In the world of politics no country is a friend of the other with out the former having substantial interests in the latter. As people say, there is no free lunch at Wallstreet, so is true with realpolitiks. A country’s leadership would provide some other country with support mainly with the intention to gain some of its favor in diplomacy if not in pure economic terms. These intentions have colored diplomat relations of countries around the globe. Diplomatic favors, economic agreements, political alliances and others are basically a price nations pay to keep a band of nations with themselves in order to maneuver within the political arena.

Pakistan and China have maintained miraculously cordial relations with each other over the past fifty years or so. Former can justifiably claim to be the only western-committed Asian country with which People’s China has maintained decent contacts, and where ideological differences have not transformed into violent conflict (Montagno, G. L., 1965). Pakistan being an Islamic State, while China under the Communist banner seemed to have conflicting goals but as stated above, these antagonistic views never affected their diplomatic affairs. Furthermore, Pakistan being a western oriented nation also did not affect China in the long-run. Treaties such as SEATO, defense pacts with USA and others also did not have a lasting negative effect on Sino-Pakistan relations. These facts are substantial enough to deteriorate any bilateral relations and especially with China where in such scenarios these have proved detrimental to a great extent. For example immediately after Tiananmen China adopted a rigid policy towards US (Huo, H., 1992). But the agenda here is not to discuss instances which could have been detrimental for Sino-Pakistan relations but to analyze the reasons of such stable relations between these two countries despite of such discontinuities. It has been termed as ‘tested by adversity’ (Garver, J. W., 1996). I would disprove below the romantic idea of China’s attitude towards Pakistan and shed some light on actual national interests of China and its foreign as well as domestic policy goals that led Chinese leadership to ensure smooth diplomatic and physical relations with Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Interests with China

As mentioned earlier, countries co-operate with each other on diplomatic platform usually hoping to extract favors from them. Bearing this in mind Pakistani interests are clear. Pakistan has accepted the geographical proximity of China, Communist or otherwise and has learned to live with her through thick and thin. Bearing the fact that she shares a border of around 300 miles with China’s SinkiangProvince and the fact that her American ally is 9000 miles away (Montagno, G. L., 1965). Pakistan’s American ally being far enough is a major reason for it to have strong relations with a powerful neighbor. Since birth India has remained a major threat to the existence of Pakistan and to appease this danger if not neutralize, Pakistan has sought the west through defense pacts. But these pacts were conditional in the sense that the assistance provided to Pakistan would not be used against India. Thus despite of Pakistan being armed it was vulnerable to Indian threat. In such a scenario, China seemed to be the only country over whom Pakistan can rely on. Unquestionably, Pakistan sees China as a natural ally against India, if only to exert pressure on New Delhi (Montagno, G. L., 1965). Apart from this threat Pakistan sees China as its economic partner. Many projects have been and are still being undergone under Chinese expertise within Pakistan. Karakoram highway and Gwadar Ports are some important ones to name. Though these projects have political motives as well and I would be discussing them below. Amiable relations with China thus have been considered a very important part of Pakistan’s foreign policy and Pakistan has been careful in trying not to displease China in anyway.

China’s Foreign Policy Objectives and Strategic Moves

Now I would move to analyze the more complex and complicated issue of China’s interests in Pakistan which have made it to maintain stable relations since the start and also during the harsh Cultural Revolution of the 60’s. Before jumping on to the main realities I would like to highlight China’s foreign policy objectives. They are concentrated on the recovery of Taiwan, the elimination of hostile military powers from the nearby areas and the enhancement of China’s status and influence in the world (Barnds, W. J., 1975). Also China was looking for a new world order after the disintegration of Yalta System (Huo, H., 1992). Although it is a post-Cold War scenario but it hints at China’s motives since the very beginning. Third World has been seen as a powerful weapon against the imperialist power headed by the US since 1950s (Huo, H., 1992). Thus entrenching itself in the Third World would suit the interests of China and in this case Pakistan seems to be the most important nation. Although Pakistan is seen as an American ally but befriending it would serve as an alarm to the US, signaling them the fact that they are not the only ones to influence the South Asian region. During the Cold War, US and the Soviet Union funded their respective allies to fight on their behalf and this funding flourished their allies with weapons and above all nurtured a revolutionary generation. This ideology of violent revolution was more perturbing to the Chinese then the cache of arms in their possession. China perceived that the post-Cold War world would be complicated and contradiction-ridden, with regional tensions previously suppressed by the hegemonic politics of the two superpowers coming to the surface and even intensifying (Huo, H., 1992). Thus China assumed the charge of neutralizing such tensions by getting involved in the neighboring countries most importantly Pakistan in the 1960s.

