Pakistan and US-China
great power competition

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By Salman Bashir

The overarching framework of US-China competition is a key feature of the global strategic landscape. The US Indo- Pacific strategy seeks to meet the China challenge with its military vectors centered in the Indian and Pacific oceans.  India is the lynchpin of this strategy and this brings the implications of the great power competition close to Pakistan. As a major defence partner of the US, India is entitled to receive high technology weaponry and has America’s back politically, economically and diplomatically in graduating from regional status to global prominence as a major power. 

The infusion of state-of-the-art weaponry has a negative impact on the strategic stability of South Asia, which is premised on Pakistan-India nuclear deterrence. Significantly, the maritime dimensions of the US strategy are aimed at enhancing and extending the role of the Indian Navy in the entire Indian ocean region. This would entail additional burdens on Pakistan to not only defend its maritime domain but also to develop requisite capabilities to maintain strategic balance.  Pakistan realizes these manifold implications and can only hope that the US will utilize its increased leverage with India for promoting peace and stability in South Asia.   

Pakistan is desirous of renewing its relations with the US and transforming them into a broad ranging cooperation that serves their mutual interests in terms of economy, education, culture and people to people contacts.  A long though somewhat checkered history of strategic partnership between Pakistan and the US from the decades of the Cold War and its sequels especially in Afghanistan, attests to the worth and validity of Pakistan-US relations. On the other hand, Pakistan has had a consistently strong relationship with China, which is a trusted and reliable friend and strategic cooperative partner.

US-China competition

Pakistan and China are presently working together to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s geoeconomics strategy seeks peace at home and in the region. Economic connectivity between Central Asia and South Asia, which was originally proposed by the US, could be realized with a cooperative approach among all major powers. Pakistan’s geoeconomics vision supports this theme. The first step is to stabilize Afghanistan economically, an objective that the region and the world must support.  CPEC is the operational arm and its extension to Afghanistan would enable all landlocked Central Asian states access to the Indian ocean for peaceful commerce. Moreover, CPEC is an inclusive concept of economic partnerships that could also be open to US and western corporations for profit.  Pakistan has stated at the highest levels that it wishes to be a ‘partner in peace’ not wars, anymore. Pakistan’s diplomacy seeks to open avenues of mutual and shared prosperity for the region. It is time to take a step back from geopolitics and give geoeconomics a chance. Of course, there are differences and disputes in the region left over from a colonial past that need to be resolved amicably. 

US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping shaking hands in cordial atmosphere

The Jammu and Kashmir dispute has fuelled cycles of violence for too long.  It cannot be put on the back burner as it involves the daily life of a people under an oppressive administration. Only a bold vision for a bright future would impel movement towards its eventual resolution in the best interests of the Kashmiris and of people in the region as a whole. The US and China have to find a modus vivendi to work their competition in a responsible manner. There are clearly areas in which their respective interests converge.  Pakistan should be viewed as an enabler in this regard. It is possible to have good relations with both the US and China, which in turn are bound by deep and un-dissolvable interdependencies especially in the economic domain.  

It is also to be hoped that US-China relations will at some point reach a stable equilibrium despite ‘systemic’ rivalry or competition. The forthcoming virtual summit between Presidents Biden and Xi Jinping later this year will be most consequential for the world. 

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

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