The Pakistan-China relationship

  • GS Paper – 2 Bilateral Groupings & Agreements, Groupings & Agreements Involving India and/or Affecting India’s Interests, Effect of Policies & Politics of Countries on India’s Interests.
  • PAGE 15, Explained


  • Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi accused the Narendra Modi government of “weakening” the country and bringing Pakistan and China together, noting that keeping the two countries apart has been the “single biggest strategic goal of India’s foreign policy”.
  • Pakistan and Chinese leaders describe their ties using metaphors such as “higher than the mountains” and “deeper than the oceans”. So, what’s the history of the relationship?

Lets try to know with a brief historical,Factual Roadmap :

The Initial Years:

  • In the early years after 1947, Pakistan became the second country to recognise the People’s Republic of China, following India, and the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1951. Nonetheless, as a result of Pakistan’s membership in two United States-led anti-communist military alliances, the South Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) and the Central Asian Treaty Organization (CENTO), it was regarded as a member of the non-Soviet bloc — with China, under Mao Zedong, on the other side of the aisle.
  • India, on the other hand, had a working relationship with China, which was imprinted with slogans such as Hindi-Chini bhai bhai (Hindi and Chinese brothers and sisters). Two people who shared the same anti-colonial, non-aligned political philosophy.
  • There was, however, a more complicated aspect to this mutual affection.
  • Author and historian Mikel Dunham wrote in Buddha’s Warriors: The Story of the CIA-backed Tibetan Freedom Fighters, the Chinese Invasion, and the Ultimate Fall of Tibet that after Chinese troops invaded Tibet in 1950, Pakistan provided transit facilities for US aircraft delivering supplies to the Tibetan insurgents.

The War of 1962

  • The 1962 India-China conflict resulted in Beijing and Islamabad forming tighter ties as a result. The Pakistani government received diplomatic help from China during the 1965 India-Pakistan conflict. In reality, observers believe that Pakistan was encouraged to act aggressively following India’s humiliation over China in the 1962 Suez Crisis.
  • Ambassador’s Journal included an entry by John Kenneth Galbraith at the time, expressing his concern over Pakistan “creating some kind of Axis with Peking.” Galbraith was the US Ambassador in New Delhi at the time.
  • Pakistan surrendered the Shaksgam Valley to China as part of a border deal signed in 1963. The Shaksgam Valley, also known as the Trans Karakoram Tract, is an area in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir that is claimed by both India and Pakistan. It is a territory claimed by both countries but controlled by Pakistan.
  • Specifically, according to Article 6 of the agreement, “the two Parties have agreed that, following settlement of the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, the sovereign authority concerned will re-open negotiations with Government of the People’s Republic of China, on the boundary as described in Article Two of the present Agreement, with the goal of signing a formal Boundary Treaty to replace the present Agreement.”
  • The agreement set the groundwork for the construction of the Karakoram Highway, which was constructed jointly by China and Pakistan in the 1970s.
  • China’s Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai first met in the 1970s, when Pakistan’s ruler Gen Yahya Khan enabled the outreach between the United States headed by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger and the Chinese leadership led by Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. This prepared the stage for Kissinger’s covert journey to China in July 1971, which marked the beginning of a joint US-China effort to resolve issues that had previously separated the two countries.

Nuclear Cooperation

  • During the 1970s and 1980s, the connection between China and Pakistan began to take shape. Nuclear cooperation was one of the most important cornerstones, particularly after India successfully tested a nuclear bomb in 1974.
  • It is important to note that China has played a vital influence in Pakistan’s development of nuclear energy technologies. They inked an agreement in September 1986 to make the transfer of civil nuclear technology more convenient for both parties.
  • In 1991, China agreed to supply Pakistan with nuclear electricity generated at its Qinshan-1 nuclear power station, which had been constructed locally. Construction of Chashma Nuclear Power Plant-1 began in 1993, and the reactor, which has a capacity of 300 megawatts, went into service in May 2000. C-2, a second 300 megawatt (MW) power station in Chashma, reached criticality in 2011.
  • After India conducted its first nuclear test in 1998, Pakistan quickly followed following, thanks in large part to assistance from Beijing.

Relationships between India and China

  • The visit of Rajiv Gandhi to China in 1988 was a watershed point in the reconciliation between India and China. There was a noticeable shift for Beijing, which viewed its relations with India through an economic prism and concentrated on trade, while also engaging with India on the border conflict independently. Islamabad was greatly inconvenienced as a result of this.
  • The biggest shock for Islamabad came in 1996, when “Chinese President Jiang Zemin [who was visiting Pakistan at the time] omitted to directly reference Kashmir… According to scholar Andrew Small in The China-Pakistan Axis, “It weakened Pakistan’s argument that Kashmir should be settled through international intervention rather than bilateral discussions.”
  • During the Kargil conflict in 1999, Beijing advised Islamabad that they should withdraw their forces and “show self-control and seek peaceful solutions to their differences.” The Chinese foreign ministry also requested that India and Pakistan “respect the line of control in Kashmir and begin dialogue at the earliest opportunity in accordance with the spirit of the Lahore statement” in July of that year. This was interpreted as a slight on Islamabad.
  • Following the attack on the Parliament in 2002, the buildup to Operation Parakram, and the Mumbai terror incident in 2008, Beijing took a cautious stance in the same vein. This was also evident in the manner in which China responded after the Pulwama incident in February 2019, when the Balakot air strikes were carried out following the attack. Although China supported the UN Security Council declaration, it blocked Jaish-e-Mohammad commander Masood Azhar’s classification as a global terrorist in March of the following year.

