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Xi's Pakistan visit: High on substance, low on values

By Sana Hashmi
April 22, 2015 13:58 IST
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Xi Jinping with Nawaz SharifConsidering Modi’s style of practicing diplomacy, it is likely that a clear message would be conveyed to China that it is high time Beijing stops using its good relations with Pakistan as a pressure tactic against India. This is imperative not only for strengthening India-China relations at the bilateral level but also for maintaining stability at the regional level, says Sana Hashmi.

Xi Jinping, the president of the People’s Republic of China, paid a state visit to Pakistan on April 20-21. Though Xi was scheduled to visit Pakistan in September 2014 while he was on a visit to India, it was postponed because of the deteriorating law and order situation in Pakistan. However, for China and Pakistan, the phrase better late than neverhas proven to be appropriate at this moment.

Xi chose Pakistan for his first foreign visit of the year 2015 -- designated as the China-Pakistan Year of Friendly Exchanges. His maiden visit to Pakistan in his presidency is considered a landmark event as the China-Pakistan relationship has been elevated to the ‘all-weather strategic partnership’.

The high-level visit indicated that the Chinese leadership will, as always, continue to attach greater strategic importance to Pakistan. The two sides have inked as many as 51 agreements to facilitate mutual cooperation in the fields of infrastructure projects, energy generation, agriculture, education, telecommunications and research.

During his two-day visit, Xi made calls for further economic and diplomatic cooperation between China and Pakistan. Xi’s visit was high on substance and drawn significant attention on issues more than one. First, ahead of his first-ever visit to the country, Xi stated that “I feel as if I am going to visit the home of my own brother”. Xi, during his address to the Pakistan Parliament on the second day of his tour, termed Pakistan as China’s ‘iron brother’.

Clearly, from an irreplaceable all-weather friend to a brother, the bilateral relations have come a long way. This was not the first time that such bonhomie was displayed publicly. In May 2013, during his maiden visit to Pakistan, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang also reiterated China’s official position on China-Pakistan bilateral relations by regarding the latter as China’s ‘iron brother’.

Secondly, Xi, during his India visit, promised to make $20 billion investment in India in the next five years; whereas under China’s ‘Silk Road Fund’, China has pledged to invest $46 billion in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor through which a network of roads, railway and oil and natural gas pipelines between China and Pakistan will be constructed.

Interestingly, China has already made a down payment of $28 billion towards the project. In addition to this, a joint think-tank named Research and Development International has also been set up by both sides solely for the purpose of CPEC research and development. The 3,000 km-long economic corridor, once fully constructed, will connect Kashgar (Xinjiang) to much-controversial Gwadar Port through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and will allow China’s energy imports from Central and West Asia to travel through a shorter route.  

The corridor has long-term ramifications for the Asia-Pacific region,as it will let China to extend its influence in the Indian Ocean Region. As regards India, the news of the construction of CPEC is not received well in the Indian corridors of power. This move will bolster China’s military presence in the PoK which continues to remain a disputed area between India and Pakistan. Additionally, China’s continued presence in the PoK and attempts to expand its sphere of influence to the IOR has the potential to fuel the regional rivalry provided that India is also endeavouring to give a fillip to its Indian Ocean strategy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the Indian Ocean littoral states, Seychelles and Mauritius in March 2015 is a testimony to India’s attempts to safeguard its strategic interests in the IOR.

Thirdly, the joint communiqué was indicative of both countries’ reassurance towards safeguarding each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. India, which has prolonged territorial disputes with both China and Pakistan, needs to take a serious note of this affirmation. While repeated ceasefire violations at Line of Control and frequent border transgressions at the Line of Actual Control have become usual activities, India is still not prepared to deal with the two-front war.

Fourthly, ahead of Modi’s scheduled visit to China in May 2015, Xi’s Pakistan visit was well-timed.  Before receiving Modi on his first visit to Beijing as the Indian prime minister, it seems Chinese leadership wanted to reaffirm its friendship with Pakistan which is yet to realise the importance of making peace with India for the sake of the region and its own benefit.

Xi’s Pakistan visit has indeed served China’s strategic purposes. China is a country whose firm beliefs lie in diplomatic signaling.  It may be recalled that just before Xi’s maiden visit to India in September 2014; Modi paid a five-day high-level state visit to Japan. In fact, Japan was chosen as his first foreign destination outside the South Asian region. In essence, Xi’s successful visit to Pakistan can be seen as a measure to counter India-US bonhomie as also India’s close relationship with China’s archrival, Japan.

Finally, over the past few years, India-China bilateral relations have achieved some progress despite a few unresolved issues. To make sure that the two Asian powers remain in a cordial relationship, it has become more important than ever, that China’s maneuverings in Pakistan does not affect the India-China ties.

As Modi will be visiting China next month, it becomes crucial for China to assuage India’s apprehensions vis-à-vis China-Pakistan burgeoning cooperation, particularly in the field of defence. This is due to the fact that China’s arms import and nuclear technology transfer to Pakistan is still seen with apprehension in India. Xi’s Pakistan visit will certainly influence the agenda for Modi’s upcoming visit to China. Considering Modi’s style of practicing diplomacy, it is likely that a clear message would be conveyed to China that it is high time Beijing stops using its good relations with Pakistan as a pressure tactic against India. This is imperative not only for strengthening India-China relations at the bilateral level but also for maintaining stability at the regional level.

Image: Chinese President Xi Jinping with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

Sana Hashmi is associate fellow, Centre for Air Power Studies.

 

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