By M Nawaz Khan:
In his book “The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s new geopolitics” Andrew Small focuses on the bilateral relations between China and Pakistan by exploring why these ties are so deep and lasting. It can be considered as a first-hand account since the author spent six years living in China, Pakistan and India probing the various perspectives of this partnership. The book has three parts; the first part is about cooperation between the two countries; the second part highlights concerns and challenges to the Pakistan-China relationship and the third section deals with prospects of relationship between the two countries in future. The book also has a prologue and an epilogue.
The prologue gives an account of the Red Mosque Operation. He believes that the kidnapping of seven Chinese citizens by Red Mosque agents served as the decisive point for the Operation. The author asserts that Pakistani military was reluctant to alter its relationship with the militants despite the persistent pressure of the US. However, Pakistan had no other option but to dispel the impression that Pakistan was not a secure place for friendly Chinese. Small makes fun of the popular ‘All weather friends’ slogan and says all it means is an oblique criticism of the US policies towards Pakistan.
The first two chapters give the historical background of the bilateral relations between China and Pakistan. The author says that the foundation of Sino-Pak relationship is based on Pakistan’s rivalry with India. Likewise, in the second chapter titled “Nuclear Fusion” the writer discusses nuclear cooperation between the two countries claiming that China is involved in nuclear proliferation. According to him, Zulifqar Ali Bhutto in 1976 finalised a secret agreement with Mao Zedong in the field of nuclear cooperation for military purpose. He asserts that China supported Pakistan for the acquisition of nuclear technology as it wanted to divert Indian strategic attention towards Pakistan.
In the chapter “Chinese War on Terror” the Chinese concerns about militancy in Xinjiang are taken up. He maintains that in the past Pakistan was supporting the Uighurs’ religious and economic activities which have been a stinging point between the two countries since 1960s. Terrorist acts against Chinese workers in Pakistan are mentioned to prove how this country has become the most insecure overseas destination for Chinese workers. He neglects to mention that China always acknowledged Pakistani efforts against extremism. Cooperation between the two countries in countering terrorism and extremism has increased substantially since 2010 years.
The author has tried to portray China’s Afghanistan’s policy as the Chinese foreign policy’s dilemma. He believes that China has struggled to decide whether militancy or the presence of a geostrategic rival poses the greater threat. However, he does not seem willing to accept Chinese noninterference policy in the region. He reveals that during his stay and interaction with Chinese officials, the Chinese were very vocal while deliberating various international issues, but on Sino-Pakistan relations they carefully choose words that only reflected the importance of Sino-Pak relations.
In the final analysis the author sees greater and positive role of China in the region. The Chinese evolution from a free-rider to a regional stabilizser would be a common point between the US and China in the near future. China is very concerned about the spillover of instability from Afghanistan, therefore it seeks long term political solution of Afghanistan, and he believes Pakistan can facilitate that process. Andrew small anticipates a web of economic projects from Gwadar to Xinjiang growing as economic cooperation further strengthens the strategic partnership.
The volume as whole seemingly dominates typical Western viewpoint regarding bilateral relations between Pakistan and China. However, the author has covered all perspectives, which seems by and large a prejudice approach. Especially, in the case of allegedly blaming on China’s involvement in nuclear proliferation or China’s support to Pakistan for the acquisition of nuclear technology, which is not based on reality as Pakistan’s nuclear programme is an indigenous one. Moreover, Pakistan remains a peaceful country, which believes on regional peace and did not ever support the Uighurs’ religious extremism. Lastly, the author forgot the fact that Pakistani political leadership and civil-military establishment had already decided to be a part of War against terrorism after the unfortunate incident of 9/11.
*The writer works at Islamabad Policy Research Institute, a think-tank based in Islamabad.