Since the late 20th century, China has shifted its policy from isolation and separation to the international community. Today it is on the way of becoming the major economic power of the world. The Chinese leadership has formulated a more attractive, pragmatic, and flexible foreign policy for the global affairs and issues. Along with economic growth, China is also expanding political influence through investment as well as the installation of industry, which has given a new impetus to its quest for energy resources. Moreover, it is projecting its soft power vigorously and peacefully by promoting culture, sports, education, tourism, and other exchanging. Chinese believe they are becoming a peaceful great power. Once Professor of International Relations Yan Xuetong said, “China is the second most powerful state of the world”.
A rapid change in the dynamics of security and economy at the local, regional, and international levels has also changed the perceptions, priorities, national interest, and foreign policies of states. That’s why there is a pragmatic shift being observed in modern diplomacy to inflate influence in the world and the spreading their economic and strategic activities on the other spheres of the globe by all the countries. To achieve their national interests, countries are effectively following their geopolitical potential and geostrategic environment. China is following this pattern of foreign policy to establish relationships with its neighbors and regional and international powers to achieve its national interests.
In the past, Chinese diplomacy was often employed to pursue goals of unbalanced interests. China was allied with the USSR and viewed the United States as its principal enemy during 1950s. On the other hand, Washington sought an anti-communist alliance with Pakistan as well as close relations with India. After the Indo-Pak War of 1965, the American-Indian relations became weaker due to Washington’s limited supply of weapons to India. In the 1970s, India moved closer to the Soviet Union and China become closer to Islamabad because of the complicated strategic position of India. Then China wisely inclined towards the United States in search of export markets and to counterbalance the Soviet Union.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the peaceful environment of Central Asian region was favorable to China and a shift also came in its foreign policy towards South Asia. Now, Beijing was seeking political and economic bilateral ties with the regional countries, which was a particularly positive development in the process of the Sino-India rapprochement. This shift was not favoring Pakistan and posed negative consequences for the Pak-China traditional relationship. This shift in the foreign policy of China put the dint during the Pak-India crisis over Kashmir in 1989-90 when Beijing did not support it on a resolution on Kashmir in the United Nations. It remained neutral and calm and gave emphasis on both parties to solve the issue by dialogue. Contrary, during the Cold War, Chinese policy towards Pakistan was supportive against India.
During the 1990s, China has been advising both Pakistan and India to solve their problems through dialogue. In 1996, President Jiang Zemin visited Pakistan and in his 45 minute speech to the Senate, he urged Pakistan to develop cooperative relations with India and put thorny issues aside. Pakistan should make trade and economic relations to lessen the hostility with India. At the time of the Kargil crisis, China-India rapprochement had entered a mature phase. This time again, China adopted neutral policy and stressed to hold talks and solve the issue through negotiations.
Pakistan was seeking active support on the issues of Kashmir and Kargil but the Chinese position was unchanged. During the visit of Pakistani Foreign Minister to China in 1999, Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan told the international community that he has great concerns about the South Asian situation and Pakistan should remain cool and exercise self-control. It was a warning to Pakistan that China would not support it by military means, and Pakistan should get out from Kargil and settle the crisis by dialogues.
Post-Cold War, the Soviet model was ended and India was looking for economic reforms. Therefore, Delhi no longer remained allied to Moscow and became less of a danger to Beijing. Now the need of Islamabad for Beijing was lessened to counterbalance Delhi and Moscow but the Delhi-Washington closeness was a concern to Beijing because it wanted to prevent India from allying with the United States. This situation was very tough for China to sustain and maintain balance and demonstrate its ability in the region of nuclear powers.
The incident of 9/11 brought regional and international development and new adjustment in the foreign policy for China. This event led to a diplomatic standoff between Pakistan and India. Almost for a year, military forces of both the sides stood eyeball-to-eyeball and came dangerously close to war. The terrorist attack on the Indian parliament and the Srinagar incident flamed insecurity and instability in the region. Beijing has concerns about Pak-India tension and it played a proactive role at the diplomatic level to diffuse tension. China also activated the SCO and other forums to lessen the tension between Islamabad and New Delhi.
Soon after 9/11, the United States declared a global war against terrorism and China was discomforted and had many internal and external concerns. It warned the US that counterterrorism should not be used for hegemonic privileges. Although the war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was a serious threat to regional security, China also managed its own domestic situation (the troubled province Xinjiang) and was unsettled by the presence of United States forces near its border. China believed that Washington would create instability in the region and might have new political designs. The region, particularly Central Asia, was more attractive to China due to its energy resources and Washington’s political and military involvement in the region might have caused worries for China.
Washington was increasing pressure on Islamabad to get Pakistani support for the war on terror in Afghanistan after 9/11. On the other hand, China had concerns of Delhi-Washington expanding strategic cooperation. India and the United States were considering China as a common rival of both countries and were thinking to limit the rise of China as well. Washington made efforts to the diffuse crisis between Pakistan and India by its balancing posture during this period. China also maintained a balanced position towards Pakistan and India during post-9/11 period. Another worry for China was the Indian move towards Japan and Vietnam with whom Chinese relations remained tense. In this circumstance, China revisited its policy towards Pakistan and enhanced bilateral relations in all the fields related to the national interest of both the countries.
The cooperation in political, economic, security, and diplomatic issues and bilateral ties produced a $62 billion Chinese investment in Pakistan through CPEC. China has regularly provided support to Pakistan in the United Nations Security Council. China has assisted Pakistan to improve its security and defense capability via the joint venture of the JF-17 Thunder in 2003. The deteriorating relationship between Islamabad and Washington also provided them motivation and impetus to improve their bilateral relations.
On the other hand, China and India are two natural strategic rivals with great numbers of the population in the region. The sense of competition between the two countries is very high. China has engaged Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Maldives, which is considered the area of Indian influence. China has tried to build a road in the area of Doklam in Bhutan, which is a source of tension for India. It seems that China is occupying the strategic territory, which is very necessary for Indian security. In addition, India thinks that Pakistan is serving Chinese interests by forcing it to fight wars, deterring the Indian ability to counter the Chinese rise. Nowadays, China itself has engaged India in the Galwan Valley in Eastern Ladakh. Since the confrontation between China and India, Pakistan is trying to cash in on this situation. From the diplomatic maneuvering behind the scenes, Pakistan is bashing India for the overall development in Ladakh and Kashmir but standing on the side of China. However, the leadership of both China and India has recognized the need of peace and cooperation to ease the tension. China also seems to be the major beneficiary of the China-India economic and trade relations. Hence, both countries have recognized that the expansion of cooperation on multiple levels to ensure peace on their borders is in their interests.
As to its rise of economic power, China has its own paradigm of development and new ways of interaction to regional and global powers on a win-win basis, and it has earned the respect and credibility of other nations. Being the neighbor of China, Pakistan has the privilege to achieve investment and trade. The frequent exchange visits by the leadership of both countries have reinforced mutual trust and cooperation. However, India and Pakistan are challenging each other on the issue of Kashmir and both the countries had fought four wars in the past. On the issue of Kashmir, Beijing put the shoulder behind Islamabad and forced a discussion in the United Nations Security Council on India’s reordering of Kashmir. Chinese policy will have significant implications for the China-India-Pakistan relationship and will be a test of China’s foreign policy towards Pakistan and India.
Contributed By Muhammad Akram Zaheer, a PhD scholar in Political Science from the Islamia University of Bahawalpur and lecturer at Heritage International College Arifwala