CHINA WATCH [JULY 25-31] – China says ‘Panama verdict an internal matter of Pakistan’

Panama Case Verdict Internal Affair of Pakistan: China

China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang made public China’s position on disqualification of Pakistan’s Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif by Supreme Court.[i] Lu said “[T]his is the internal affair of Pakistan”. But he emphasised “China hopes all that all parties and sections in Pakistan can prioritise state and national interests, properly deal with their domestic affairs, maintain unity and stability, and keep focusing on the economic and social development.”

About any possible ramifications of the change for bilateral relations and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project he said “China-Pakistan strategic cooperation will not be affected by the change of the situation inside Pakistan. China stands ready to work with Pakistan to continue jointly building the Belt and Road and build a community of shared future.”

Pakistan’s top judicial body, Supreme Court, disqualified PM Nawaz from holding public office after the Joint Investigation Team’s report found the PM’s family owned assets beyond its know sources of income.[ii] Subsequently, the PM resigned from his office and the government is left in limbo.

Historically, China’s relations with Pakistan are immune to vicissitudes of Pakistan’s domestic politics. There is consensus between all the political parties and state institutions on country’s thriving bond with China. Beijing, on its part, has stayed away from taking side with any party or institutions in Pakistan’s domestic political struggles. The policy has payed off. Unlike the United States, which has in some ways played important role in Pakistan’s domestic politics, China is lauded for respecting Pakistan’s domestic integrity and sovereignty. However, since the two countries have commenced working on the CPEC, the equation might also be changed.

With CPEC touted as the ‘pilot project’ of the ambitious BRI venture, China’s stakes in Pakistan go beyond the conventional strategic and military alliance. China would like to see the projects completed without being affected by internal political turmoil in Pakistan. But it depends on how effectively the ruling Pakistan Muslim Leagues-Nawaz deals with the current crisis.

There is a broader understanding between all the political parties and institutions that CPEC should be implemented without any issues. There is another rider though. The fact that the incumbent government is tainted by corruption charges will certainly raise eyebrows in Beijing which under the leadership of President Xi Jinping is running an anti-graft campaign. For now, the priority pertains to the swift implementation of the projects.

The year 2018-19 is considered to be the time when early harvest projects will start functioning. If things go well, as the government has indicated so far, this target will be achieved. However, in long term, CPEC investments will make China more susceptible to the ups and downs of Pakistan’s domestic politics.

China Bound to be a ‘Threat’ in the Coming Years: Indian Army Chief

The Vice Chief of the Indian Army, Lt Gen. Sarath Chand, has said that China’s expanding influence across the Himalayas in India’s neighbourhood is bound to be a “threat” in the future.[iii] Lt Gen. Chand observed “China is expanding its influence across the Himalayas into our neighbourhood despite being an economy five times the size (of India), (with) such a large standing army, and despite having the Himalayas between us, it is bound to be a threat for us in the years ahead.”

He downplayed the remarks of Indian Army Chief Bipin Rawat. He said that Rawat’s statement that “india was ready for a two and a half front war” was “never meant to whip up a war hysteria” but was merely aimed at drawing more attention to its security.

Interestingly, he also shared his views on India-Pakistan tensions, more in line with the conventional thinking of India-China-Pakistan triangle. He said that Pakistan was “a smaller nations with a smaller economy” which had engaged India in a “low intensity conflict”, a goal which suits Pakistan’s “all-weather friend” China.

To counter China and Pakistan, Narendra Modi’s government has broken a line with India’s conventional approach of risk-aversion and has tried to be more assertive and proactive. New Delhi has openly questioned China’s One Belt One Road project in South Asia. Compared to previous Indian governments, Modi has inclined rather freely towards cooperation with the United States. Lately, it has been engaged in a border standoff with China in Doklam plateau and has resisted yielding to China’s repeated call of withdrawal of forces from territory claimed by latter. As far as Pakistan is concerned, India has shown adopted a more aggressive position on border in Kashmir.

But despite these tactics and rhetoric, India’s capabilities of handling war with two neighbours at the same time is questionable for so many reasons. Aside from the combined military strength of China and Pakistan, India has yet to de-hyphenate itself  effectively from the prolonged military crisis that Pakistan has engaged it in. But for Beijing, India’s newfound position carries some challenges. Since New Delhi has upped the ante, Beijing’s reliance on Pakistan’s standing vis-a-vis India in this equation carries risk of war and regional instability. It seems that China has, therefore, tried its best to avoid further escalations with India and has at the same time insisted on India and Pakistan to mange the issues in peaceful manner.

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] Ministry of Foreign Affairs People’s Republic of China. (2017, July 28). Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang’s Press Conference, retrieved on July 31, 2017, from http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/t1480900.shtml

[ii] Haseeb. (2017, July 28). Nawaz Sharif steps down as PM after SC’s disqualification verdict. Retrieved on July 31, 2017, from https://www.dawn.com/news/1348191/nawaz-sharif-steps-down-as-pm-after-scs-disqualification-verdict

[iii] PTI. (2017, July 25). China bound to be threat in the coming years. Retrieved on July 31, 2017, from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/china-bound-to-be-a-threat-in-the-coming-years-army-vice-chief/articleshow/59757952.cms

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