeks the cooperation of Pakistan for the abatement of tensions caused by Uyghur fundamentalists in its far western Xinjiang province.

• The development of the Gwadar port in Pakistan facilitates China’s strategic interest of establishing a naval base in the Indian Ocean region, in order to oversee the activities of US and India. Further, it would also shorten the route of China’s energy imports from West Asia.

Significance of the Visit

The state visit of President Xi to Pakistan is a landmark official tour owing to a number of factors. It is after a period of nine years that a Chinese President has embarked on an official tour to Pakistan. Thus, above all, the visit holds great symbolic significance in terms of showcasing the potency of the “ironclad relationship” between the two countries and the bolstering of South-South cooperation.

Pakistan has eagerly awaited the commencement of the visit in view of the looming anticipation of the large number of agreements within the framework of bilateral cooperation. As expected, agreements on 50 cooperation deals ranging from sectors like energy, agriculture, transport infrastructure to health, local affairs, trade and ocean sciences have been inked.

Further, President Xi’s visit has bolstered the development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The CPEC, which connects the Kashgar region of China’s Xinjiang province to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port in the Arabian Sea, is located strategically at the meeting point of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. It is of key strategic importance to China as it shortens the route of its energy imports from West Asia, by bypassing the Strait of Malacca, thereby benefitting China both financially as well as in terms of time conservation.

Since the ‘One Belt One Road’ Project has now become a key tenet defining Xi’s domestic economic strategy as well as foreign policy agenda, the Economic Corridor, which is located within the framework of the project, has been an important subject of discussion. A recommendation of a ‘1+4’ cooperation structure has been made by President Xi to Prime Minister Sharif, with the CPEC at the centre and transport infrastructure, Gwadar Port, industrial cooperation and energy being the four key areas.3

Understanding Xi’s Concept of Peripheral Diplomacy

China’s diplomatic relations with Pakistan must be viewed within the broader framework of Xi’s concept of Peripheral Diplomacy. It projects China’s stance as a responsible major power actively engaged with a state in continuous political turmoil and unrest caused by militant outfits to promote the idea of common development and prosperity.

President Xi seeks to woo Pakistan with aid and investment in infrastructure and energy assistance worth tens of billions of dollars. The expectations of investments to the tune of $46 billion were fulfilled as President Xi allocated funds for the development of the CPEC project. The gesture of the economic pledge is at a scale which America had never offered during its days of bonhomie with Pakistan. This clearly showcases a decline of Western influence in Pakistan and a renewed and strengthened friendship with Communist China. The two sides have also issued a joint declaration of increasing bilateral trade from the present figure of $16 billion to $20 billion within the next three years.4

Apart from economic prosperity, cooperation with Pakistan is the need of the hour for China, particularly from the security perspective as it attempts to rein in the movement of radical elements into its far-western region through the promotion and development of the vulnerable and underdeveloped regions of Pakistan. Discussion to this end also took place during the visit.

Implications for India and the World

The visit has an implication for India as well. Like India, which designed its foreign policy tactic of inviting US President Barack Obama as the chief guest for the Republic Day celebrations and announced Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Beijing within a week, China too planned President Xi’s visit to Pakistan just days before Prime Minister Modi visits Beijing. This, in a way, is an attempt to counterweigh the two Asian powers against each other and consequently emerge as a stronger regional power in the region.

The declaration of 2015 as the China-Pakistan Year of Friendly Exchanges and the assistance offered by the Chinese Navy to evacuate Pakistani nationals in Yemen earlier this year are evidence of the warmth in the relationship between the two countries.

As the world becomes a global community and the pivot of power shifts from Euro-America to the Asia Pacific, development of the strategic relationship between two key powers in the Asian region has resonance in the international sphere as well. President Xi’s recent visit must be seen as a step towards the opening up of a new chapter in the strong strategic relations between China and Pakistan.

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Author

Shaheli Das

Shaheli Das is an M. Phil student at the University of Delhi

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    References

    1 Srikanth Kondapalli, “Pakistan in China’s Security Perceptions”, China Pakistan Strategic Cooperation (New Delhi: Lordson Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2007), p. 54.

    2 Swaran Singh, “Introduction”, China Pakistan Strategic Cooperation (New Delhi: Lordson Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2007), p. 17.

    3 Xi’s fruitful visit leads China, Pakistan to closer community of closer destiny. Link : http://en.people.cn/n/2015/0422/c90883-8881724.html

    4 Ibid.

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