Pakistan- China Relations

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1947- 2022: history, and impact on India

Shubhajit Roy , February 10, 2022: The Indian Express

The initial years

Pakistan had recognised the People’s Republic of China— after India — in the initial years after 1947, and established diplomatic ties in 1951. But, due to Pakistan’s membership of two United States-led anti-communist military pacts, SEATO and CENTO, it was seen as part of the non-Soviet bloc — and China, under Mao Zedong, was on the other side of the aisle. On the other hand, India had a working relationship with China — emblazoned with slogans like Hindi-Chini bhai bhai. The two had the same anti-colonial, non-aligned approach.

However, there was a complex layer to this bonhomie. In Buddha’s Warriors: The Story of the CIA-backed Tibetan Freedom Fighters, the Chinese Invasion, and the Ultimate Fall of Tibet, author and historian Mikel Dunham wrote that after Chinese troops invaded in 1950, Pakistan provided transit facilities for US aircraft to supply equipment to the Tibetan rebels.

The 1962 war

The India-China war of 1962 led to Beijing developing closer ties with Islamabad. Pakistan got support from China diplomatically in the 1965 India-Pakistan war. In fact, analysts say that Pakistan was emboldened into aggression after India’s defeat against China in 1962.

The then US Ambassador in New Delhi, John Kenneth Galbraith, wrote in Ambassador’s Journal that he was worried about Pakistan “forming some kind of Axis with Peking”. In a boundary agreement in 1963, Pakistan ceded the Shaksgam Valley to China. The Shaksgam Valley or the Trans Karakoram Tract is part of Hunza-Gilgit region of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and is a territory claimed by India but controlled by Pakistan.

Article 6 of the agreement stated that “the two Parties have agreed that after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, the sovereign authority concerned will reopen negotiations with the Government of the People’s Republic of China, on the boundary as described in Article Two of the present Agreement, so as to sign a formal Boundary Treaty to replace the present agreement”.

The agreement laid the foundation of Karakoram highway, built jointly by China and Pakistan in the 1970s.

The real diplomatic bonhomie began in the 1970s, when Pakistan ruler Gen Yahya Khan facilitated the outreach between the US led by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger and China’s Mao and Zhou Enlai. This paved the way for Kissinger’s secret trip in July 1971 and the beginning of the US-China effort to discuss issues that had divided them.

Nuclear cooperation

The relationship between China and Pakistan developed over the 1970s and ’80s. Nuclear cooperation was one of the key pillars, especially after India tested its nuclear device in 1974. China has played a significant role in helping Pakistan develop its nuclear energy technology. In September 1986, they signed an agreement to facilitate the transfer of civil nuclear technology.

In 1991, China agreed to supply Pakistan with its indigenously developed Qinshan-1 nuclear power plant. Construction on Chashma Nuclear Power Plant-1 began in 1993, and the 300 MWe reactor became operational in May 2000. A second 300 MWe power plant at Chashma, C-2, went critical in 2011.

After India tested its nuclear device in 1998, Pakistan followed suit —largely due to help from Beijing.

BBC journalist Gordon Corera wrote in Shopping for Bombs: Nuclear Proliferation, Global Insecurity, and the Rise and Fall of the A.Q. Khan Network: Nuclear Proliferation, Global Insecurity and the Rise of the A.Q. Khan Network’: “If you subtract China’s help, there wouldn’t be a Pakistani nuclear programme”.

India-China ties

The 1988 rapprochement between India and China with Rajiv Gandhi’s visit became a watershed moment. There was a clear shift for Beijing, where it saw ties with India from an economic lens and focused on trade, while separately talking to India on the border dispute. This was much to the discomfiture of Islamabad.

For Islamabad, the biggest jolt came in 1996 when “the Chinese president Jiang Zemin [then visiting Pakistan] failed to mention Kashmir explicitly… It undercut Pakistan’s position that Kashmir should be resolved through international mediation, not bilateral negotiations,” analyst Andrew Small wrote in The China-Pakistan Axis.

