US advised to focus on regional stability while responding to CPEC

Published April 26, 2020
US President Donald Trump waves at a crowd alongside Chinese President Xi Jinping. — AFP/File
US President Donald Trump waves at a crowd alongside Chinese President Xi Jinping. — AFP/File

WASHINGTON: The United States needs to focus on regional stability, especially in the context of deepening hostility between India and Pakistan, while formulating its response to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), says a new US report.

The report — ‘How the United States should deal with China in Pakistan’ — also urges Washington to keep an eye on the longer-term geopolitical challenges posed by China’s increased involvement in the region while responding to CPEC.

“CPEC cannot fail — that is a political and diplomatic impossibility,” argues author Daniel Markey while advising Washington on how to deal with this project. “For Pakistan, China remains an important partner and lifeline. For China, CPEC remains both a closely watched test case for the export of China’s development model and a prestige project.”

Mr Markey, a China expert at the Carnegie Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, Washington, also underlines the need for focusing on growing tensions between India and Pakistan while reviewing China’s influence in Pakistan.

“Over the past year, India and Pakistan have again reached the brink of war. Another India-Pakistan military crisis may be brewing this summer,” he warns.

Report urges Washington to remain engaged with China

He urges the Trump administration to appreciate Beijing’s role as a potential diplomatic partner for restraining India and Pakistan from war. “If tensions in China-US relations inhibit cooperation in the midst of a South Asian crisis, all sides will lose,” he adds.

Mr Markey notes that at present Washington tends to see Indian military strikes against Pakistan as “justified responses” while Beijing emphasises Pakistan’s “strategic obligation to respond forcefully” to aggression by its much larger neighbour.

“This mismatch is dangerous and warrants an intensive round of strategic stability talks between US and Chinese diplomats,” says the author while urging both to “better choreograph future diplomatic engagements” with New Delhi and Islamabad.

Mr Markey argues that while India-Pakistan tensions should be “the first and most immediate concern” for US policy makers, they should also be mindful of China’s impact on their plans for a complete military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

He notes that Washington has long perceived Beijing’s close ties with Islamabad as a potential leverage point, specifically as a means to encourage Pakistan to place greater pressure on its friends among the Taliban. “Although China never delivered a breakthrough in support of US war aims in Afghanistan, neither has it played a spoiler,” says the author while urging Washington to remain engaged with Beijing for persuading Islamabad to play a more positive role in the Afghan dispute.

Mr Markey reminds Washington also to watch how Beijing’s growing political influence in Pakistan is allegedly “strengthening repressive, illiberal governance” in the country.

“Over the long run, the United States will want to weigh the geopolitical implications of the China-Pakistan defence partnership,” including how it will enable China to “project military power into South Asia and the Middle East,” he argues.

According to the author, Washington’s future policies should take two ground realities into account: First, Pakistan has no particular desire to take a side in the brewing geopolitical competition between the United States and China. Second, CPEC is only one slice of the China-Pakistan relationship.

He reminds US policy makers that many Pakistanis tend to question US motivations, “doubting Washington’s noble, liberal rhetoric about freedom and assuming those words mask ulterior aims, from safeguarding commercial and security interests to practicing outright imperialism”.

Similarly, “Chinese rhetoric about noninterference in the sovereign affairs of other states strains credulity for many Pakistanis,” he adds. “But in the aftermath of a terribly fraught two decades of dealing with the United States, Washington’s claims of beneficence ring equally hollow.” Instead of framing the US policy response to CPEC as a narrow competition over the commercial and economic issues of “cost, debt, transparency, and jobs”, Mr Markey urges US policymakers to “train their focus on […] broader aspects of China’s relationship with Pakistan”, which includes Islamabad’s concerns about New Delhi.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2020

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