China is currently quietly pursuing a new role for itself in the Indian Ocean by gradually expanding its maritime capacity.
The primary purpose is to secure trade routes. And thus the desire to expand and consolidate ties with Pakistan, India and other regional countries saddling the Indian Ocean rim.
In this context, Pakistan remains the key link in China’s Indian Ocean political matrix because the Chinese leadership continues to consider a strategically located stable Pakistan as a key to its interests in the region. For the Chinese leaders, Pakistan also serves as a reference for its contacts with the Muslim world.
At the same time, the Chinese don’t want to be too candid about their tilt towards Pakistan. On more than one occasions, the Chinese very tactfully accommodated Pakistani leadership i.e. Prime minister Gilani, for instance, arrived here on a very short notice ahead of the Beijing Olympics last year, but still was placed in the front row in the inauguration ceremony, and seated at the head table for the dinner with the Chinese president. Diplomats based in Beijing interpreted this as a demonstration of the symbolism of friendship and the reverence with which Chinese treat Pakistan and its leaders.Simple statistics also favours this interpretation; China has approved the 500 million dollar Karakorum Highway expansion project. It is the only country that launched a Pakistan-specific five year Plan for Pakistan in 2006, under which it has already launched 27 projects, while close to 30 are still in the pipeline. It agreed to set up the Joint Investment Company in 2008 with a paid up capital of 200 million dollars. Within last six months Beijing also quietly extended balance of payment support worth about a billion dollar.
During Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s mid June visit, Beijing not only pledged $10 million immediate grant for Islamabad Police and Frontier Police but also promised to provide security gadgets worth $280 million. These security gadgets include vehicle scanners, mobile scanners and some other equipment. The mobile and fixed scanners will be used to identify any explosives, drugs or any armed person in a vehicle. This equipment can be used in big cities to interdict arms and ammunition. The mobile scanners would sniff explosives or identify their locations from as far as 500 yards.
In addition to this modern equipment, the security forces will also need bullet proof jackets, night vision devices and aerial support to deal with militants. And above all, the security personnel would also be given special training to tackle this unusual situation.
Currently about 120 Chinese enterprises involving about 10,000 Chinese, are active in Pakistan, led by companies such as China Construction, China Mobile and Huhwai.
While the Chinese care for Pakistan, they feel the Pak-China economic cooperation must now be treated as the “strategic objective” to top off the strategic defense cooperation that has gone on unhindered so far. Discussions often turn to the Gwadar port, built on Pakistan request as a “business-strategic” asset.
Some Chinese academics insist Pakistanis hood-winked China into investment in Gwadar, the 2nd largest Chinese investment in recent decades after the Tanzania-Zimbabwe railway line in the 1960.
“Gwadar is an example of Chinese desire to help Pakistan but now it is up to Pakistanis to do their bit – linking Gwadar to the North via a feasible road or rail link. The challenge right now is how to enter into the phase 2 of the Gwadar project.
Some intellectuals like Prof. Daojing contest the widely held theory on the US policy of “contain China” and call it hedging, Prof Zha.
Yet, senior government and party officials appear quite clear on the issue; they still mistrust both India and the U.S and view them as potential “strategic competition.” But, typically, whenever drawn into this subject, they invariably speak of the need and desire for peaceful coexistence, political stability, economic development and non-interference in others’ matters, rather than venting their discomfort.
That is why despite expanding trade relations, most Chinese look at India as the potential regional competition, if not adversary. Discussions with Chinese Communist party officials and academics yielded the impression that they are mindful of the growing Indo-US nexus and believe Washington would try its best to pitch India as a “control China tool” in the region.
Indian leaders and officials by the way also defend their ever-expanding defense establishment as a “counter-balance to China.” They call this expansion as a direct consequence of our concerns about China.
Many in Beijing and Shanghai would desire a recalibration of Pak-China relationship in view of the changing global political matrix. They cite the change of Chinese ambassador to Pyongyong after North Korean missile test in April, 2009, explaining that China has been urging North Korea to shun belligerence. North Korea’s May 25 nuclear and missile tests brought about even more pressure on China, which considers itself as “the awkward middleman” trying to balance its relations with the North Koreans and the rest of the world.
Same might happen to Pakistan if frustration with lack of credible information mounts, suggest some and indicate that the review of policy on Pakistan appears certain as little has moved in Islamabad, where the civilian government is seen as fragile and incompetent.
For Chinese Sinkiang (Xinjiang), the western Muslim Majority province remains a concern in the context of Islamic extremist movements, which the Chinese fear might infect this region as well. Relentless pursuit and defeat of Islamist radicals, therefore, stands out as a “priority of priorities.” We hope and expect of the Pakistani leadership to take the fight against religious extremists to its logical conclusion. If Pakistan dithers and wavers – even by default – it can cost us all very dearly. Failing against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda therefore is no option. It could have direct impact on our Muslim minority and turn Xinjiang into a soft belly of international terrorism, say Chinese officials. You take care of our concerns , we will stand by you come what may, reads the loud and unambiguous message out of Beijing.