The US nuclear deal

  • With the turn of the century, the China-Pakistan dance continued, as Beijing perceived India as growing closer to the United States. The nuclear pact between the United States and India caused concern in Pakistan, and the Beijing-Islamabad nexus attempted to prevent the exception from being granted at the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
  • With border standoffs in Depsang, Chumar, Doklam, and eastern Ladakh between Xi Jinping’s China and Pakistan since 2013, India has been concerned of the country’s axis with Islamabad, which has been a source of contention since the beginning of 2013.
  • India’s August 2019 decision to abrogate Article 370 and withdraw the special status of Jammu and Kashmir has spilled over to the diplomatic front, infuriating Beijing and Islamabad (as well as Rawalpindi) but also drawing them closer together even more.
  • China’s position on Kashmir may be traced back far further. “As long as the Indian government oppresses the Kashmiri people, China would not stop to assist the Kashmiri people in their quest for self-determination,” according to a 1965 Chinese diplomatic letter to India, which was included in J N Dixit’s book “India-Pakistan in War and Peace.” China will continue to help Pakistan in her rightful battle against aggression as long as the Government of India maintains its uncontrolled hostility toward the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.”
  • It came as no surprise to New Delhi that China attempted to bring the issue in Kashmir to the fore multiple times and address it in the period after the 5th of August, 2019.

Dependence on the economy

  • In recent years, Pakistan’s economic reliance on Beijing has also grown more pronounced. The fact that it has been placed on the Financial Action Task Force’s grey list for terrorist funding despite Beijing’s chairmanship of the group for a year demonstrated China’s limits in assisting its all-weather ally.
  • China had previously rejected the listing of Masood Azhar on the stock exchange multiple times until succumbing to pressure from the United States and Europe in May 2019, when it removed the ban. Additionally, it is concerned about the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) becoming more emboldened and receiving backing from Pakistan-based terrorist organisations, which might lead to unrest in Xinjiang province, where Uighurs have been marginalised for decades.
  • Islamabad, which speaks up for the rights of Muslims across the world, even in India, has maintained a deliberate quiet on the oppression of Uyghur minority in their own. Imran Khan has stated that his country trusts the Chinese version of events.
  • From Pakistan’s standpoint, with the United States having pulled out of the area and the United States losing interest in Afghanistan, Beijing is the greatest option for the country’s collapsing economy, which is reliant on foreign debt relief. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a manifestation of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which was launched in 2013. (CPEC). There have been some investments as a result of the project, however there are voices within Pakistan who are doubting if the initiative would result in job opportunities for the country’s citizens.
  • From China’s standpoint, the port of Gwadar in Balochistan provides access to the western Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea.
  • According to Small, who is a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, ” the Sino-Pakistani relationship of the future is likely to look more like that of the past than the one that emerged following the start of CPEC in 2015.” Although deep security links will continue to exist, and may even deepen, if the Sino-Indian relationship deteriorates, they will not have the scope of broad-based economic and political involvement that has defined the last several years.”

Defense relationships that are closer

  • In 2020, China and Pakistan will sign a military cooperation agreement. Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe paid a visit to Islamabad and signed a memorandum of understanding with Pakistani officials to strengthen defence cooperation between the Pakistan Army and the People’s Liberation Army
  • The Pakistan Army has recently received its first set of VT-4 combat tanks, which were manufactured in China. Pakistan has purchased military drones, also known as unmanned combat aerial vehicles, built in China.
  • China’s defence ministry quoted Wei as saying that the country’s military-to-military relationship should be “pushed to a higher level” in order to “jointly cope with various risks and challenges, firmly safeguard both countries’ sovereignty and security interests, as well as maintain regional peace and stability.”
  • In regard to the South China Sea, Taiwan, Xinjiang, Tibet, and other matters of importance to China, Pakistan supports China’s viewpoint.
  • The increasing number of military drills between China and Pakistan is a further indication of the developing military collaboration between the two countries. They recently conducted a cooperative exercise along the Line of Actual Control in Tibet, which was attended by both troops.

The Afghanistan Issue

  • The Taliban captured Kabul last year and China has now seen a chance to gain influence and resources in Afghanistan with the assistance of the Pakistani military and intelligence services. In recent months, there have been multiple talks between Chinese authorities, notably Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and Taliban officials.
  • China expects that Islamabad will be able to persuade the Taliban that Afghanistan will not be used as a base for ETIM attacks, and that Beijing will be able to get closer to normalising relations with the Taliban by providing financial assistance to them.
  • With Beijing’s ascent as a global power, India’s relationship with Pakistan has become a source of more worry than it was previously. The Indo-Pacific strategy, which includes the United States, Australia, Japan, and European countries, is a critical bulwark against the axis of evil, according to New Delhi.

The Best Way Forward

  • The first and most important step is for the two countries to engage in talks. The Doklam standoff is a monument to the fact that diplomacy and conversation were critical in bringing the situation to a resolution. The Wuhan summit contributed to the further consolidation of the dialogue process at all levels.
  • Trade and investment serve as a binding agent for the increased integration of both countries’ economies. The value of bilateral commerce surpassed $80 billion for the first time. However, there is a massive trade deficit of $64 billion that has to be rectified promptly.
  • Both nations have the ability to successfully employ their soft power to better integrate their respective economies together. Recently, the Chinese requested the assistance of a Bengaluru-based company in order to establish a large data centre. The service sector has the potential to make a significant contribution to the reduction of the trade imbalance.


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