WASHINGTON: The Chinese feel that the United States should not urge China and Pakistan to renegotiate Beijing’s debt and should not ‘bad mouth’ the Pakistan-China relationship, according to the director of the China programme at the Stimson Centre.

Speaking at a two-day seminar on US-Pakistan relations, Chinese foreign policy expert Yun Sun said Pakistan’s relationship with the US was a factor in China’s overall strategy for South Asia, but “China has plenty of confidence that its relationship with Pakistan is going to continue regardless of the modality of US-Pakistan relations.”

She, however, said that China was also adjusting or recalibrating its policy and expectations towards Pakistan, especially in terms of the CPEC.

“And from that recalibration there’s almost a welcoming attitude in China that Pakistan should re-balance its external strategy. And there’s a welcoming attitude that Pakistan is reaching out to the United States again,” Ms Yun said.

“This readjustment of Pakistan’s expectations and external alignment strategy has much approval in China.”

The Chinese, she said, did not believe that the recalibration of US-Pakistan relations would come at the expense of China’s interests in the region “because India’s still there and because CPEC will remain one of the most significant campaigns regardless of how people feel about it.”

About China’s reaction to US-Pakistan interactions, she said, “[it] has more to do with what the US has said, rather than what Pakistan has said.

“This is none of your business,” said Ms Yun when asked about China’s reaction to the US suggestion that Pakistan should renegotiate its debt with Beijing.

She said she had seen multiple analyses from China, claiming that the US intends to sabotage Pakistan-China relations and urging Washington ‘not to bad-mouth Pakistan-China” ties.

“Dan, is it none of our business?” Moderator Shamila Chaudhary asked another panelist, Daniel Markey of the US Institute of Peace (USIP).

“At some level, of course, it is our business… We look at its debt burden… have concerns about the growth of its economy. We see Pakistan going to the IMF and other lenders. So, of course, it’s right that the US asks questions about the other forms of debts that Pakistan holds, including from China,” he said. “Gap in transparency is also a cause of concern for us.”

Pakistan’s envoy in Washington, Masood Khan, however, explained how the end of the war in Afghanistan had created an opportunity for Pakistan and the United States to start afresh.

“Pakistan-US relations have been de-hyphenated from India and Afghanistan,” said Ambassador Khan in his keynote address at the two-day conference, organised by the Center for Security, Strategy and Policy Research (CSSPR), University of Lahore, the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, and Engro Corporation here this week.

“The US policy in the past was based on regional equilibrium,” the ambassador said, adding that the US relationship with India stood on its own. “We are engaged right now to recalibrate, reenergise and rejuvenate a broad-based relationship in the new technological age,” he said.

Others were not as confident. Former Chief of Naval Staff Tahir Afzal suggested correcting past mistakes to build a better relationship. “The relationship needs another event. When there is an event, the relations will be good. When the event is over, we will move from being the cornerstone of US policy to being the most sanctioned country,” he said.

Ms Chaudhary, a non-resident Senior Fellow at Atlantic Council, noted that Pakistan was not even mentioned in the new US national security strategy, released last month, although “there’s a lot of conversation” about the region, as well as Afghanistan and India.

“The strategy is talking around Pakistan, but if you look at the themes of strategy …there’s a lot of fruitful conversation that we can have about how US and Pakistan can collaborate with each other.”

Mr Markey noted that some equate strategic stability in Pakistan with the safety of its nuclear assets. Noting that this was “a very narrow context,” he said, Pakistan was also strategically important to the US because “it’s an enormous country”.

The nuclear issue, however, was “central to the US interests” as it would like to “ensure that these types of weapons are never used”.

The nuclear issue was also “central to Pakistan’s sense of its own security. It is at the core of Pakistan’s security in the region. So, that continues to be a strategic concern,” he said.

Mr Markey noted that the US has a strategic partnership with India, while Pakistan has a strategic partnership with China and this arrangement too has become strategically important as US-China and Pakistan-India relations are strained. The US and Pakistan, he said, “need a firm and established equilibrium… to move forward”.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article erroneously identified Stimson Centre China programme director Yun Sun as a Chinese official. The error is regretted.

Published in Dawn, November 4th, 2022

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