During the Kargil conflict of 1999, Beijing counselled Islamabad that they should withdraw troops, and “should exercise self-control and solve conflicts through peaceful means”. And in July that year, the Chinese foreign ministry asked India and Pakistan to “respect the line of control in Kashmir and resume negotiations at an early date in accordance with the spirit of the Lahore declaration”. This was perceived as a snub to Islamabad.

Beijing adopted a similar cautious approach after the Parliament attack in 2002, the Op Parakram buildup, as well as the Mumbai terror attack in 2008. This was also visible in the way China responded when the Balakot air strikes took place after the Pulwama attack in February 2019. In fact, China signed off at the UNSC statement, while blocking Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar’s designation as a global terrorist in March 2019.

The US nuclear deal

The China-Pakistan tango continued with the turn of the century, as Beijing saw India moving closer to the US. The US-India nuclear deal left Pakistan worried, and the Beijing-Islamabad nexus tried to block the exemption at the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Since 2013, as Xi Jinping’s China sought to flex its muscle with border stand-offs in Depsang, Chumar, Doklam and eastern Ladakh, India has been wary of the axis with Islamabad.

India’s August 2019 move to abrogate Art 370 and revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir has spilled over to the diplomatic front — making Beijing and Islamabad (and Rawalpindi) angry and bringing them even closer.

China’s stand on Kashmir is reflected much earlier. A Chinese diplomatic note to India from 1965, reproduced in J N Dixit’s book, “India-Pakistan in War and Peace,” said, “So long as the Indian government oppresses the Kashmiri people, China will not cease to support the Kashmiri people in their struggle for self-determination. So long as the Government of India persists in its unbridled aggression towards Pakistan, China will not cease supporting Pakistan in her just struggle against aggression.”

It was not a surprise for New Delhi that China tried to bring the situation in Kashmir several times and discuss it, in the post August 5 ‘2019 period.

Economic dependence

Pakistan’s economic dependence on Beijing too has increased in recent years. The fact that it has been on the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force for terrorist financing, despite Beijing presiding as the chair for a year, displayed China’s limitations in helping its all-weather friend. China had blocked the listing of Masood Azhar several times before yielding to US and European pressure in May 2019 when it lifted the block. It is also worried about the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) getting emboldened and support from Pakistan-based terror groups and creating trouble in Xinjiang province where Uighurs have been marginalised. Islamabad, which speaks for the rights of Muslims across the world including India, has kept a studied silence on the treatment of Uyghur minorities. Imran Khan has said his country believes in China’s version.

From Pakistan’s perspective, with the US out of the region and Washington losing interest in Afghanistan, Beijing is the best bet for its failing economy, which is dependent on external debt bailouts. China’s Belt and Road Initiative has manifested in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It has led to some investments, but there are voices within Pakistan who have started questioning whether the project will provide jobs for people of Pakistan.

From China’s perspective, it offers access to the western Indian Ocean through the Gwadar port in Balochistan.

Small, who is a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, wrote in a September 2020 report: “… The Sino-Pakistani relationship of the future is likely to look more like that of the past than the version that emerged after the launch of CPEC in 2015. Deep security ties will persist, and even intensify as the Sino-Indian relationship deteriorates, but without the scale of broad-based economic and political engagement that characterized the last few years.”

Closer defence ties

In 2020, China signed a defence pact with Pakistan. Gen Wei Fenghe, China’s defence minister, visited Islamabad and signed a memorandum of understanding to enhance defence cooperation between the Pakistan Army and the People’s Liberation Army. The Pakistan Army recently inducted its first batch of Chinese-made VT-4 battle tanks. Pakistan has procured Chinese-made combat drones or unmanned combat aerial vehicles.

The Chinese defence ministry quoted Wei as expressing a desire to “push the mil-to-mil relationship to a higher level, so as to jointly cope with various risks and challenges, firmly safeguard the sovereignty and security interests of the two countries, and safeguard the regional peace and stability.”

Pakistan endorses China’s position on its core issues including the South China Sea, Taiwan, Xinjiang, and Tibet.

The growing number of China-Pakistan military exercises are a further sign of the deepening military partnership. The two militaries recently conducted a joint exercise close to the Line of Actual Control in Tibet.

