China's New Diplomacy
By Dr Shireen M. Mazari


The visit to Pakistan and India by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao this month has brought to the fore the new Chinese proactive diplomacy in this region. One of the outstanding features of this new approach to South Asia is the increasing interaction between China and India -- not just on the economic but also on the politico-diplomatic front. The new agreements and statements from the Chinese and Indians coming out of New Delhi early last week reflected the transformed Sino-Indian relationship, with the $13 billion trade between the two countries a major factor in laying these new foundations. This trade is expected to reach $20 billion by 2007.
However, the Sino-Indian relationship has gone beyond a purely economic dimension. The Chinese premier's visit to India brought with it Chinese recognition of India's annexation of Sikkim -- a quid pro quo for India's earlier recognition of Tibet as an integral part of China.
Another important development arising from the Chinese premier's Indian visit is the agreement between the two countries on a set of guiding principles on which they will resolve their outstanding border dispute. Amongst the important principles that the two states will adhere to are that they will follow well-defined and easily identifiable geographic features and safeguard the interests of settled populations. While the dispute itself will still take time to resolve, given the size of the territory involved, clearly the two sides have formulated principles on which they will proceed. The process has been made clear and the border dispute irritant will be mitigated. The icing on the cake was India declaring that it has no objections, in principle, to China seeking SAARC membership.
However, despite the twist given in the media, China made no firm commitment to supporting India's bid for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. Instead, the joint Sino-Indian statement issued in New Delhi stated that the two countries agreed that the reform of the UN "should be comprehensive and multi-faceted and should put emphasis on an increase in the representation of the developing countries. The Indian side reiterated its aspirations for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council." The Chinese side gave no firm commitment to a support of India's bid, but it did state that China "understands and supports India's aspirations to play an active role in the UN and international affairs."
So how does one see the new Sino-Indian relationship from a Pakistani perspective? Clearly, Pakistan can no longer rely on the historic legacy of its relationship with China, or on the old Sino-Indian antagonisms. Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Pakistan, as part of his overall South Asian trip, saw the expansion of the traditional China-Pakistan relationship with the signing of the Treaty of Friendship. This was unique for both countries, since neither has a similar treaty with any other country. For China, especially, this treaty goes contrary to its traditional approach to external relations; this reflects the degree to which China is prepared to express and reaffirm its commitment to Pakistan. Again, the two countries' commitment to safeguarding each other's territorial sovereignty is a major boost for Pakistan's security. The economic commitments made by China in the context of assistance for various projects, especially in the nuclear energy field, and investment in the private sector, are also a major step forward in the expanding Pakistan-China relationship.
However, Pakistan has to face the new reality of the burgeoning Sino-Indian relationship, especially in the economic field. There is also a growing political dimension, evident in the joint statement of April 11. Also, the fact that the Chinese premier traveled to India, as well as other South Asian countries, from Pakistan shows how the lay of the land has altered for Pakistan vis-à-vis China. There was a time when the Chinese government representatives never traveled to India from Pakistan. In a similar vein, Chinese academic delegations also travel now to Pakistan through India or to India via Pakistan – a shift away from the traditional Chinese way of dealing with these South Asian neighbors.
China's new approach was very visible at a conference organized by the Shanghai Institute for International Studies in November, which involved a trilateral interaction between Pakistani, Indian and Chinese scholars for the first time. The Chinese maintained an extremely sensitive approach and were surprised to find that the Pakistanis and Indians were able to interact frankly and critically without unpleasantness. Clearly, they were unaware that acrimonious exchanges at international conferences were not unusual and did not adversely affect the spirit of international conferences where Pakistanis and Indians interacted with each other. In that sense, for them this trilateral exchange was also a learning experience in understanding some of the dynamics of interaction between Pakistanis and Indians.
Does this mean that Pakistan should fear the growing Sino-Indian relationship? No. But it should recognize that China's and India's gravitation towards each other is natural, given the economic and strategic dynamics, and that Pakistan has lost tremendous ground to India, purely because it has tended to be overly sanguine about its historic ties with China and failed to see the new realities that have been evolving. The Indian inroads into the Chinese intelligentsia and the market are extensive – and both sides are clearly keen to build these even further.
Additionally, Pakistan's lethargy in opening up its consulate in Shanghai was a major loss in terms of access in this critical city. The Indian influence seems much greater in Shanghai than in Beijing, and is greater within the civilian circles than military ones. This also reflects Pakistan's almost marginal interaction with the newly emergent Chinese business community.
The Indians have also, over the years, developed a number of China specialists, which we have been unable to do. The difference is telling, because India's China experts have developed a close liaison with their Chinese specialists on India – with frequent interaction. We need to evolve specific expertise in the form of China specialists who not only know Chinese history and politics but also the language.
An interesting Indian idea being floated to Chinese academics is the notion that Indian and Chinese Muslims can be major players within the Muslim Ummah. The Indians were also clever at exploiting Chinese apprehensions regarding "Islamic extremists."
Of course, the Chinese remain sensitive to their relations with Pakistan and continue to refer to the "all-weather" friendship between the two countries. This is certainly true, especially at the level of civil society where there is tremendous goodwill for China in Pakistan. But emotiveness alone does not strengthen political relationships amongst states – real interests need to be sustained and expanded. Presently, both Pakistan and China continue to have real interests in the military and economic fields, but unless we become more proactive on China, we will totally lose our advantage in the next decade.
Already, the younger generation in China has little knowledge of Pakistan's critical role in breaking China's isolation in the fifties and sixties -- but they are aware of Indian culture and Indian goods. Undoubtedly, China and India will always remain in a competitive mode, but that will not limit their cooperation in mutually beneficial areas. We, on the other hand, by taking Chinese friendship for granted and simply relying on our past are in danger of losing out on our future.
(The writer is Director General, Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Courtesy The News)

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