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Hu, Pakistan and the 'string of pearls'
November 28, 2006
On November 26, Chinese President Hu Jintao completed his four-day official visit to Pakistan, the last leg of his four-nation -- Vietnam, Laos, India and Pakistan -- tour. This was Hu's maiden visit to Pakistan as the Head of State of the People's Republic of China.
Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf, however, has visited China several times, most recently in February to mark the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
In his address at the Islamabad Convention Center on November 24, Hu pledged that the Chinese government and people would never forget the traditional friendship with Pakistan.
'Carry on traditional friendship, and deepen cooperation in a comprehensive manner,' he began. He then recalled and thanked Pakistanis for extending their help in 1960s and '70s by opening an air corridor linking China to the outside world, and serving as a bridge for the normalization of China-US relations.
President Musharraf, who personally received Hu at the airport -- is fully aware of the fact that Hu is poised to get a second term as President and Chief Whip of China's Communist Party in 2007. This means Musharraf and Pakistan have to deal with Hu for at least six more years.
Which is why, though Hu has not made any big contribution towards bilateral ties, he was awarded the Nishan-e-Pakistan, the country's highest civilian award.
In 1999, Pakistan had conferred the Nishan-e-Pakistan on Premier Li Peng, who had made exemplary contribution towards consolidating Sino-Pakistan relations both as Prime Minister of the country and then as the Chairman of National People's Congress.
The Chinese had also showered accolades on Musharraf during his last visit to China. Professor Yan Daojing of the Chinese Academy of Social Science has even written a book entitled President Musharraf: The willed statesman of the Twenty First Century.
But the growing Chinese interaction with India, along with the dramatic improvement in Indo-US relations, has Islamabad worried.
A decade ago, Pakistan was China's largest trade partner in South Asia, but the meager $4 billion trade between the two nations puts it way behind the $20 billion trade between India and China.
That, however, does not necessarily signify any dilution in Sino-Pakistan relations.
Both Indian and American intelligence agencies accuse China of stealthily supplying nuclear and missile technology to Pakistan. While China denies this officially, since the signing of an agreement on cooperation in science and technology in 1976, the two governments have held more than 20 meetings and signed more than 500 inter-governmental pacts on joint ventures in science and technology.
Sino-Pakistan relations have continued to flourish despite the fact that just before Musharraf's last visit to China in February, three Chinese engineers were killed in southwestern Pakistan. More recently, more than 20 Pakistani and Afghan drug-traffickers were arrested by Chinese authorities in Xinjiang, while several Pakistanis have been executed in China for drug trafficking without any protests from Islamabad.
Not only India, but even Americans and Japanese are concerned about the Chinese "encirclement of India."
China insists that its interest in the Pakistani port of Gwadar is purely commercial, and no doubt the port will transform the economy of the landlocked and underdeveloped Chinese province of Xinjiang. In a joint statement on November 25, both the sides pledged to strengthen co-operation in jointly developing the port.
However, Gwadar port has a far-larger significance in China's scheme of things. It is said to be the western-most pearl in China's "string of pearls" strategy, which envisages building strategic relations with several countries along the sea lanes from the Middle East to the South China Sea to protect China's energy interests and other security objectives.
The other "pearls" are naval facilities in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and the South China Sea.
A presence in Gwadar provides China with a "listening post" where it can "monitor US naval activity in the Persian Gulf, Indian activity in the Arabian Sea and future US-Indian maritime cooperation in the Indian Ocean".
For China, Gwadar's strategic value stems from its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz. About 60 per cent of China's energy supplies come from the Middle East, and China worries that the US, which has a very strong presence in the region, could choke off these supplies to China.
Not surprisingly, the construction of Gwadar port and Sino-Pakistan cooperation in the project is causing concern not just in India, but also the United States and Iran. It also strengthens India's feeling of encirclement by China.
Among other things, China and Pakistan signed a Free Trade Agreement during Hu's visit. Islamabad seems to have signed the agreement in a bit of a hurry, oblivious of the fact that it would benefit China more than Pakistan. (The only other county with which China has signed an FTA is Chile.)
The two sides also signed agreements to forge closer ties in the areas of agriculture, manufacturing, infrastructure and public works, mineral, energy, information and communication technology, service and education and technical cooperation.
On the military side, the Pakistan Air Force signed a memorandum with CETC, a Chinese aviation company, to jointly develop aircraft equipped with long-range early warning radar. The PAF and the Chinese aviation industries have also agreed on long-term collaboration and co-development in aircraft manufacturing and other related fields, including AWACS, which is bound to interest Indian military intelligence.
The PAF is already collaborating with another Chinese aviation company for co-development and co-production of JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft. Eight JF-17s are expected to be delivered to Pakistan in 2007.
The Chinese economic development in the last 28 years has been primarily due to the setting up of Special Economic Zones, and China's Haier Company will help establish such SEZs in Pakistan.
It is thus not the border, nor Tibet and the Dalai Lama issue, but the growing relationship between Pakistan and China which gives the Indian mandarins at the East Asian desk at the Ministry of External Affairs a headache.
In the 1950s, when Pakistan figured nowhere in global political strategy, Sino-Indian relations were extremely profound, rich in friendly values and growing with the needs of time. Today, not only is the India-Pakistan problem a major issue, the Sino-Pakistan relation too has to be meticulously monitored by India.
To paraphrase US secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who said, 'It is not emerging China but the emerged China', it is not the 'Emerging Sino-Pakistan relations but the emerged Sino-Pakistan relations' which is of concern to India.
(The author is a Associate Professor in the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi)