WASHINGTON: Two recent US documents — the 2019 budget proposals and the Pentagon’s 2018 report to Congress on China — indicate that differences between the United States and Pakistan go beyond Afghanistan as Washington feels Islamabad is gradually slipping out of its orbit.

The budget proposals underline China and Russia as “the central threat to America’s prosperity and security” and highlight the strategy to meet this challenge.

The Defence Department’s report warns Congress that “China will seek to establish additional military bases in countries with which it has a long-standing friendly relationship and similar strategic interests, such as Pakistan, and in which there is a precedent for hosting foreign militaries”.

The US media also noticed Washington’s growing concern as Wall Street Journal reported this week that “in Pakistan, China and the US are clashing over China’s One Belt, One Road initiative”.

While Washington is concerned that China is trying to gain global influence through “debt trap diplomacy” by lending countries money for projects they can’t afford, “Beijing calls this Western propaganda,” the report added.

The budget proposals, released in Washington last week, stressed that “the central challenge to US prosperity and security is the re-emergence of long-term, strategic competition (with) … revisionist powers” China and Russia.

A quote from the US National Security Strategy warns that “China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions”.

The budget proposals then describe how the Trump administration plans to deal with the threat by building “a more lethal, resilient, and rapidly innovating joint force, combined with a robust constellation of allies and partners”.

This alliance and the new force “will sustain American influence and ensure favourable balances of power that safeguard the free and open international order”, the document adds.

It points out that in alignment with the National Defence Strategy, the air force’s budget for 2019 prioritises long-term competition with China and Russia by “investing in key capabilities to increase the lethality of the force through cost-effective modernisation.

The strategy prioritises major power competition and vows to “reverse the erosion of US military advantage in relation to China and Russia”.

The document informs Congress that the defence budget request fulfills the Pentagon’s objectives by increasing “lethality; resilience (and) agility” of the defence forces. The objective behind this approach is to “build a flexible and dynamic force; and work by, with, and through allies and partners”.

The document also informs Congress that the Pentagon has taken specific decisions about the budget that support “a more capable, ready, and efficient force that can project power globally for full-spectrum operations against a range of threats”.

The document explains the US decision to partner with India to reverse China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Pentagon’s report to Congress on China argues that Beijing’s growing arms exports are geared to promote China’s “broader foreign policy goals”, which is particularly evident in its “arms sales to Pakistan and demand for Chinese armed UAVs”.

From 2012 through 2016, China was the fifth largest arms supplier in the world, completing more than $20 billion in sales. Of these sales, military equipment worth $8 billion went to Indo-Pacific countries, primarily Pakistan.

The Pentagon report claims that China’s ability to remain among the world’s top five global arms suppliers largely hinges on continued strong sales to Pakistan and demand for its armed UAVs.

In 2015, China signed an agreement with Pakistan for the sale of eight YUAN-class submarines; the first four submarines will be built in China and the remaining four in Pakistan, the report added.

Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2018

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