China’s recent move of defending Pakistan against international criticism is not a first. Nor is it going to be the last. If anything, Trump’s discontent and coldness towards Pakistan is only pushing it further towards China.
This becomes more apparent with the official adoption of the yuan by Pakistan’s central bank. For China, this marks another victory in its goal of internationalising its currency.
But is China’s outright and explicit support of Pakistan a cover for its vaulting ambitions?
It is possible that China’s interest in Pakistan is piqued by the perpetual political instability in Islamabad or by the country’s nuclear status and historic rivalry with India. Gone are the days of the post-WWII slogan ‘Hindi Chini bhai bhai’ (India and China are brothers). The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor under Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is now a cause of grave concern in New Delhi and Washington. As Pakistan and China engage in a collaborative makeover of the Gwadar port into a trans-shipment hub, fears of Beijing’s increasing geopolitical influence spread through political circles around the world.
If the BRI partnership with Pakistan is already providing China greater access to the sea lanes in the Indian Ocean and fuelling its regional power, what is driving China’s need to be Pakistan’s knight at the international slamming platform?
The need for highlighting its readiness to replace United States in yet another role and for posturing its power in the Asia-Pacific region seems like a plausible motive. However, China’s behaviour can also be attributed to a possible understanding with Pakistan over bartering support against international criticism over human rights violations.
It is hard to say whether the growing intimacy between China and Pakistan is a cause or a consequence of stronger U.S.-India relations.
But, as 2017’s political uncertainties carry forward into the new year, it will be crucial to see what implications a stronger China-Pakistan relationship present.
Aarti Sharad Seksaria is a Masters student in international relations at ANU, and an intern at the Centre for Independent Studies.