China and Pakistan indispensable, eye India suspiciously


China's President Xi Jinping shakes hands with Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at their family photo session prior to the Dialogue On Strengthening Connectivity Partnership at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing

A simple question that bothers most Indians is, “Why does China love Pakistan so much?” However, the answer to this question is not that simple and deserves a detailed analysis.

China is a complex country and it is difficult to understand this rapidly progressing nation. Pakistan and China are different countries; they have different cultures, political systems and social values and a different history. Yet, both have been complementing each other’s strategic requirements. Pakistan’s ruling elite as also its masses believe that their relationship with China is indispensable because of their
common strategic interests. The warmth in their relationship started in 1950 when Pakistan was among the first countries to support China on Taiwan. In turn, China started military aid to Pakistan in 1966 and thus a strategic alliance came into being in 1972.

In fact, China is the main theme of Pakistan’s foreign policy. China was happy when Pakistan opposed Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan. Pakistan and Cuba were the only two countries, which supported PRC after the Tiananmen protests of 1989. China supports Pakistan’s stand on Jammu and Kashmir and in turn, Pakistan supports China on Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan. The growing closeness between China and Pakistan can be gauged from the fact that China is doing everything to help Pakistan, whether to block sanctions against Pakistan for harbouring terrorist Zaki-ur- Rehman Lakhvi or its veto to block LeT/JuD being declared as terrorist groups by the UN. The latest proof of the nexus between the two is China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) Project, under discussion even before Nawaz Sharif became the Prime Minister, but the real push forward has been given by him. It is a highway from Kashgar, Xinjiang in China to Gwadar port in Baluchistan, on the edge of Persian Gulf in Pakistan. It comprises power generation projects, fibre-optics links, roads, railways and energy supply lines and the like, all that can help development in different forms.

The $46 billion CPEC is compared with the US Marshall Plan after World War 2. Marshall Plan, officially the European Recovery Programme (ERP) was an American initiative to aid Western Europe, in which the US gave $12 billion in economic support to help rebuild European economies after the War.

It is an unprecedented Chinese investment, compare this with US investment of $5 billion between 2009-15 and that China has committed only $20 billion investment in India. CPEC is being guarded by elite Special Security Group of Pakistan Army with 10,000 troops commanded by a Major-General.

It would particularly guard the Chinese workers in Baluchistan, where there is an uprising against the army for its brutal acts of murder, rape and destruction. The latest is that the Chinese Navy will guard Gwadar Port as well. Former army chief Raheel Sharif had this to say about this project, “We are aware of all campaigns against the CPEC and I vow the security forces are ready to pay any price to turn the long cherished dream into reality hostile intelligence agencies averse to this project, especially Indian intelligence agency RAW, are involved in destabilising Pakistan.”

Most Pakistanis believe that CPEC will give a huge political and economic returns for Pakistan and make it the next Asian Tiger in 15 years. Since April 2015, print and electronic media have been calling it a “game-changer”. Official government agencies say, “It speaks volumes about the commitment of the Chinese leadership towards Pakistan and its 180 million people.” The project is likely to create jobs, increase local business and help in overall business development. Is China about to transform Pakistan? However, there are many voices of discontent in Pakistan. Some law-makers and intelligentsia feel the huge investment suits only China’s strategic and economic interests and that in ultimate analysis it will benefit China more than it will benefit Pakistan. Some even feel that China has plans to make Pakistan its colony.

China has a special place in the world; it is emerging as a global super power and a regional hegemony. It is also changing Asia’s balance of power at a fast pace. The economic profile of India and China has recently generated a lot of interest since they represent one-third of humanity and these two are among the top 10 fast growing economies of the world. Though these two Asian giants have different social, political and cultural context, there are many similarities between them. Unfortunately, India and China fought a war in October 1962, 54 years back but the consequences of the war for India were such that even today a trust deficit and a potential competition exists between them for a role in Asia, perhaps in the world. Most Indians perceive the 1962 Sino-India war as an act of treachery, deceit and back-stabbing by a friend who launched an unprovoked aggression. This has led the complex dynamics of Indo-China ties with its share of pitfalls, puzzles and challenges. After years of suspicion and self-doubt both the countries have realised that they have no option, but to move ahead without sticking to the dogmas. India remains wary about China’s strong strategic bilateral relations with Pakistan. China prefers Pakistan over India because of two reasons, one it feels Pakistan has stood by it through thick and thin and two, it wants to maintain a balance of power in Asia by check-mating India.

China has also expressed concern about Indian military and economic activities in the disputed South China Sea. Major bone of contention in India-China relations are the border disputes between them after 1962 war, Tibet, Arunachal Pradesh and now Mongolia along with some other minor irritants. India’s position on territorial claims by China and the Tibet issue are very clear and well-known. What could be the insecurity behind the Red Dragon’s aggressive stance that it hounds as lovable and harmless a man as Dalai Lama? Is it the guilt of conquering Tibet in 1951 and forcing him to flee Lhasa in 1959? China was outraged when Nehru gave him asylum and this has remained an irritant between the two nations. China has been unreasonably raising hue and cry when ever the Indian PM or President visits Arunachal Pradesh.

China’s military power has been on the upswing through modernisation of the PLA, PLAN and PLAAF. This has resulted in China being more aggressive and assertive towards its land and sea neighbours.