Indian Question

The question arises as to why China approached Pakistan while India being a larger and much more influential country in the South Asian region was ignored. It would not be true if we say China was oriented towards Pakistan instead of India from the very start. Immediately after independence and up till late 1950s China had cordial relations with India. It was only after the aggressive Indian stance on Tibetan autonomy, the 1962 border war between India and China, and closer Indo-Soviet relations that led to hostile relations between the two(Sidky, M. H., 1976). Traditionally, the driving factor for China to have friendly relations with Pakistan was a hedge against India (Lieberthal, K., 2006) and it proved to serve China as a low cost deterrent to India(Hussain, H., 2006). India has always remained insecure of the Sino-Pakistan relations particularly after the humiliating Indian defeat in 1962 at the hands of the Chinese forces. Premier Chou En lai’s subtle statements in favor of Pakistan apprehended India who took the relation as an unwritten military pact against her (Montagno, G. L., 1965). These insecurities were substantiated when Pakistan confronted India in 1965 War and China supported Pakistan with military assistance. China was only disturbed by the Soviet involvement at the Tashkent agreement but soon the differences vanished in the wake of the importance Pakistan held with China. India has remained a major factor in China’s policy towards Pakistan, co-operating with the enemy of your enemy is a strategy that has commended itself to nations throughout history (Barnds, W. J., 1975). Also due to rivalry between India and China on the issue of leading the Third World made China to maintain relations with Pakistan in order to include latter in its bandwagon bearing the fact that Pakistan would never have harmonious relations with India. Thus relations with Pakistan would keep India busy with its problems within sub-continent rather than involving itself in the Third World politics (Barnds, W. J., 1975). China had a tough competition with the US as well in the South Asian region and as proved earlier Sino-Pakistan relations were strengthened to cope with the west as well in the form of the Third World support. In the direct case, apprehension of the Indian side due to the Chinese military assistance to Pakistan would escalate tensions between the two. And as long as Indo-Pakistan tension persists no outside power can entrench themselves in the length and breath of the region (Barnds, W. J., 1975). Thus Pakistan has served an important tool for China’s strategy and this is true not only in Indian episode but also in the case of Soviet Union following the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (Garver, J. W., 1996).

Palliation of Differences on Defense Agreements

Defense pacts with the US and involvement of Pakistan in organizations such as SEATO was also a source of disturbance for China. Its disturbance was further aggravated by the fact that US and India were starting to adopt hostile attitude with China. SEATO was signed to resist any military aggression in the region and China was offended as it took the treaty to be aimed against it. However, at Bandung in 1955 Prime Minister Mohd. Ali made a special point of trying to remove Chinese misunderstanding of Pakistan joining SEATO. The association of Pakistan with that organization is based on principle, he asserted, not in fear of China (Montagno, G. L., 1965). China seemed to understand Pakistan’s need at this juncture and in fact encouraged Pakistan to acquire more military equipment through these pacts which would eventually help China in the form of deterrence to India. Furthermore, China was adopting a softer policy towards Pakistan due to Chinese oriented policy of Pakistan regarding the issue of Tibet in contrast to India and also because of the fact that Pakistan seemed to be China’s key to enter a global forum in the form of United Nations membership. President Ayub in 1961 stated bluntly that his country would abandon absurdity for reality in its stand for Red China’s admission (Montagno, G. L., 1965). It shows how far Pakistan was willing to go for China’s admission on the grounds that latter was its ally.

Pakistan’s Geo-Political location as a factor

In foreign relations, one of the most important points over which a particular country’s foreign policy is based on is its geopolitical location. This colors its own policy as well as of the nations seeking its friendship. Pakistan acquires a very strategic land base. It serves as a route to middle-east as well as the warm water ports which are economically beneficial for its diplomatic partners to a great extent. Karachi still serves as a transit port for the goods shipped to Afghanistan. Referring to China’s policy objectives we come across its aim to influence the world. Middle-east has remained China’s bone of contention since the very start and Pakistan provided China with a point of entry to the middle-east, both politically and physically (Barnds, W. J., 1975). Politically, due to the fact that Pakistan being an influential country in the Muslim world and been born out of the womb of Islam has friendly relations with the major Arab states like Saudi Arabia. Pakistan’s ally in such case would definitely receive a warm welcome in the middle-east. On the other hand, Pakistan provides China with a land as well as an air route to middle-east. Pakistan and China in 1963 signed an airline agreement that made Pakistan a new and important Chinese outlet to the outside world (mainly middle-east) other then USSR or Burma (Montagno, G. L., 1965). For China, Pakistan provides a bridge between Beijing and the Muslim world, a geographically convenient trading partner, and a channel into security and political relations in South Asia. If not all at least most of the above objectives are served due to the strategic land base of Pakistan.