The Afghanistan angle

After Kabul fell to the Taliban last year, China has now sensed an opportunity to get into Afghanistan for influence and resources with help from Pakistan. There have been several meetings between Chinese leaders including foreign minister Wang Yi and Taliban leaders.

China hopes Islamabad will be able to convince the Taliban that Afghanistan would not be used as a base for ETIM attacks, and Beijing would be transitioning towards normalising the Taliban by giving them financial aid.

With Beijing’s rise as a global power, India views its partnership with Pakistan as a greater concern than before. For New Delhi, the Indo-Pacific strategy involving the US, Australia, Japan and European partners is a key bulwark against the axis.



A time-tested friendship

By Anwar Kemal


India Today , October 13,2016
president and mrs Z.A Bhutto

One of the most important goals of Pakistan’s foreign policy is to safeguard and develop its multidimensional relations with China

The time is November 14, 1970; the place is the Pakistan ambassador’s old residence in Beijing. President Yahya Khan is hosting a return banquet for Premier Zhou Enlai. The president’s meetings with Chairman Mao and the Chinese premier have gone extremely well. Pakistan is assured of generous economic and military assistance.

But that is not the main cause of Yahya’s buoyant spirits. Pursuant to President Nixon’s personal request, the president on November 10 had conveyed to Premier Zhou Enlai a top secret message that the United States wanted to enter into negotiations with China, that it would never gang up against China, and that he (i.e. Nixon) wanted to send a high level representative to China to initiate discussions. After consulting with Chairman Mao and Vice-Chairman Lin Piao, Premier Zhou informed President Yahya Khan that China would be willing to receive President Nixon’s representative in Beijing, specifically to discuss the Taiwan question.

During the banquet, the Chinese premier toasted Yahya Khan as the next president of Pakistan, implying that he would continue to hold office after next month’s general elections. To avoid embarrassment, the media representatives present were requested not to report this portion of the Chinese premier’s toast.

After dinner Premier Zhou was seen off by the president, and the junior officers also quietly headed for the exit as instructed earlier by our ambassador. When Yahya Khan saw us leaving he called us “badtamiz” in mock anger, while summoning us to the main drawing room where he was sprawled comfortably on the carpet. He made us sit next to him to listen to the ghazals.

Sometime later the deputy chairman planning commission M M Ahmed appeared with embassy counsellor Obaidullah Khan, who proudly declared “Ho giya, Sir!” President Yahya teased him by inquiring “Larka hua ya larki?” Obaidullah Khan was referring to the Chinese credit. The Pakistan delegation had been expecting 300 million renminbi but reportedly at Chairman Mao Zedong’s initiative the loan was increased to Yuan 500 million, to cover East and West Pakistan.

While the musical soiree was in progress at the embassy residence, one of the most destructive cyclones in history was wreaking havoc in East Pakistan, killing lacs of people in low-lying coastal areas and wrecking the foundations of the two-wing state. In retrospect, it is astonishing that President Yahya Khan declined to spend some time in the east wing when his plane made a stop-over in Dhaka. If only he had stopped to help the cyclone victims he might have denied Sheikh Mujibur Rahman his deadliest election campaign issue.

In the December 1970 general elections the Awami League swept the east wing and the PPP prevailed in the west wing; Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s lop-sided majority of 160-81 over the PPP provoked Mr Bhutto to boycott the new National Assembly. And so the stage was set for the breakup of Pakistan within a year. Following the army action on March 25, 1971, and Sheikh Mujib’s arrest, India provided arms and training to the mukti bahini as a prelude to its invasion of East Pakistan. On the eve of India’s invasion of East Pakistan, Mr Bhutto rushed to China for help as a special envoy of President Yahya Khan; he was accompanied by Air Marshal Rahim and Lt-General Gul Hasan,

Under the shadow of the recently signed Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty, the Chinese leadership made it plain to the special envoy that China would not be able to intervene militarily on Pakistan’s side. Premier Zhou urged Mr Bhutto to reach a political settlement in East Pakistan and to avoid a war with India. To drive the point home about the likely outcome of a war with a more powerful adversary, the Chinese arranged the screening of two Second World War movies: Tora! Tora! Tora! and Admiral Yamamoto. Mr Bhutto put up a brave front during the press briefing when he thundered that in case of an Indian attack, “the colour of the Indus and the Ganges would change”.

