The China-Pakistan all-weather friendship enters its turning point as Islamabad turns to Beijing to help replace U.S. military aid and technical cooperation.
U.S. President Donald Trump finally unveiled his much-anticipated Afghan strategy in August, and it largely focused on putting the burden of the fight against terrorism on Pakistan. Because of that, U.S.-Pakistani defense ties are expected to dwindle week by week.
China and Pakistan are in the middle of their major air force drills, which began last week and will run through September 27. Meanwhile, Islamabad is likely to turn to Beijing in a bid to replace the U.S. military aid it was receiving. The Trump administration decided previously that it would only give Pakistan access to $225 million worth of military assistance when it stops providing “safe havens” to terrorist elements.
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China-Pakistan military cooperation on the rise
The China-Pakistan friendship has seen its new rise in the wake of Trump’s address to the nation last month, in which the U.S. President warned that Pakistan had “much to lose” by continuing to harbor terrorists on its soil. Islamabad has vehemently denied this accusation ever since U.S.-Pakistani relations went sour in 2011.
Now Islamabad is likely to prompt China to develop their military and technological cooperation to replace the military aid losses from the deteriorating U.S.-Pakistani ties.
The ongoing joint air force exercises between the Pakistan Air Force and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) demonstrate that the two allied nations have continued to increase their coordination since 2011. That’s the first year the joint drills dubbed “Shaheen” took place.
For this year’s Shaheen VI training exercise, China sent some advanced aerial units to Pakistan, including Shenyang J-11 twin-engine multi-role fighters, Xian JH-7 fighter-bombers, and KJ-200 airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft. The Chinese army also contributed surface-to-air missile crews and radar operators to the drills in order to increase air force coordination with Pakistan.
Is China replacing U.S. military aid to Pakistan?
The increased aerial coordination of the China-Pakistan air forces is set to improve counterterrorism operations against non-state groups in northeastern China. It could also boost China’s military preparedness in the border row with India. Meanwhile, the state of the Pak-China defense partnership is coming under increased scrutiny amid Trump’s decision to cap Pakistan’s access to U.S. military aid.
When asked if China could replace U.S. military aid to Pakistan, a Chinese diplomat told ValueWalk on condition of anonymity, “Not at the moment.” The diplomat added that U.S. military aid to Islamabad and China’s military aid to the South Asian nation are “two different things.”
Natalya Zamarayeva of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences told Sputnik on Sunday, “Whether China will be able to replace the US in terms of giving military aid to Pakistan, it is a question which can be answered in the future.”
Are China and Pakistan really “iron friends”?
Although Pakistan is still recovering from the political crisis caused by the disqualification of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in July, it’s already clear that the new Pakistani PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi places great importance on China-Pakistan military ties.
This was evident from Abbasi’s visit to a Pakistan Air Force airbase located at Sargodha in Punjab province during the ongoing China-Pakistan air force drills. Last month, Abbasi met with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang, and the two exchanged in-depth views on promoting the partnership between the two nations. They also agreed that Islamabad and Beijing are “iron friends.”
Pakistan’s interest in promoting China-Pakistan relations was also evident from last week’s visit of Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif to China to discuss bilateral relations, the war on terror in the region, and achieving peace and stability in Afghanistan. During the meeting, China reaffirmed its support for Islamabad and praised its all-weather ally for the fight against terrorism.
Beijing immediately reacted to Trump’s harsh words about Pakistan last month. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying urged the international community to “fully recognize the efforts made by Pakistan in fighting terrorism.”
China and Pakistan reach security cooperation deal along CPEC
The China-Pakistan anti-terrorism efforts are expected to soar following Beijing and Islamabad’s agreement to step up cooperation in security and the fight against terrorism along their joint economic corridor. The security cooperation deal was reached last week during a meeting between Pakistani FM Asif and Meng Jianzhu, head of the Communist Party Central Committee’s Commission for Political and Legal Affairs.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a pillar of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s game-changer Belt and Road Initiative. CPEC is reportedly being protected by Pakistan’s 15,000-strong military force along the corridor that connects China’s Xinjiang province to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port through a network of rail and road projects.
As both regions are facing challenges from Islamic militants, the two nations have strengthened their joint anti-terrorism cooperation to protect the $54 billion corridor.
China’s Pakistan policy has remained intact
In what comes as a yet another indication of China’s support for Pakistan in the wake of President Trump’s criticism of Islamabad, the BRICS declaration unveiled earlier this month did not link Pakistan to terrorist groups. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal told reporters on Monday that the declaration made by the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) reinforces Islamabad’s stance that banned terrorist groups are not accepted on Pakistan’s soil.
Mr. Iqbal insisted that China’s policy on Pakistan has remained intact and that the BRICS declaration against terrorist groups contained “nothing new,” despite the mounting pressure on Pakistan from the international community.
Are China, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey forming a bloc?
Pakistani FM Asif’s trips around key Eurasian nations has revived the theory that China-Pakistan, Russia and Turkey could form a united front in response to President Trump’s Afghan strategy.
The three nations were included in the list of nations visited by Pakistani FM last week. While the exact details of the talks between the nations, whose positions on the Afghan war are in accord, remain undisclosed, experts argue that Beijing, Islamabad, Moscow and Ankara could be on the way to forming a bloc.
Speaking in a personal capacity, Moscow-based political analyst Andrew Korybko told ValueWalk last week that by joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Turkey could allow Pakistan, China, Russia and Turkey to form a “bloc within a bloc for strengthening regional integration processes and reforming the global economic and financial systems.”
The SCO is a China- and Russia-led Eurasian political, economic, and security organization. Turkey has made a U-turn in its foreign policy plans lately, seemingly abandoning plans to join the European Union (UN) and seeking closer ties with SCO nations instead.