According to Maj Gen GD Bakshi (Retd), “What should worry India the most is the dramatic rise in Chinese air power capabilities”. However, we must assess this more realistically. It is felt that any future combat with China may not be as spectacular as the Chinese believe or the world fears. Whether China will engage in a conflict is not so much a question of “if” but “when”. It will largely be dictated by the performance of its economy. China will initiate a conflict when it feels its Comprehensive National Power (CNP) has become strong in relative terms. This could well happen by the middle of the next decade, i.e. 2025.

China will be hard-pressed to tackle issues that will be consequences of a society, which will be rapidly ageing post 2020.It is a known fact that for any sustainable economic development, the quantity and quality of human resources matter far more than the physical capital It is also known that the Chinese ‘miracle’ is on a downhill slide and is being watched with interest by skeptics around the world. A country, which posted 22-fold growth in its GDP and 17-fold increase in foreign trade in 30 years is facing its acid test. The following factual figures show why. China’s overall exports in 2015 were 1.14 trillion Yuan ($2.15 trillion) down 1.8 per cent from 2014, the first drop since 2010. Also, imports fell by 13.2 per cent to 10.45 trillion Yuan. The Yuan has fallen six per cent since August 2015. Global commodity prices seem to be falling due to lesser and lesser demand from China. The fall in Chinese stock market is another indicator of things which are likely to get worse. The ripple effect of devaluation of Yuan left many super rich of the world poorer by huge amounts. It is unfortunate that India also have to bear the brunt of China’s economic decline. Hopefully, India’s 7.7 per cent robust growth during the 2016 fiscal year as suggested by Pricewaterhouse Coopers and IMF reports will outshine China second year in a row. Though a stumbling China is not in the interest of the world economy, but the question is, “Can India cash in on Chinese slowdown?”

It is clear that China is rattled by India’s inter continental ballistic missile programme and has threatened to move United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in which it is a permanent member. India has tried to assure China that the launch of Agni-5 is not aimed against any nation. However, the Chinese stand speaks volumes about its double standards because it is in the process of establishing 58 launch pads in Central China for nuclear missiles aimed at north India. India has, on its part, decided to go ahead and base its first squadron of Rafale fighter jets in the Eastern Sector as part of the overall policy to gradually build nuclear as well as conventional deterrence against China. India is changing its stance against China; Modi has directly raised the issues such as China’s opposition to India’s membership of NSG and China’s efforts to block sanctions against Masood Azhar with China. It has left no doubt about its intentions. China is also doing everything to oppose India’s bid for a permanent UNSC seat, opposing its global aspirations. Also, it is clear that China is abandoning its earlier stance of staying aloof from India-Pakistan issues and is pitting itself as an active opponent to India’s policies.

China is doing everything to hurt the business interests of Mongolia after it dared to host Dalai Lama. Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Mongolia and promised one billion dollar aid package.

This may strain the ties. Also, any hope of milder approach at LoC by Pakistan Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has been dashed by the appointment of Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar, considered a hawk, as the new ISI chief. It means that Pakistan will continue with its hostile approach towards India and China has made its intentions of doing so clear. Pakistan has been able to convince Russia to declare support for China-funded China-Pak trade corridor (CPEC project ) which is a major bugbear for India as it passes through the Gilgit-Baltistan region in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). No one can decipher Trump’s view of the world at this stage. How will he shape his China policy is yet to be seen, however it is known that his notions about post-Cold War era are different. He has signalled a new Asia policy even before occupying the White House and accepted a congratulatory call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, breaking a vital condition for maintaining normalcy in Sino-US affairs. It has caused much discomfort in China. He went ahead and indicated in an interview that U S isn’t bound to follow the 40-year-old One China policy signed by President Carter.

He wants to create a new leverage to deal with China and thus pressurise it to get some trade benefits. Notwithstanding criticism from his opponents within the Republican Party and from the Democrats, he is expected to follow his own mind. Beijing has clearly told Trump that any compromise on One-China policy will strain ties between them. Trump has appointed a businessman like him, Rex Tillerson, considered a friend of Russian President Putin, as his Secretary of State, a crucial appointment for any President. Trump has also blamed China for not cooperating with the US on its handling of its currency, on North Korea or on tension in the South China Sea. About his call with Tsai Trump made it clear that it was not up to Beijing to decide whether he could take a call from Taiwan leader or not. All these measures are likely to upset the equation between U S and China.

Can India benefit from it in the near future and dent China’s anti-India stance? Does it mean that any future US-China face off, the latest irritant in their ties being China seizing of a US underwater drone in South China Sea, augurs well for India? Not necessarily. Is it the right time for India to renew its suggestion of China reciprocating with One India stand taken by Sushma Swaraj in June 2014? Former foreign secretary Shyam Saran said, “The management of India-China ties has become complex and challenging than at any time in the history of Independent India.”

As far as Trump’s love for Hindus, he has publicly announced he will bring back the jobs to the US and will punish US firms which take jobs out. He wants them to follow a rule— buy American, hire American. This is a blow to Indian business and will hurt its economy. His views on H1-B visa are not good news for India, which has to keep in mind His recent statement, “I’m like a smart person.” Under the circumstances, India must tread its foreign policy carefully when a stronger nexus between its two neighbours to corner it is clearly visible.