Prime Minister (PM) Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said that the fact India was offering its services to the US to pressurise China was the evidence India was isolated in the region. China has stressed that linking the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with Bangladesh-China-India- Myanmar (BCIM) corridor will be very beneficial to the people of the region. China specifically rejected the report of a possibility of building a military base in Pakistan. China’s state-run tabloid the Global Times has termed India’s air corridor with Afghanistan as ‘a strategy to counterbalance’ the CPEC. Pakistan’s Commerce Minister Khuram Dastagir Khan has said Islamabad was seeking changes in existing free trade agreement.
PM Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said that the fact India was offering its services to the US to pressurise China was the evidence India was isolated in the region.[i] He shared his views while talking about the US administration’s decision to designate the leader of a Kashmir-based militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, Syed Salahuddin, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. If the relations between India and Pakistan and India and China have deteriorated, India’s relations with the US have seen a meteoric progression. Last week, Indian PM Narendra Modi visited the US and met the President Donald Trump who lavished praise and special treatment on the Indian head of the government. Just before that visit, the Trump administration gave a green signal to the sale of 22 surveillance drones called Guardian drones which will enable India to eavesdrop on China’s naval movements in the India Ocean.[ii] Mr Trump also talked about a huge naval exercise in the Indian Ocean involving Japanese, Indian and American warships. The US President went one step further by issuing a joint statement (with Indian PM) that called on Pakistan to ensure its (Pakistan) territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries.[iii] In a remarkable development in the backdrop of Modi’s visit to Washington, Indian forces stopped Chinese road-building activities in high region of Sikkim in Himalayas. China warned India to withdraw its forces and pointedly alluded to India’s defeat in 1962 India-China war.[iv]
The Indo-US thaw will most probably further complicate the security dynamics of the South Asian region. Pakistan and China will feel more uneasy with New Delhi-Washington bonhomie and in turn will be impelled to enhance strategic collaboration to counter the Indian designs. India is destined to gain a lot from cooperation with the US but at regional level, its romance with the US can hardly be welcomed. In addition to China and Pakistan, Russia and and Iran have historically shown serious reservations about and even resisted the increasing US influence in this region. But for now it seems, Modi’s government is more brash if ambitious in carving out a new role for India in world politics.
CPEC-BCIM Connection will Benefit People: China
China has stressed that linking CPEC with BCIM will be very beneficial to the people of the region. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Chuang said “[T] he two economic corridors are both important cooperation projects under the framework of Belt and Road. If they can be jointly advanced and integrated to form a synergy with other projects of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) they will be able to bring more benefits and welfare to the local people.”[v] Geng went on to say China “can wait a little bit more time for the Indian side” to shed its “misgivings” and join the BRI project.
India has not only shown reservations about the CPEC- one of the six corridors of the BRI – but has openly opposed it on the basis of territorial claims. India also skipped the Belt and Road Forum summit held in Beijing May last.
Surprisingly, Beijing’s efforts of persuading New Delhi to join the BRI project has been marked by incompatible interests and policies. India has explicitly conveyed to China it was not happy with the project for two reasons. First and mainly, CPEC violates India’s territorial integrity. Second and marginally, China has supported Pakistan against India on the issue of terrorism. For example, besides quashing India’s efforts to ban Pakistan-based militant outfits at the United Nations, China recently rose to the defence of Pakistan[vi] when Trump and Modi criticised Islamabad on the issue of terrorism. Hence, (from New Delhi’s perspective) China has done little to address India’s concerns on these issues. On the other hand, Pakistan has already tied the linking of the CPEC with Indian territory to resolution of the Kashmir issue. Even if all these goals seems highly irreconcilable, China is still bent-upon its efforts of bringing India into the project.
China Rejects the talk of Military Base in Pakistan
China specifically rejected the report of a possibility of building a military base in Pakistan. Chinese defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian while answering to a question said “[T]alks that China is building a military base in Pakistan is pure guesswork.”[vii] However, he did not explain further. The debate about possible Chinese military base at Gwadar in Pakistan has come to the fore after Pentagon report reckoned last month that after having established a military facility in the African country of Djibouti, Beijing would likely build more bases overseas. The report singled out Pakistan as one such possible destination. China has been busy in investing billions of dollars in the CPEC that also includes the development and running of Gwadar port in Baluchistan province. The port sits close to strategic Strait of Hormuz through which most of global oil supplies pass and is considered as one of the top global ‘oil chokepoints’.
China has got the agreement of running the port for around forty years. There is no doubt Pakistan and China enjoy deep strategic relations but any decision of establishing a military base of the sort will have to go through some serious tests. The question of how Pakistan’s democratic institutions in the form of freely elected Parliament, relatively free media and better informed public will react to this probability can be decisive in determining the fate of such base if the two governments agree bilaterally. But the factor of increasing Indo-US coziness can prod Pakistani and Chinese strategists to explore the possibility of any such development in the future. For now, China’s investment in Pakistan has some other formidable questions (such as domestic security and financial and economic feasibility of different projects in the long run etc.) to address.
Two China-funded nuclear power plants with cumulative capacity of 2,200MW will start working by the end of next year.[viii] China’s state-run tabloid the Global Times has termed India’s air corridor with Afghanistan as “a strategy to counterbalance the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor”.[ix] Pakistan’s Commerce Minister Khuram Dastagir Khan has said Islamabad was seeking changes in the existing free trade agreement with Beijing to get same trade concessions that China has offered to other countries.[x]
This report is compiled and written by Abdur Rehman Shah, Research Associate at the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), Islamabad. He tweets @abdur_shah
[i] Siddiqui, Naveed. (2017, July 3). Isolated India reaching out to US to pressurise China: Sartaj Aziz. Retrieved on July 4, 2017, from https://www.dawn.com/news/1342973/isolated-india-reaching-out-to-us-to-pressurise-china-sartaj-aziz
[ii] Landler, Mark. (2017, June 26). Trump meets India’s leader, a fellow nationalist battling China for his favor. Retrieved on July 3, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/26/us/politics/donald-trump-narendra-modi-india.html
[v] IANS. (2017, June 26). Linking CPEC with BCIM will benefit people: China
[vi] PTI. (2017, June 28). China defends Pakistan, says it’s fighting terror. Retrieved on July 4, 2017, from http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/china-defends-pakistan-says-its-fighting-terror/articleshow/59352142.cms
[vii] Reuters. (2017, June 29). China says Pakistan military base talk pure speculation. Retrieved on July 3, 2017, from http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-pakistan-idUSKBN19K13J
[viii] The Nation. (2017, June 26). Two China-funded nuclear plants to be operational next year. retrieved on July 4, 2017, from http://nation.com.pk/national/26-Jun-2017/two-china-funded-nuclear-plants-to-be-operational-next-year
[x] Haider, Kamran. (2017, June 28). Growing trade imbalance leads Pakistan to seek China concessions. Retrieved on July 4, 2017, from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-06-27/growing-trade-imbalance-leads-pakistan-to-seek-china-concessions