Why are China and Pakistan good friends?
China And Pakistan: Young Love
‘Sweeter than the sweetest honey in the world, deeper than the deepest sea, stronger than steel, dearer than eyesight…’ Do these words ring a bell? You could be mistaken in thinking they are lyrics from some old-school crooner. But no. These were the words used by Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani Prime Minister, to describe the relationship between China and Pakistan.
His cheesy choice of words surprised the media. Clearly China and Pakistan have a strong relationship, but is it really love? This was not the first time leaders from China and Pakistan have been vocal about their ‘all-weather friend’ relationship.
But does the substance match the rhetoric? China and Pakistan happen to be worlds apart when it comes to history and culture. Pakistan is mostly Muslim while China is mainly populated by Buddhists, Taoists, Christians and Confucians. Pakistan is far from rich in resources and it is also a small market, whereas China is basically the world’s factory. Pakistan has an unsteady military junta/capitalist regime while China is a capitalist economy governed by a single party. With so many differences, it seems weird that China has such an ’emotional’ bond with Pakistan.
Pakistan To The Rescue
The People’s Republic of China is a Confucian nation that values friendship a great deal. China and Pakistan have a close relationship because Pakistan was always there for China when no other nation was. Throughout the 20-year embargo with the West, the serious famine of late 60s, the internal wrangles as well as the break from the USSR, Pakistan was the knight in shining armor. Pakistan didn’t even blink after the Tian’amen crackdown in 1989.
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Perhaps the glue that sticks China and Pakistan together is their military ties and a common enemy: India. The mutual dislike between India and Pakistan dates back to 1947 when Britain gave up its claim over the Indian subcontinent and divided it into two states. Since then, Pakistan and India have had three wars and quite a number of low-level conflicts, although China never sent troops in to intervene.
China To The Rescue
For over half a century, Pakistan has been getting its nuclear weapons from China. This is combined with a steady stream of conventional arms and a portion of China’s ballistic missile program. China is a huge supporter of Pakistan which is the reason for the flowery language coming from Pakistan. People believe Pakistan’s nuclear capability would have developed way later without China’s help and its nuclear weapons’ missile delivery system would never have even started.
India has been worried about the continued military aid China gives Pakistan. Today, China and Pakistan relations are at such a good place that they share intelligence gathering, counter-terrorism efforts, joint military exercises and training.
Since the late 1990s, economic ties between China and Pakistan have tightened. Frequent high-level visits between the countries have seen trade and energy taking center stage. They have signed various investment commitments and bilateral trade agreements. In 2008, a comprehensive free trade agreement was signed between China and Pakistan so each country has open market access to the other.
One of the significant joint projects developed by China and Pakistan is the major port complex at the naval base of Gwadar, Balochistan, Pakistan. China and Pakistan fully inaugurated this complex in December 2008 and it’s now offering industrial facilities, deep sea ports and warehouses to over twenty countries. China provided 80% of the funds and most of the technical assistance, and in return gained access to the Persian Gulf. In April 2016, President Xi promised investment in Pakistani infrastructure worth a whopping $46 billion.
Pakistan plays the role of ‘middleman’ very well. It’s like the brother that wouldn’t let China ride solo. In 1972, it was Pakistan that facilitated the historic breakthrough between the US President Richard Nixon and China. Pakistan was also central to the relationship between the greater Muslim World and China. Pakistan is home to several Islamic movements, and its spy service can easily influence where group operations go. China has always relied on Pakistan to offer support when dealing with Islamic groups such as the Taliban. It’s not surprising then that no major international terrorist organization has performed Jihadist-style operations anywhere in China.
Both the China and Pakistan governments are engaged in air power co-operation. The mutual interest dates back to 1963, when Pakistan established civil aviation links to China. The close friendship has since been a great benefit to both air forces. China has always wanted western aircraft technology and two years after the Cold War, the US endorsed the selling of 50 Spey fanjet engines to the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, and set up a factory to produce many more. The US is aware of the close relations between China and Pakistan and to avoid technology transfer, the US has insisted that these technologies in Pakistan be used only in areas where China’s technicians are denied access. It has gone further to prevent any sensitive maintenance or upgrades from anywhere near Pakistan. But it is common knowledge that when Pakistan provides western technology to China it too benefits, because Pakistan reverse engineers the technology and produces its own high-tech products such as the Babur cruise missiles and Chinese DH-10s.
China and Pakistan: Besties
China and Pakistan have been long-standing friends and they do not show signs of breaking up. The bilateral relations between China and Pakistan could even be described as, ‘the iron that turned into steel’.