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China To Fund Iran-Pakistan Pipeline?

The Times of India reports that Pakistan has named the largest bank in China to lead a consortium of funders who will finance a $1.2 billion natural gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan.  Reporting on a visit by the highly regarded Chinese diplomat Dai Bingguo to Pakistan, the Indian newspaper notes that Dai called for the international community to acknowledge Pakistan’s centrality in negotiations over the future of Afghanistan and offered tax free status to Pakistani companies operating in the Chinese province of Xinjiang.

A strategic alliance between Beijing, Islamabad and Tehran would be an interesting counter move to recent signs that the US, India and Japan are working closely with a group of Asian countries to build a framework for regional security and economic cooperation.  No doubt there are people in Beijing who are attracted to a geopolitical move that could challenge US preeminence in the Middle East even as it broke the ring of encirclement that some Chinese fear the US is trying to build around it. An triple alliance between China, Pakistan and Iran could further China’s efforts to improve its position in the energy rich and strategically interesting Central Asian countries once part of the Soviet Union.

For now such a move appears unlikely.  Pakistan seems more eager for a closer Chinese relationship than China is; China does not want to drive India farther into the American embrace and Pakistan is a somewhat questionable ally whose friendship carries a high price tag.  At the same time, Pakistan cannot move too close to Iran without antagonizing the Saudis, and Saudi money plays a large role in Pakistan — including a significant role, it is said, in the financial arrangements of important individuals and institutions in political and military life.

Diplomatic history, however, is full of surprising reversals and openings.  Who would have thought that Richard Nixon and Red China would have embraced one another?  The US is simultaneously stepping up pressure on China in the Asia-Pacific, frightening Pakistan by building deeper ties with India and tightening the screws on Iran.  Leaders in these countries will be scratching their heads about possible ways they could help each other with their common problem.

For now, this seems to be more about wishful thinking and hopeful gestures than about serious politics.  The US should try to keep it that way.

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  • Ed Snyder

    In your third paragraph, Mr. Mead, one could add the recent allegations that Pakistan has been giving aid and comfort to China’s Muslim rebels as another stumbling block to this proposed alliance.
    Another one is that, despite Iran’s genocidal intent towards Israel as a rationale for developing its bomb, the fact that its mostly Sunni neighbor to the east already has one is probably a consideration driving that program.
    Then there’s the fact that China’s finances are in the red or soon will be. This seems to me like an example of “those whom the gods would destroy…” Or, as our best writer put it, “I haven’t had so much fun since the hogs ate my kid brother.” 🙂

  • “Pakistan cannot move too close to Iran without antagonizing the Saudis, and Saudi money plays a large role in Pakistan — including a significant role, it is said, in the financial arrangements of important individuals and institutions in political and military life.”

    Off the cuff, anything that puts the Saudis as far from the Pakis as East is from West would probably get my vote. If ever there was an ideological marriage made in Hell (or is it more nearly a bond of Frankenstein and monster?) it is surely that one.

    Less facetiously (and as I think you amply indicate), this IS an extremely delicate balancing act, requiring something like boatlands of patience, humility and discretion to manage well. Besides good old-fashioned attentiveness to detail – “watchfulness” I think is the Biblical term – and cultural nuance. Should the Iranian and Pakistani regimes ever cohabit too closely for everyone else’s comfort, what might be some options? Might key demographic differences be exploited – e.g., the fact that the great mass of Iranian people seem to be neutrally- or even well-disposed towards America, whereas your average Paki on the street tends to be more and more reflexively anti-American? Just some thoughts – not sure where they go.

    On the subject of China, I wonder if there haven’t always been elements in the West who would greet with positive horror the prospect of an “Occupy Beijing” movement. A kind of “lobby” which will always prefer an authoritarian, CP-dominated but otherwise growth-driven and prosperous mainland China to any and all the more democratic alternatives. Why? Maybe just to keep us decadent Americans (to say nothing of those sub-decadent Europeans) economically on our toes?

    In any case, the article as a whole addresses a painfully important topic. Why it hasn’t attracted more comment is beyond me. Sort of makes me wonder what are the REAL values and priorities of the blog-chattering classes (myself included).

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