Chinese President Xi Jinping is heading to Islamabad on a two-day visit starting Monday, which, deepened by billions of dollars of likely investments, is expected to test Beijing’s capacity to avoid antagonising India too much.
The Chinese President is expected to sign infrastructure and energy deals estimated at $45 billion, which would be used to build the Pakistani node of Beijing’s ambitious Maritime Silk Road (MSR).
In turn, this would provide China another point of access into the Indian Ocean, from Pakistan’s Arabian Sea port of Gwadar.
The Financial Times is reporting that $34 billion of the $45-billion investment will go into new energy projects. Another $11 billion will be pumped into new infrastructure projects linked to the Pakistan-China economic corridor, which has been woven into the MSR initiative.
The Karachi-Gwadar-Kashgar rail and road link is at the heart of this project.
During Mr. Xi’s visit, China is expected to finalise with Pakistan, a deal for eight diesel electric submarines — a move that is bound to raise concerns in India. In a measured response, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar observed, during the course of an interview, that India will have the capability “to match” the proposed Pakistani acquisitions.
China is expected to finalise with Pakistan, a deal for eight diesel-electric submarines during President Xi Jinping’s visit next week. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar however has said New Delhi has the ability to match the proposed acquisitions by Islamabad. “I do not see it as a big problem because we will have enough submarines by the time Pakistan gets these eight. By the time they get the deliveries, we can manufacture 15-20 submarines,” he asserted in an interview.
But analysts say that the devil would lie in the detail, for Indian security interests could be gravely impacted if China cooperates with Pakistan to turn the submarines into platforms for a second nuclear strike capability. Reports in Bloomberg have quoted Iskander Rehman of the Washington-based Atlantic Council as saying that Pakistani naval commanders may want to follow Israel’s example of equipping conventional submarines with nuclear-tipped missiles. Pakistan formed the Naval Strategic Force Command Headquarters in 2012, which would be in charge of the “nation’s second-strike capability,” a statement on a Pakistan military website had said.
Beijing’s balancing act
Despite the special relationship between China and Pakistan, observers say that India has acquired fresh leverage in its ties with Beijing, which is seeking New Delhi’s cooperation to fulfill its aspirations to develop the critically important Silk Road blueprint.
Some Chinese academics in government-linked think tanks say that China is wary that the United States in the Western Pacific, India in the Indian Ocean, and Russia in Central Asia could be possible impediments to the “belt and road’’ initiative, a coinage that encompasses China’s plan to develop the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st century MSR.
Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China, there appears to be greater sensitivity in Beijing to India’s concerns regarding terrorism that originates from Pakistan. In a conversation with a group of Indian journalists, Hu Shisheng, of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, stated that, “India's concerns over terrorism will be addressed in a more constructive way.” However, he pointed out that “China and Pakistan have been undergoing very close anti-terror cooperation,” especially to safeguard the Gwadar-linked economic corridor — an observation that reflects Beijing’s emerging dilemma of striking a balance between China’s “all-weather” ties with Pakistan and a rapidly maturing relationship with India, under President Xi’s watch.