The relationship between Pakistan and China has been described as “higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, stronger than steel, dearer than eyesight, sweeter than honey”.
These are the words of Pakistan’s ambassador to China and they may well be described as an understatement.
There is no doubt the two countries have developed and continue to enjoy a long-lasting and very close friendship.
At first glance it might appear a curious tie-in.
China is the one of the world’s economic and military giants. Pakistan much less so.
Culturally there are no great connections, either in the recent past or the present.
And yet, it’s clear the powers that be in Beijing love their southern neighbour.
Here are 10 reasons why:
- Strategic Allies: Pakistan is China’s main bridge to the Islamic world. It is seen as an important ally in the development of China’s predominately Muslim provinces, while countering the influence of India. At the same time, Pakistan plays a crucial linking role between China and the West. In 1972, for example, it was Pakistan’s efforts that brought closer ties between the US and Communist China. Their diplomatic bridge building resulted in Pakistan playing a crucial role in the ice-breaking visit of U.S. National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger to China in 1971. This then paved the way for US President Richard Nixon visit to China. It was the first such trip by an American leader.
- Trading and Development: According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Pakistan is China’s biggest arms buyer, accounting for nearly 47% of Chinese arms exports. China has become Pakistan’s largest supplier of arms and its third-largest trading partner. Military cooperation has deepened, with joint projects producing armaments ranging from fighter jets to guided missile frigates. China has given Pakistan a loan of $60 million which was later turned into a grant. Recently, both nations have decided to cooperate in improving Pakistan’s civil nuclear power sector.
- The People Love Each Other: According to a 2014 BBC World Service Poll, 75% of Pakistanis view China’s influence positively with only 15% expressing a negative view. In the Asia-Pacific region, Chinese people hold the third most positive opinions of Pakistan’s influence in the world, behind Indonesia and Pakistan itself. In July 2013 the Pew Research Center, as part of their Global Attitudes Project, declared Pakistan to have the most positive view of China in the world. According to the research, 81% of Pakistanis responded favorably to China.
- Mutual Support in Times of Crisis: Pakistan was one of only two countries, alongside Cuba, to support China after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. China supports Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir, while Pakistan supports China on the issues of Xinjiang, Tibet, and Taiwan. in the Indo-Pakistani wars of 1965 and 1971, China took the side of Pakistan against India. China supported the alliance between Pakistan and the United States against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. China also provided assistance for Pakistan to become a nuclear power in 1998. It used its Security Council veto power for the first time in 1972 to block the entry of Bangladesh into the United Nations.
- The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC): This super-highway, made up of a modern road and rail network, will connect Pakistan with China and the Central Asian countries. Gwadar Port in southern Pakistan will serve as the nerve centre for China’s exports and imports. Most of its trade, especially oil will go through the port. which is operated by the China Overseas Port Holding Company, a state-owned Chinese company. Currently, 60 per cent of China’s oil must be transported by ship from the Persian Gulf to the only commercial port in China, Shanghai, a distance of more than 16,000 kilometres. The journey takes two to three months, during which time the ships are vulnerable to pirates, bad weather, political rivals and other risks. Using Gwadar port instead will greatly reduce the distance, time and the cost. Read more about CPEC here.
- Skilled Workforce on their Doorstep: Chinese projects in Pakistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor have already created 75,000 jobs for Pakistanis, according to Yao Jing, the Chinese ambassador to Pakistan. This is set to grow substantially, particularly in Gwadar, where rising employment is forcing up demand for land and housing. The Karachi-based Applied Economics Research Center and Pakistan’s Planning Commission say that in the next 15 years,700,000 to 800,000 jobs may be created under CPEC, largely in the infrastructure, energy, and transportation sectors.
- Close Cooperation: Prior to launching the CPEC project the pair signed 51 Memorandums of Understanding, inaugurated eight joint infrastructure projects, and five joint energy projects.
- Food Production: The biggest joint initiative between the two countries involves food and agriculture. This is an area seen as vital by the Chinese, who are concerned about feeding their massive population. For agriculture, the CPEC agreement outlines an arrangement that runs from one end of the supply chain to the other. This includes the provision by China of seeds, fertiliser, and pesticides. Chinese enterprises will also operate their own farms inside Pakistan and processing facilities for fruits, vegetables and grain. Chinese logistics companies will operate a large storage and transportation system for agrarian produce.
- The Next Level: The two countries have established bilateral exchanges in radio and television. The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China set up a branch in Lahore. The ministries of science and technology in the two countries established the China-Pakistan Joint Cotton Bio-Tech Laboratory; Pakistan’s University of Modern Languages (NUML) and Xinjiang University jointly established the NUML International Center of Education, and the China Culture Center in Pakistan has been established. If these initiatives are successful, relations between the two countries will become more closely intertwined at all levels, extending to the full range of contacts and relations at every level of society.
- Helping China Increase its Global Influence: Apart from India, regional powers such as the United States, Arab countries, and Iran, are positive about China taking responsibility for maintaining regional order in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Therefore, for the foreseeable future, China-Pakistan relations as well as the expansion of Chinese influence in Central and South Asia will develop further as China pursues the “One Belt and One Road” initiative, gradually replacing the U.S. dominated status-quo. China is no longer prepared to play a passive and low-key role and has sought great power status consistent with its own strength that can influence the international balance of power. With the current situation in Afghanistan, China is able to take on responsibility for filling the power vacuum in a way that is generally acceptable to all parties involved. However, it cannot succeed without Pakistan’s support.