Pakistan-US ties moved to the forefront of the international scene this week as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan made his first official visit to President Trump in Washington. Meanwhile, China looked on the meeting with interest as it stands to benefit from improved Pakistan-US ties.
An opinion piece in the South China Morning Post argues that as relations between the U.S. and China grow colder and China’s partnership with Pakistan continues to grow, Beijing will benefit from improving ties between Islamabad and Washington. Chinese officials have previously advised Pakistani officials to try to rebuild relations with U.S. officials although Pakistan-US ties have gotten rocky in recent years.
The U.S. suspended assistance for Pakistan after officials accused the South Asian nation of harboring terrorists, an allegation it firmly denies. Washington’s lack of assistance pushed Islamabad further toward Beijing for aid, resulting in a steady increase in weapons exports from China. Between 2008 and 2017, Pakistan was the biggest buyer of Chinese weapons at $6 billion, amounting to 42% of China’s total weapon sales.
Meanwhile, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Belt and Road Initiative continue as China supports major infrastructure projects in Pakistan. Pakistan’s stability and security have become very important to China due to all its investments in CPEC. Pakistan sought another bailout package from the International Monetary Fund to support its economy, although China remains Pakistan’s biggest creditor on a debt pile that keeps growing under CPEC.
The SCMP article suggests that China could benefit from improving Pakistan-US ties by allowing the U.S. to share some of the burden of helping the South Asian nation. By becoming Pakistan’s biggest creditor, China has taken on major risks. By improving relations with the U.S., Pakistan may be able to more easily work with China on their relationships. Additionally, better Pakistan-US ties could make things easier for Islamabad in international forums, possibly paving the way for more aid and investment so Islamabad could reduce its dependence on Beijing, securing Beijing’s investments in Pakistan in the process.
China has also given Pakistan advice on other topics, like its relations with India. Khan told Trump that he and the U.S. could serve as mediator between Pakistan and India, and Trump angered Indian officials by claiming that they had made a similar request. Pakistan has requested that India come to the bargaining table in the past, but New Delhi insists that it will only converse with Islamabad on a bilateral basis.
However, according to Geo TV, China supports the idea of the U.S. and other members of the international community playing a mediator role between Islamabad and New Delhi. Pakistan and India have been at odds over the disputed Kashmir region for decades. News 18 reports that Chinese officials said the international community, including the U.S., should be allowed to play a “constructive role” to help the South Asian neighbors repair ties over the Kashmir dispute.
After meeting with Trump earlier this week, Khan traveled to Beijing to visit with President Xi Jinping. The South China Morning Post reports that Khan saw more economic aid, noting that Islamabad is now running with “two very big deficits.” Khan’s visit to Beijing this week is also his first there since he became prime minister.