China condemned the Indian invasion of East Pakistan in the strongest possible terms, but like the Nixon administration, Chinese leaders had probably concluded that Pakistan’s position in the east wing was beyond salvation. After General Niazi’s bombast and bluster, they were greatly disappointed that 70,000 troops surrendered on December 16, only three weeks after India had invaded.

In January 1972 Mr Bhutto, president at last but of a truncated Pakistan, visited China again. Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou assured him of substantial military and economic assistance. The military segment comprised jet fighters, tanks and other hardware and it was all gratis. The Y500 million credit was to be used exclusively in West Pakistan, two-thirds for projects and one-third for commodities, the latter to help repair the war damage and to meet shortfalls owing to the suspension of western aid.

At the time China was a poor country, having suffered immeasurably during the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution. Yet the Chinese people shared their scarce resources with the people of Pakistan and subsequently converted the Y500m credit into a grant.

The Karakoram Highway project was an even greater symbol of Pak-China cooperation. Many Chinese and Pakistani workers and engineers sacrificed their lives to build this high altitude highway. The project cost several hundred million dollars in the 1970s and today the cost would be about five times greater. This writer recalls Vice-Minister Mme Chen Mu Hua telling ambassador Agha Shahi in 1972 that a one truckload of fuel had to be sent as backup for every three Chinese trucks ferrying supplies through the most rugged terrain on earth.

The writer recalls shipping drawings for the 1,500-ton per day capacity Chinese supplied Larkana sugar mill to the Heavy Mechanical Complex Taxila, which was part of China’s policy to help our heavy industry becomes self-reliant. Subsequently HMC Taxila was able to export similar plants to Bangladesh and Indonesia.

During this period Pakistan began to develop an indigenous defence industry with Chinese assistance. Pakistan today is able to manufacture quality hardware such as the Al-Khalid main battle tank as well as jet fighter aircraft in collaboration with China.

In 1972-73, China’s diplomatic support to Pakistan proved crucial. Premier Zhou assured Pakistan’s ambassador Mr Agha Shahi that China would oppose Bangladesh’s entry into the United Nations until the Pakistani prisoners of war were released. China also lobbied with President Nixon and Dr Kissinger on behalf of Pakistan during their visits to China in 1972 and 1973. The Chinese premier told Dr Kissinger that the United States should not forget Pakistan, the bridge it had used to reach China.

Blessed with long memories, Chinese leaders remained grateful to Pakistan for its role in piercing China’s isolation in the 1960s by starting an airline service to China, the first non-Communist country to do so. In retaliation US President Lyndon Johnson had cancelled US aid for Dhaka airport and subsequently gave Foreign Minister Bhutto a severe tongue lashing.

Pakistan-China friendship is an uninterrupted history of mutual cooperation and help since the 1960s. True, the world has changed. The Cold War has become a memory; the Long March generation of Chinese leaders has long left the scene; China and Russia have made up; lastly China and India have agreed to resolve the boundary question through peaceful negotiations. Some observers speculate that China’s growing economic power, its self-confidence, and its growing trade and cultural relations with India have reduced Pakistan’s importance. For example, the volume of China’s trade with India is many times greater than the volume of China-Pakistan trade.

To allay such concerns, the Chinese have repeatedly assured us that China’s relations with Pakistan are in a class apart; that China-Pakistan relations have a strategic dimension, unlike relations with other countries.

The Chinese are known for their discretion, so one should not expect them to accuse India of exploiting American fears about China’s growing economic might. The Chinese can read in every American newspaper, however, that the proposed US-India nuclear deal is part of America’s declared policy to build up India, “the world’s biggest democracy,” as a world power to act as a bulwark against China. A secondary US objective is to use India to curb the “Islamists”.