China’s Peace Policy as a Factor

If on one hand Pakistan has learned to live with its communist neighbor, on the other hand China’s foreign policy had basically remained a derivative of the strategic location of South Asia on China’s south-western flank next to the troublesome Tibetan and Sinkiang regions (Barnds, W. J., 1975). As China had disputed borders with India which eventually led to a war, it also shared border disputes with Pakistan towards the Northern Areas of the latter. Fortunately, this did not transform into a violent confrontation. The new era in diplomatic relations began with China announcing that it is agreed to demarcate the border with Pakistan along its Sinkiang province. Undefined borders are always a menace to peace (Montagno, G. L., 1965). Proper demarcation of borders averted a potential confrontation between the two countries. China’s control of Tibet and Sinkiang, always a matter of anxiety to any government in Peking, could be weakened if not undermined by the sub-continent (Barnds, W. J., 1975). This possibility of undermining China’s control of SinkiangProvince was eliminated by ramifications of borders. Keeping peace in this region is still important for the Chinese in the wake of rising terrorist activism in Pakistan and which could easily infiltrate into China and fuel the uprising. Thus observing its peace policy China is providing itself with enough room to maneuver so as to create an external environment favorable to her internal development (Huo, H., 1992).

Economic Factors

China’s projects within Pakistan and in China itself to facilitate Pakistan have a great political significance. The building of Karakoram Highway after the 1965 war was a strategic move by China. It was built on a much difficult KhanjerabPass rather than another relatively easy location due to the fact that Khanjerab was relatively away from Indian border and that its construction would not draw Indian attention. The purpose stated by the Chinese for the construction of the highway was to provide Pakistan with a much quicker route for military assistance as China had learnt a lesson in sending assistance through the sea which costed them much more time and distance. But actually Chinese motives were deeper. This highway once built would serve the Chinese as a very convenient route to the middle-east (Vertzberger, Y., 1983). Another important project still under process is the establishment of a Port Complex at the naval base of Gwadar. This port is located on yet another strategic point of the region. Chinese did not want the administration of such an important port to get to the hands of the Americans and thus acquired it from Pakistan themselves. Gwadar is the nearest port from the oil deposits of the Caspian and is of great significance to the transit trade. China will gain strategic access to the Persian Gulf and a naval outpost on the Indian Ocean from which to protect its oil imports from the Middle East.

Contemporary Scenario

In contemporary times, China’s relations with Pakistan have been somewhat altered. It would be better if I term them to have undergone a change in orientation by China as far as South Asia is concerned. In order to have a wider global influence, China is using Pakistan as a major bargaining chip to improve relations with India and the US. Also China’s verbal deterrent support for Pakistan in 1990s has weakened; it had weakened under the new conditions of Sino-Indian rapprochement (Garver, J. W., 1996). What used to be a simple, stark, China-Pakistan alliance has become a much more complex, fluid relationship involving the United States and India (Lieberthal, K., 2006). China in recent years has tried to resolve border disputes with India. Such actions by China seem to be a step towards harmonious relations with its neighbors, and through this China is trying to improve Indo-Pakistani relations. While this is in contrast to earlier Chinese stance of fueling tensions between the two in order to keep external powers away from the region, but we should analyze the current situation much more closely. Today, China stands as a great power in the multi-polar world unlike in the 1960s when it was in a process to establish its influence over the world. Peace in the region would now help China to move further while the existence of US is no more a substantial threat. Also Beijing has been trying hard to improve its relations with US since mid 1989(Huo, H., 1992).


On the whole, I observe that Pakistan helps China on a range of issues, including providing intelligence, fighting terrorism, regional trade and repairing relations with the Muslim world. But these functions of China-Pakistan relations are expanding to a wider sphere of global relations. Pakistan has basically served China as a key to enter the global sphere of influence, be it in the form of United Nations membership or a temporary deterrence to India and Soviet Union. China is currently at a strategic advantage from the diplomatic ties with Pakistan and occupies a very significant position in the multi-polar world.


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