Pakistan likes having powerful friends; after the embarrassing May attack that killed OBL, Islamabad began looking to China to take over “sugar-daddy” status from the US. China’s response has been lukewarm, and it took another turn for the worse yesterday. As the WSJ reports:
An official at China Kingho Group, one of China’s largest private coal miners, said on Thursday it had backed out in August from a $19 billion deal in southern Sindh province because of concerns for its personnel after recent bombings in Pakistan’s major cities.
This is not the first instance of China spurning Pakistan’s advances. Pakistani officials have lobbied for a formal defense pact with China but Beijing has been entirely silent on the matter. China also agreed to take over the management of the (Chinese-built) Pakistani port of Gwadar in May but have not followed through on that promise. This, and China’s delay in building an important road network that would connect Gwadar with the rest of the country and China, has frustrated Pakistani officials.
It hasn’t stopped Pakistani officials from using some very kind language when describing their relationship with China:
Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani used a visit this week from Meng Jianzhu, China’s minister of public security, to promote the friendship, which Mr. Gilani said was “higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, stronger than steel and sweeter than honey.”
Yet China should not be viewed as the successor to the US as Pakistan’s supporter-in-chief. It is not the same kind of relationship. As NATO troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan, Pakistan and China’s strategic relationship will change. Islamabad will be eager to prove that it can crack down on Chinese separatists operating from safe havens in Pakistan. Trade and business ties could also strengthen as China seeks to offset the partnership between the US and India. But China will likely keep its dear Pakistani friends at a distance, because Beijing, like Washington, knows Pakistan is a liability, and can only be relied on to pursue its own interests. As of now, many of those interests clash with Beijing’s and even with China’s domestic security at home.
The problems will not soon disappear. Pakistan would like to see bad blood between India and China, as that increases Pakistan’s value as an ally to China — and weakens India’s hand against Pakistan. China, one suspects, would not welcome this change. Pakistan’s post NATO-vision for an Afghanistan in which militant groups can operate and which will serve as the base for radical Islamic groups throughout Central Asia is something that China truly doesn’t want to see.
Maybe the relationship is just stronger than honey and sweeter than steel.