WASHINGTON: Pakistan and China are engaged in a “threshold alliance” but Beijing’s opponents, particularly the US, may prevent it from becoming a fully-fledged alliance, says a recent US report.

The report titled The Future of the China-Pakistan Military Relati­onship describes the current status of the China-Pakistan relationship as “a threshold alliance,” but argues that it may not lead to a fully-fledged future alliance, “potentially due to China’s own missteps, or due to opponents’ active measures to arrest the relationship”.

The author, Sameer P. Lalwani, works for the US Institute of Peace (USIP), a federal institution with a Congressional mandate.

The report notes that in 2015, analysts forecast a decline in the China-Pakistan military ties, citing various reasons. But the same year, President Xi Jinping visited Pakis­tan and introduced CPEC as a “flagship” project and announced sale of eight submarines to Pakistan.

US report examines ties between ‘iron brothers’

Now, in less than a decade, the China-Pakistan military relationship has “advanced from an episodic partnership to a threshold alliance”, the author argues.

The document claims that Pakistan’s major defence equipment is “increasingly sourced from China, especially the higher-end combat strike and power projection capabilities; and Pakistan continues to retire older US- and European-origin platforms”. But, more is needed for this threshold relationship to become a fully-fledged one. One indicator would be Beijing granting Pakistan more military aid and access to sensitive systems such as the J-20 stealth fighter or nuclear-powered attack submarines.

The other indication would be their militaries adopting a joint peacetime mission “to back each other in the event of a China-India or Pakistan-India border crisis”.

A final signal might be the Chinese Navy deploying maritime reconnaissance assets in Gwadar, it says.

The report, however, notes that both civilian and military leaders have “explicitly denied that Pakistan is drifting into Beijing’s camp and have eschewed pressures forcing them to choose between relations with China and the West”.

According to the report, in China’s and Pakistan’s current political and security environment, there are several points of friction that could slow or reverse the current trajectory of their military relationship.

Politically, China’s treatment of the Uyghurs, a Turkic Muslim minority, in Xinjiang Province could hinder its ties with Pakistan by causing public dissent.

Moreover, China is growing weary of injecting cash into Pakistan’s economy or actively started pursuing economic and military investment in Iran at Pakistan’s expense.

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2023

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