The long view: Pakistan turns eastward

from The Africa Report..

By Syma Tariq in Islamabad

June 10, 2013

From ports to education to nuclear power projects, Pakistan is strengthening its ties with China as the US government remains focused on security.

The Pakistani government sees China as its foremost ally, but it is looking to get the most out of the competing interests of the United States and China.

While the politicians and generals in Islamabad treat Washington DC with suspicion, they have also allowed US drone strikes and used them to target their enemies.

Meanwhile, the government in Beijing sees its cooperation with Pakistan as a means to develop the western parts of the Chinese hinterland.

84 percent of Pakistanis saw China in a favourable light, compared to 16 percent for the US

Strong ties between China and Pakistan have been developing since 1950, when the South Asian nation was one of the first countries to recognise the People’s Republic of China after the civil war.

As a sign of such ties, from September thousands of schoolchildren in Sindh Province, home to Karachi, will take Mandarin as a required language from Class 6 (ages 10 to 11) and onwards.

There are already around 8,000 Mandarin students in Pakistan and further plans to roll out courses in more than 200 secondary schools across the country.

The already overstretched educational system and lack of trained Mandarin teachers are two overlooked issues in what some critics call a political, not educational, strategy.

Pakistani officials say that they consider China a more reliable ally than the United States, citing years of diplomatic manipulation and neglect by the latter.

Though extremism in Pakistan is also a concern for Beijing, its reaction has been manifested through military aid, not intervention.

A Pew Global Attitudes survey from 2009 shows that China retains a high favourability rating among people surveyed in Pakistan, at 84 percent, compared to 16 percent for the US.

Underpinning this is China’s perceived unstinting support, generally in the form of soft loans without conditionalities that have resulted in a range of prominent infrastructure and defence-related projects.

US efforts to build up India as a bulwark, and growing rivalry between the US and China, have strategic implications for Pakistan, though the country already has many reasons to move towards its powerhouse neighbour.

Trade between Pakistan and China is now worth around $11bn a year.

With Pakistan’s weak currency and low levels of foreign investment, cooperation on a variety of large- scale infrastructure projects – including highways, nuclear power projects and gold and copper mines – marks a relationship that extends beyond the military and strategic ties of the period before the 1990s.

Frequent high-level visits between the two countries have resulted in a num- ber of investment commitments and the free trade agreement signed between the two governments in 2006.


One of the most significant joint development projects is the port complex at Gwadar, located in southeastern Balochistan.

Inaugurated in December 2008, the installations at Gwadar provide a deep-sea port, warehouses and industrial facilities.

China provided much of the technical assistance and 80 percent of the funds for construction of the port.

In return for contributing most of the labour and capital for the project, the Chinese government has gained strategic access to the Persian Gulf, enabling it to diversify and secure its crude oil import routes and provide the landlocked and oil-and natural gas-rich Xinjiang autonomous region with access to the Arabian Sea.

China Overseas Port Holding Company won the management contract for the port complex in February.

A railway line spanning the length of Pakistan is now planned from Gwadar to Xinjiang.

Government talks are underway for the construction of a highway from Gwadar to Ratodero in central Pakistan.

The enthusiasm for Mandarin in Pakistani classrooms reflects a level of pragmatism by its people; and its people are said to be the country’s largest export.

It is symbolic that as Pakistani students face increased visa restrictions, higher expenses and more suspicion in the West, Chinese higher learning institutions are welcoming them with open arms. This will help to hasten Pakistan’s eastern turn.

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