China Wants to Be Pakistan's New Best Friend — But Will It Backfire?

ByAshutosha Kumara

If the recent spurt in bilateral ties between China and Pakistan is anything to go by, there seems to be a storm brewing for the West Asian region that would further jeopardize any attempts by world powers to mitigate risks from Iran's nuclear buildup. China has strongly embraced Pakistan, despite knowing fully well that Pakistan and its neighbors are infested with terrorists affiliated to Al Qaeda and their cross-country brethren like Uighur and Chechen extremists. China has got its mind made up to embark on a comprehensive geopolitical expansion mode.

The severing of friendly ties between the USA and Pakistan following the mostly well-founded accusations that Musharraf's government and the Pakistani intelligence service sheltered Osama bin laden in the Abbotabad region of Pakistan prior to his death has created an alliance vaccum of sorts in Pakistan’s foreign relations. This is where China has moved in.

China has other things on its mind than just expanding its financial investment horizon. The nation is looking forward to maintain a permanent strong military presence in the Central Asian and West Asian regions as leverage against the hegemony of U.S. and Russia. This is quite ominous, given the uncomfortable and suffocating relations between Russia and China since 1991, when the USSR disintegrated. Despite recent claims of a "special relationship," the real threat of war looms on horizon now because of anticipated military manoeuvres of China in the west asian region.

The very recent handing over by the Pakistani government of the construction and operation of Gwadar deep-sea port in Pakistan to the Chinese Overseas Port Holdings (COPH) is a strong case in point. This port is strategically situated at the mouth of Strait of Hormuz and probably will be used by China to build up strong naval presence in this area, thereby threatening all nations in this region and beyond who are opposed to China and its "ally" Pakistan's policies. Moreover, Iran, which has warmed up to China in recent years following USA antagonism to its nuclear program, will further indulge in its wayward nuclear buildup. They rest firm in the knowledge that China, with its naval presence quite nearby now, will help in case the U.S. and Israel launch an attack on Iran.

One of motives of China is to display its naval might closely in West Asia is so that nations in this region feel there is very strong standby support for them anytime, particularly against the USA. Probably China wants to enter the power-broking business in the oil-rich west Asian region. Even if some believe the reason for China's external forays is that it wants to secure oil supplies from the Middle East more obstinately to meet its growing domestic energy demands, still it cannot be denied China has some other hegemonistic plans in mind.

If China is really so worried about its energy shortages, why doesn't it exploit its shale gas reserves as a source for natural gas and oil? Probably China wants to sell advanced weapons to countries in this region in return for assured low-cost oil supplies, as Russian oil and gas is too costly for China. In either case, China would be hitting Russian business badly and Russians are not going to silently watch it. Moreover, China setting a permanent base in Pakistan would lead to Russia consolidating its hold strongly over the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and depriving China of any special benefits with respect to trade and commerce in Central Asia.

While it seems "accepted morality" in contemporary world politics to "preach something, and practice something else," China has mastered this art throughout the ages and regularly practices it. The very recent agreement signed between China and Russia for Chinese purchase of 24 Sukhoi fighter jets, to be followed by more SU-35 jets, also seems to have run into controversies. While Chinese state media confirms it, the Russians deny it. Another long-standing accusation is that China does reverse engineering of aircrafts and other military gear that it buys from Russia, leaving Russia at a loss. At least 2 times in the past, in 2002 and 2006, the China National Petroleum Corporation was denied shares in Russian energy firms Slavneft and Rosneft for reasons that were unrelated to economicd.

Despite big Chinese investmentsin cash-strapped Russian energy infrastructure through energy-backed loans since the 2008 worldwide recession, Russia doesn’t see eye to eye with China on many issues. Under Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, it is having a fresh look at all options. Contrary to public opinion, Russia is quite strong and will recover from economic mess soon.

The same countries China is trying to set bases in will prove to be its undoing, if they have any impact at all. China should remember that U.S. and Russia have had their stomachs full of all kinds of business with this politically unstable region, and gradually their happiness turned sour.

China is no exception. However, until then, India and others need to do all they can to outwit the imminent dragon threat.