US Defence Secretary Robert Gates may not be able to get an invitation to Beijing, but Pakistan Army chief yesterday began a five-day visit to China after receiving a special invitation from the People’s Liberation Army.
Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is expected to discuss defence ties between the two as well as the question of China’s proposed sale of two nuclear reactors to Pakistan. The visit comes just as the US State Department says it is seeking clarification from Beijing over the supposed sale, which the United States believes should have the backing of the 46-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group before moving forward.
According to Reuters, US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters in Washington yesterday:
‘This appears to extend beyond cooperation that was grandfathered when China was approved for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group.’
Kayani’s visit comes at a time of deepening defence ties between China and Pakistan and follows a visit last month by a defence delegation from China headed by Minister for National Defence Gen. Liang Guangile. The two nations also signed bilateral defence pacts, with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari saying during the visit: ‘Strengthening and enhancing cooperation with China in all fields is one of the key principles guiding Pakistan’s foreign policy.’
Under the pacts, the services of the two countries agreed to conduct joint military exercises, while China—Pakistan’s biggest supplier of arms— also pledged to provide four trainer aircraft for the Pakistani Airforce and almost $9 million for various armed forces training programmes.
Already in the works is the JF-17 Thunder fighter jet, being developed as part of a joint venture between the two, while Pakistan has already taken delivery of two of four F-22 P, or Zulfiquar class, frigates that Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said last month have helped enhance his country’s ability to safeguard its waters.
None of this will have amused policymakers in Delhi, many of whom are already wary over Sino-Pakistan ties, with some Indian analysts suggesting Beijing’s support for Pakistan is a deliberate effort at trying to help pin Indian attention down in areas like Kashmir. Indeed, for some the reasoning goes that China is keen to keep India’s attention on its own backyard, so it doesn’t develop more outward looking, great power ambitions.
I asked UNESCO Peace Chair Madhav Nalapat, who recently returned from Beijing, for his take on what these recent developments mean for Sino-Indian ties. He told me:
‘The difference between India and Pakistan is that China makes tens of billions of dollars from India each year, but then loses tens of billions of dollars cossetting Pakistan. Over time, this has to make an impact, despite the fact that the PLA is still wedded to the strategy of using the Pakistan army as a lever to constrain India.’
Nalapat added that in his view, the Pakistani army has lost much of its functionality and value against both the terrorist threat and also India, a reality that he says should mean Chinese policymakers eventually will shift their approach to India.’
But he added: ‘Of course, if two more nuclear reactors are built in Pakistan, all bets are off.’