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Chinese Foreign Policy towards India and Pakistan

Chinese Foreign Policy towards India and Pakistan

Dr. Muhammad AkramZaheer

Since the late 20th century, China has shifted her policy from isolation and separation from the international community and now is on the way to becoming the major economic power of the world. The Chinese leadership has formulated more attractive, pragmatic and flexible policies for global affairs and issues. With economic growth, China is widening and deepening its quest for energy resources and expanding its investment, market and political influence.  It is also projecting her soft power vigorously and peacefully by promoting culture, sports, education, tourism and other exchanges. The Chinese believe in the emergence of a peaceful great power as once. Professor of international relations Yan Xuetong said, China is the second most powerful state in the world.

A rapid change in the domestic situations of countries and in the international system has been followed by the change of their, perceptions, priorities, foreign policies and interests. That’s why the modern dynamics of foreign policies are extending their activities into many spheres of the international system to increase influence. The quest for the achievement of national interests allows countries to continue work effectively on their potential, inherent to make useful policy. In the past, Chinese diplomacy was often employed to pursue goals of unbalanced interests.  Now the world has dramatically changed since after the Cold war and China is in the position to play a constructive role in the international system. China was allied to the USSR and viewed the USA as its principal enemy during the 1950s. On the other hand, Washington sought an anti-communist alliance with Pakistan as well as close relations with India. After the 1965 Indo-Pak war, US and Indian relations became weaker due to Washington’s limited sale of weapons to India. In1970s. India moved closer to the USSR while China grew closer to Islamabad because India’s of complicated strategic position. Then China inclined towards the USA in quest of its export market and as a counterbalance to the USSR.

After the USSR’s collapse, a peaceful environment favored China and a shift came in her policy towards south Asia. Now, Beijing was seeking political and economic bilateral ties with the regional countries, particularly positive developments in the process of Sino-India rapprochement. This shift did not favor Pakistan and posed negative consequences on the traditional Pak-China relationship. The impact of the foreign policy shift gave this impression during the Pak-India crisis over Kashmir in 1989-90 when Beijing did not support a resolution on Kashmir in the United Nations. It remained neutral and calm, emphasizing on both parties to solve the issue by dialogue. Contrarily, the Cold-war Chinese policy towards Pakistan was supportive against India. During the 1990s, China has been advising both Pakistan and India to solve their problems through dialogue.  In 1996, President Jiang Zemin visited Pakistan and in his speech to the Senate, he urged Pakistan to develop cooperative relations with India and put thorny issues aside. Pakistan should make trade and economic relations to lessen the hostility. During the Kargil crisis China-India rapprochement had entered the mature phase. This time again, China adopted a neutral policy and emphasized holding talks and solving the issue through negotiations. Pakistan was seeking active support on the issues of Kashmir and Kargil, but the Chinese position was unchanged. During the visit of the Pakistani Foreign Minister to China in1999, Chinese Foreign Minister Tang  Jiaxuan said the international community has great concerns about the South Asian situation and Pakistan should remain cool and exercise self-control. It was a warning to Pakistan that China would not support it militarily, and Pakistan should get out from Kargil and settle the crisis by dialogue.

After the cold war, India abandoned the Soviet model and looked for economic reforms. Therefore, India remained no longer allied so closely to Moscow and became less of a danger to China. Now the need of Islamabad for Beijing was narrowed to counterbalance Delhi and Moscow, but was concerned at the Delhi-Washington closeness. China wants to prevent India joining the USA to counter her and the USA looks to India to counterbalance China. This situation is very difficult for China to sustain and maintain the balance and demonstrate her ability in the region of nuclear powers.The incident of 9/11 brought regional and international developments and new adjustments in foreign policy for China. This led to a diplomatic standoff between Pakistan and India. Almost for a year, the military forces of both sides stood eyeball to eyeball. The terrorist attack on Indian Parliament and the Srinagar incident inflamed insecurity and instability in the region. Beijing has concerns about Pak-India tension and it played a proactive role at the diplomatic level to diffuse tension. China also activated SCO and other forums to dissipate tension between Islamabad and New Delhi. Soon after 9/11, the USA declared a global war against terrorism and China was discomforted and had many internal and external concerns. It warned the USA that counter-terrorism should not be used to practise hegemony. Although the war was against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, China also managed the worsened situation of her troubled province of Xinjiang, and was unsettled by the presence of US forces near her border. China believed that Washington would create instability in the region and might have new political designs. The region, particularly Central Asia, was more attractive to China due to its energy resources and Washington’s political and military involvement in the region worried China.

Washington was increasing pressure on Islamabad to get Pakistani support for the war on terror in Afghanistan after 9/11. On the other hand, China had concerns of the expanding Delhi-Washington strategic cooperation. India and the USA were considering China as a common rival of both and were thinking to limit the rise of China. Washington made efforts to diffuse the crisis between Pakistan and India by a balancing posture during this period. China also maintained a balanced position towards Pakistan and India post 9/11. Another worry for China was the Indian move towards Japan and Vietnam, with whom Chinese relations remained tense. The past cooperation in political, economics, security and diplomatic issues and bilateral ties produced Chinese $62 billion investment in Pakistan through CPEC. China has provided support to Pakistan in the UNSC regularly. China has assisted Pakistan to improve security and defence capability by the joint venture of the JF-17 Thunder in 2003. The deteriorating relationship of Islamabad and Washington provide China motivation and impetus to improve relations. On the other hand, China and India are two natural strategic rivals with large populations in the region. A sense of competition between the two is very high. China has engaged Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Maldives, which was considered in the area of Indian influence. China tried to build a road in Bhutan in the Doklam area, which is a source of tension for India. It seemed that China was occupying the strategic territory, which was very necessary for Indian security. In addition, India thinks that Pakistan is serving Chinese interests by forcing her to fight wars, reducing the Indian ability to counter the Chinese rise.

However, the leadership of both China and India has recognized the need of peace and cooperation to ease the tension. They met in the Wuhan summit in April 2018 and agreed to expand economic relations. China seems a major beneficiary of China-India economic relations. The importance of this partnership may not be worsening China-Pakistan relations. The example of the China and Pakistan cooperation is seen when Beijing put its weight behind Islamabad and forced a discussion in the UNSC on India’s latest reconfiguration of Kashmir. As its economic power grows, China has its own paradigm of development and new ways of interaction with regional and global powers on a win-win basis. Being the neighbour of China, Pakistan has the privilege to achieve investment and trade. The frequent exchange visits by the leadership of both have reinforced mutual trust and cooperation. On the other hand, China and India have agreed to expand their cooperation on multiple levels to ensure peace on their borders. However, India and Pakistan are challenging each other on the issue of Kashmir and both the countries had fought four wars in the past. On the issue of Kashmir, Chinese policy will have significant implications for the China-India-Pakistan relationship and will test China’s foreign policy towards Pakistan and India.

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