It is truly a model relationship. Ever since the two Asian neighbors established diplomatic ties in 1962, the utility of the relationship for each has only multiplied over the years. The Pakistan-China bilateral relationship is an uninterrupted, trust-bound and genuinely all-weather relationship. In fact it is a relationship in which a high level of political will has been invested to make it into a relationship that is capable of proactively responding to the changing demands of a changing context. Hence it has survived geo-strategic changes in face of tectonic scales including wars, uprisings, invasions, breakups of nations and rapprochements. Improving Sino-Indo Relations from 1989 onward, end of the Soviet Union, Post 9/11, Pakistan as a lead country in the war-on-terror, the emergence of a uni-polar world and finally the US and Indian strategic convergence. These changes have led to a changed national agenda of the Chinese and by extension impacting on the relationship.
President Hu Jintao’s recent visit to Pakistan, the first in a decade by a Chinese President, has further cemented these model ties; almost as if pouring concrete into the structure of this relationship. Like his predecessors Hu Jintao carried forward the torch of this strengthening strategic relationship. He framed it in traditional terminology; "it is higher than the Himalayas, deeper than the Indian Ocean and sweeter than honey."
The sentiments were further reinforced when President Musharraf conferred the Nishan-i-Pakistan award on President Hu in recognition of his visionary leadership and contribution for strengthening Pakistan-China relations, Hu addressed the Pakistani nation on television, the Chinese philosopher Confucius’s work was translated into Urdu by the National Urdu Language Institute. At the banquet the Chinese president urged his Pakistani hosts to " build on past achievement and strengthen traditional friendship, advanced with the time, expand and enrich China-Pakistan strategic partnership so that our friendship will pass on from generation to generation."
The outcome of the Hu visit has been a free trade agreement, which promises to triple bilateral trade to 15billion dollars in 5 years, enhance Chinese investment in Pakistan, set up joint production of the AWACs warning systems and continue with energy cooperation. Pakistan and China have also signed MOUs and agreed to immediately set up a Joint Investment Company. Eighteen bilateral agreements in the area of economic cooperation, new defense and energy deals have been signed and nuclear co-operation will be continued.
The Pakistan-China relationship has been a dynamic relationship whose compulsions and contents have changed with changing geo-political context. Its dynamism enables it to survive major realignments globally and in Asia specifically.
It is a relationship that was born out of the single necessity of security. Faced with abiding hostility from a bigger neighbor that initially questioned the country’s existence, Pakistan sought security, first, through external military alliances and later, through an indigenously developed nuclear deterrent. It was in its journey towards seeking security in a hostile neighborhood and its experience with an undependable ally that Pakistan opted for what was first a security relationship which subsequently would become the anchor of its defense and foreign policy.
Specifically for Pakistan the 1962 US-India military deal resulted in Pakistan’s opening up to China in a historic switching from its earlier policy of total dependence on Washington. For China the relationship was a means for breaking out of international isolation and for check-mating Indian power. Grateful to Pakistan for opening up when China was isolated, PIA flew the first international flight to Shanghai. Chou En Lai himself was there to receive that flight.
China has been adept at strategically and non-aggressively managing relationships- an advice it has passed on to its friend as well. Pakistan has consistently pursued its foreign policies with security as its major element. Its relations with the US have grown but not at the cost of its relationship with China. China itself has relations with the US. Meanwhile the China-India engagement, which began in 1989 under Rajiv, did not see any down turn in Pakistan-Chinese relations.
China believes the era of alliances and block formations is over. It seeks improved ties in its neighborhood and much beyond. Advocating a free-trade agreement in India the Chinese president said "If India and China take the necessary steps to strengthen trade and business, the 21st century will be Asia’s." As China has pursued its own self-interest it has by extension also encouraged Pakistan to pursue pragmatic policies. For example China Pakistan from taking on ill-advised battles with India.
Meanwhile China is a major trading partner with Pakistan accounting for nearly 11 percent of Islamabad’s imports. In 2005 the trade between the two countries was 4.25 billion dollars- a 40% increase. Pakistan is also diversifying its security portfolio. Going beyond conventional and non-conventional means of deterrence, Pakistan is now seeking security through economic development and trade. Its trade figures with China, Afghanistan and India have all shot up. New entrants Afghanistan and China into SAARC and Pakistan and India into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), point towards the realization that regional economic cooperation and integration is imperative for regional progress and political moderation.
There is a shared logic that guides the mutual interests of this relationship. This shared logic shapes the national security policies of the two; one an emerging global power the other a rising Asian power. This relationship is effectively adapting to the changing regional and global scenarios. Obviously improvements in Sino-Indian relations are not adversely impacting on the substance of Sino-Pakistan ties. The most concrete manifestation of the deepening of Sino-Pakistan ties are being deepened and broadened is the joint Gwador project.
During his recent visit, the Chinese President has declared Pakistan as an `indispensable partner’ for cooperation in the international arena. In his televised address to the Pakistani nation from the Convention Centre, President Hu said: "China will continue to work with Pakistan to uphold the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and the collective interests of the developing countries and promote democracy in international relations."
Advocating a role in global affairs for Pakistan he said "As a true friend of Pakistan, China hopes that Pakistan will play a greater role in regional and international affairs and (China) will strengthen coordination and cooperation with Pakistan in the Asean Regional Forum, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, Asian Cooperation Dialogue, Asia Europe Meeting and other regional organization." President Hu said. "We are truly good neighbors, close friends, trusted partners and dear brothers and sisters," he declared.
Bridging the cultural, religious and civilizational fault-lines that the US-led war on terrorism has created he said: "One should not make irresponsible remarks about internal affairs of other countries simply because of differences any countries have and it is equally wrong to blame a particular civilization, nation or religion for some problem or conflict in the world."
The Sino-Pakistan relationship is also one through which multiple, and potentially explosive fault-lines – religious, economic, political and geographical-cross. Undoubtedly it is key to determining the future of the Asian continent.