Pakistan testing ground for One Belt

Updated: 2015-10-10 03:32

By MAY ZHOU in Houston(China Daily USA)

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Pakistan testing ground for One Belt

Andrew Small talks about Pakistan’s relationship with China under the umbrella of China’s One Belt One Road policy at Asia Society Texas Center on Monday in Houston. MAY ZHOU/CHINA DAILY

How close is China’s relationship with Pakistan? Think of Pakistan as China’s Isreal, one expert says.

“When you look at opinion surveys on China around the world, Pakistan is often the striking outlier, where China’s popularity stretches to 80 or even 90 percent,” said Andrew Small, a transatlantic fellow with the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

A discussion held on Monday at the Asia Society Texas Center, Houston’s venue for the nationwide China Town Hall, was based on Small’s newly published book The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics, which reviews the China-Pakistan relationship from 1960s to present.

Quoting former Chinese head of military intelligence Xiong Guangkai saying that “Pakistan is China’s Israel”, Small noted that in the past, the relationship had been mostly based on security issues and managed by military and intelligence people on both sides. “That was a narrow relationship,” said Small.

However, the narrow security-centric relationship is changing under China’s new vision of One Belt, One Road (OBOR).

“This year, we saw some really quite dramatic developments. First, Xi Jinping goes to Pakistan and announces the largest overseas development-orientated package of investments that China has ever embarked on: $46 billion, for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Then, China and Pakistan put together the first formal peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government,” Small said.

“When you have economic investments on that scale, it brings China more into the realm of normal Pakistanis’ life. In the past year, the level of interest on China in Pakistan has mushroomed. China has become a central topic in Pakistan’s political and economic discourse. There has been a big psychological shift as a result of Xi’s announcement,” said Small, who views the China-Pakistan relationship as becoming more normalized as a result of potential economic ties.

Small cites a few factors in Pakistan that contributed to the shift: a government in Pakistan that China feels it can work with; an economy that’s starting to tick up; declining levels of violence; and military action against safe havens for Uighurs and other militant groups.

In addition, Small sees the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as the most advanced part of China’s OBOR strategy, the test case for the whole thing, and Pakistan is “one of the first places where there are plans ready to roll”.

China can benefit in various areas from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, according to Small: it helps to outsource excess Chinese industrial capacity; it’s a way to catalyze an economic take-off in China’s western regions; it provides alternatives to the maritime transportation routes that left China feeling uncomfortably vulnerable to chokepoints such as the Malacca Strait; it helps to advance China’s presence and influence in regions of the world that — unlike in East Asia — would run into little political resistance from the United States or others.

It would also help to stabilize an arc of volatile countries that were feeding into the worsening violence in Xinjiang, Small said.

“China has become a more assertive power. In East Asia, that’s often been problematic. But the flipside is that in many other areas, Chinese assertiveness is what people have been seeking for many years,” said Small.

Recalling Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent state visit to the United States, Small said that despite all the disputes between the two sides on cyber, maritime issues in East Asia, China and the United States reached agreement on a number of global issues such as climate and development coordination, and in regions including Afghanistan, where cooperation is far greater than it has ever been.

We are “now entering into a period where, despite competition with the US intensifying elsewhere, the region to China’s west is an area where we need to think more expansively about how a China that is looking to use its economic and political heft for the provision of something close to global public goods might change political and security incentives that have been in a bad place for some time,” Small concluded.