A remarkable feature of Pakistan-China relations, which span 55 years, is their constancy irrespective of changes of governments or individual leaders. Every government in Pakistan since the 1960s has accorded priority to relations with China. The other remarkable feature of the relationship is that Chinese leaders have at different times encouraged Pakistan to safeguard its relations with the United States and have even lobbied with the US to help Pakistan. They have also encouraged us to establish normal relations with India and to resolve our disputes with that country through dialogue.

The two governments have removed many tariff and non-tariff barriers in order to boost the volume of bilateral trade. Apart from encouraging Chinese investments in mining, communications, and energy they are also endeavouring to increase cooperation in the educational, scientific, technological and cultural fields. The Chasma nuclear power project is a shining example of Pak-China cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Even though the convergence of Pakistan-China security interests is decisive in binding the two countries closer together, it makes good sense to broaden the base of the relationship.

To sum up, one of the most important goals of Pakistan’s foreign policy is to safeguard and develop its multidimensional relations with China. Knowing that Pakistan and China share common long-term strategic interests, based on history, geography, the regional and global security environment and the potential for mutually beneficial economic gains, the people and government of Pakistan will do everything possible to safeguard this time-tested friendship.

2012: Pak navy gets its first fast-attack ship from China

From the archives of The Times of India

Pakistan’s navy commissioned its first fast attack craft armed with missiles at a Chinese shipyard, with its chief admiral Muhammad Asif Sandila saying that the force was fully prepared to counter any elements challenging the country’s sovereignty. Sandila was the chief guest at the commissioning of PNS Azmat, Pakistan’s first “fast attack craft (missile)” at Xingang shipyard in Tianjin.

He said the vessel’s induction will supplement the Pakistani navy’s combat potential. Describing the commissioning as a milestone in defence and strategic cooperation between Pakistan and China, Sandila said, “This ship’s immense firepower coupled with stealthy features makes it a real versatile platform which would not only prove vital for ensuring effective presence in our area of operations, but would bring a new dimension of operation of stealthy platform of this tonnage.” Sandila said a second fast attack craft will be completed in Pakistan by the end of 2012.

Pak set to build 2 N-power plants.

Pakistan plans to build two coastal nuclear power plants with a capacity of 1,000 MW each in Karachi to meet the future energy needs of the financial hub, according to a media report published. Karachi currently has an aging nuclear power plant that can generate 80 MW. Work on the third and fourth Chashma Nuclear Power Plants is under way.

China - Pakistan Economic Corridor ( CPEC )

Raj Chengappa , India's new rules of engagement , "India Today" 5/9/2016

India Today , September 5,2016

2017: Pakistan integrates into the Chinese Economy

Ananth Krishnan , China’s new colony “India Today” 31/7/2017

Chinese projects in Pakistan 2017 “India Today” 31/7/2017

See graphic:

Chinese projects in Pakistan 2017


Imran gets 16 deals, CPEC’s social expansion

Saibal Dasgupta, Imran’s trip to China gets Pak 16 deals and CPEC’s social expansion, November 4, 2018: The Times of India

China has accepted the demand of Pakistan’s Imran Khan government to expand the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to include social development programmes. Khan’s party, PTI, had during the elections criticised the $60 billion CPEC for being infrastructure heavy while neglecting social development and poverty eradication issues. A Pakistani minister recently said the programme would be reviewed from the financing cost point of view.

Khan met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday and Premier Li Keqiang on Saturday. He presided over the signing of 16 agreements covering a range of economic and social issues between the two countries.

During discussions with the visiting Pakistani PM, Chinese leaders said there would be no reduction in the size and dimension of CPEC projects, significant statements because of reports that Beijing was considering shelving some projects and because even Pakistan’s new government favours a smaller CPEC to reduce its debt burden.

“There has been no change in the number of CPEC projects. If there is going to be any change, there will be an increase (in projects) going forward,” Chinese vice foreign minister Kong Xuanyou told reporters after a deal signing ceremony. “The CPEC will be introduced to more areas of Pakistan and also tilt in favour of areas relating to people’s livelihoods,” he said, adding: “Hence going forward, both the areas of CPEC and the contents of CPEC will be enriched.”

China is still silent about Pakistan’s immediate request for loans to tide over a difficult financial condition. It needs $8 billion to overcome financial problems this year.

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