Pakistan’s strategic dilemma: China or US

Pakistan’s strategic dilemma: China or US

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For Asian states, the US Indo-Pacific strategy now poses a strategic dilemma of choice: China or the US? While some like India have aligned themselves closely with the US, others like Pakistan prefer to balance their position in a manner that best suits their national interests. 

The US is ratcheting up pressure on regional states to align themselves more clearly against China. The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is seen by the US as a vehicle for China’s global economic and political domination. However, for developing countries the BRI holds great attraction. 

BRI is founded on unexceptionable principles of equality, mutual benefit and equal footed partnerships. The concept of forging a community of shared destiny is in fact, inspired by the founding documents of the UN. Its emphasis on inclusivity denotes peaceful cooperation by all for all. The BRI is not directed against anyone. In its conceptual orientation, it is apolitical with no strategic or ideological connotation.

The US has however, projected the BRI as a predatory economic tool, an opaque and blunt instrument directed against the interests of sovereign states. On the ideological level, it is seen as an unfair display of state capitalism vis a vis liberal capitalism. Strangely, the US is now trying to reverse the processes of globalization that it had once promoted. The raising of protectionist barriers, isolationism and primacy of sovereignty over globalism has already caused serious disruption in world trade and is undermining the global economy. 

Pakistan would like to have close cooperative relations with the US but cannot entertain any suggestion aimed at diminishing its special relations with China.

Salman Bashir

Washington has come up with its own version of lending for infrastructure development and established international development finance corporation. It has also applied pressure on its friends to avoid Chinese technology and recently, criticized the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is a multibillion dollar development initiative. In short, the US would like to see Pakistan forego CPEC and align itself squarely with the US against China. 

But extending this anti-China strategy to Pakistan is short sighted on Washington’s part, as in fact, the interests of both US and China converge in this region. It is also unrealistic for the US to ignore the bitter realities of Pakistan-India adversarial relations. 

India is a US defense partner and strategic ally and is utilizing it is relationship with the US to undermine Pakistan. Pakistan, for a better part of its history, has been a US ally. It has also been a trusted friend of China’s. Pakistan would like to have close cooperative relations with the US but cannot entertain any suggestion aimed at diminishing its special relations with China. Pakistan’s relations with China are deeply rooted in national ethos and enjoy the full consensus of the people. 

Most importantly, these relations are not directed against any third country. To many in Pakistan, it seems that the trajectory of US global policy is self-defeating. These policies are based on a flawed assessment of China. Like China, Pakistan believes that the age of bloc politics is gone and dead. Globalization cannot be reversed. Monopoly over technology is no longer possible. Global interdependence demands cooperation. The system of inter-state relations must be based on an enlightened view of our common humanity and multilateral cooperation. 

This is the time to renew our faith in the ideals of the UN Charter. In short, both Pakistan and China subscribe fully to the world view that the US itself prescribed to for more than 70 years. Walking away from a world fashioned on those pristine principles and ideals would connote ushering in a dark age of anarchy and turmoil. While striving to establish excellent relations with the US, Pakistan will continue to further deepen and broaden its time-tested ties with China.

- Salman Bashir is a Pakistani diplomat who served as Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and as High Commissioner of Pakistan to India.
Twitter: @SalmanB_Isb

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