Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan a few days back was received with much fanfare and excitement. Not only the government but also the opposition parties, civil society and the public showed their enthusiasm for the visit of their “iron brother” and “all-weather friend”.
The two-day trip concluded on a positive note, with Pakistan and China signing economic and strategic projects worth more than $ 46 billion. On a broader note, the projects are part of China’s ‘one belt, one road’ strategy aimed at connecting East Asia to Central Asia and Europe. According to Chinese vision, Pakistan will act as a corridor linking China to the rest of the world, the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor (PCEC).
Beyond economics, Pakistan and China, as reported by the media, also closed a deal on the sale of eight submarines to the Pakistan navy. In return, Pakistan has decided to hand over Gwadar port on a 40-year lease to China. The port would be essential for the overall Chinese vision of a New Maritime Silk Road, connecting China with the Indian Ocean. It will host Chinese facilities to service the ships and submarines of China’s navy operating in the Indian Ocean.
The agreement reached between Pakistan and China is witness to the fact that the present world order is no longer based on ideology. The ideological order has become more of an economic order, with the economy taking over ideology in determining state relations. In the last century, the world was divided into the capitalist world, dominated by the US, and the communist world, dominated by the Soviet Union.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989, the US enjoyed the status of sole super power, thereby attracting the developing world towards itself. The international rules and norms were dominated by the US and any defiance of the imposed rules by the developing world was followed by sanctions. For example, The Pressler Amendments and the democratic sanctions on Pakistan during the 1990s, and their negative repercussions on its economy explain much about the kind of world order at that time. The 21st century once again brought a shift from uni-polarity to multi-polarity. The present world order is dominated by the US in alliance with the European world. Now, China is an emerging power, sometimes substituting the US and, at other times, complementing it. Pakistan is successfully benefiting from China’s rise in terms of the economy and defence.
Being the first country to recognise the People’s Republic of China in 1950, Pakistan reaped the fruits of making a tough decision during the Cold War. From that day onwards, both Pakistan and China have supported each other’s stance and claims in the international world. China has always used its veto-power in the UN Security Council for any resolution against Pakistan and diplomatically stood behind Pakistan in its relations with India.
Likewise, Pakistan has also supported China in its tensions with India. In the recent joint session of parliament, Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif once again reaffirmed his support to the One China Policy and described China’s security as Pakistan’s security. The above-mentioned short history of Pak-China ties explains much about why the relations between both countries are full of emotional statements like, “bigger than the Himalayas, deeper than the oceans, sweeter than honey”.
One may wonder why such sentiments are not expressed for the US with who Pakistan has been in alliance for many decades. Since the 1950s, Pakistan has been the recipient of US military and economic aid. Without US support, it might have not been possible for Pakistan to develop its conventional military power vis-à-vis India. Then why is anti-US sentiment is high in Pakistan? It seems as if there is some flaw with the way the US state department does things.
As mentioned above, state relations are now determined by the economy and not ideology. This is the reason behind why the US Asian pivot is aimed at economic connectivity and trade partnerships with Asian states. To counter China’s influence in Asia, the US envisioned the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. However, it seems that China has diluted the fanfare of the US pivot by giving its own Asian pivot in terms of one belt, one road initiative and the New Maritime Silk Road.
The US, on the other hand, is once again involved in the Middle Eastern crisis, particularly due to post-Arab Spring issues, the rise of Islamic State (IS) and the Iranian nuclear issue. To counter the US, China is investing heavily in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Also, the recent formation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) will further boost China’s soft power in the world once the bank starts financing infrastructure and development projects in developing countries.
So, where does the US stand? In the case of Pakistan, the US’s economic assistance of $ 7.5 billion to Pakistan over a period of five years is nothing compared to the Chinese investment of $ 46 billion. Naturally, Pakistan will shift its focus more towards China, perhaps at the cost of the US. Although the US has signed an arms deal with Pakistan worth one billion dollars, Pakistan has been building its defence ties with China as is evident from the sale of Chinese submarines to Pakistan.
If the US really wants to counter China’s Asian pivot, it has to focus on its old allies and finance their economic needs. In this case, the US needs to re-analyse its policy with Pakistan. In the world order dominated by economics, developing countries like Pakistan will naturally go where they find funding and investment.(Daily Times)