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Pakistan-China bilateral relations 2001-2011: a deepening but cautious partnership

1 Oct 2012
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This article argues that, while China has indeed been deepening its relationship with Pakistan for the last sixty years, this relationship has been a marriage of convenience for both parties.

On the eve of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Pakistan in December 2010, the Pakistani Ambassador in Beijing, Masood Khan, stated in an interview that China was “the most beloved nation for Pakistanis”. Given these warm sentiments towards the Chinese, it is not surprising that 2011 was officially named the "Year of China-Pakistan Friendship" by both countries. The Pakistani media has added to the hype about the depth of the relationship, regularly suggesting that China could soon replace the United States as Pakistan's most important bilateral partner. This media angle is especially evident when Pakistani-American relations are not going well, with 2011 having been a particularly bad year in that regard.

This article argues that, while China has indeed been deepening its relationship with Pakistan for the last sixty years, this relationship has been a marriage of convenience for both parties. But as with most bilateral relationships, one party needs it more than the other, in this case, it is Pakistan. Notwithstanding Pakistani rhetoric about China being the “all-weather friend”, Beijing has only supported Islamabad in a pragmatic fashion. Accordingly, while Pakistan is very keen to get even closer to China, Beijing will continue to deepen its relations with Pakistan but it will do so only along the same realpolitik lines it has done for the last sixty years.

This article has been divided into two parts. The first part highlights the major events in the first fifty years of the bilateral relationship which opened the way for the deepening of the relationship in the last ten years. The second part examines in depth the bilateral relations in the last decade. Accordingly, it focuses on trade, economic and energy relations, development assistance and military ties. The last two sections examine some of the irritants in the relationship and where we can expect the relationship to go from here.

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2012
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