US-Pakistan crisis: Enter the dragon

By Ameen Izzadeen

It was indeed a tough message from China to the United States regarding Pakistan. But, strangely, it drew little or no response from the sole superpower. Underscoring the geopolitical importance that China, an emerging superpower, attaches to Pakistan, Beijing’s stern message said that any attack on Pakistan would be construed as an attack on China.

The dragon has awakened, it seems and it’s time to breathe fire. China has all the reasons to do so because it is surrounded by states with which it has territorial disputes or states which are militarily attached to the United States.

On the one hand, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and the breakaway Chinese territory of Taiwan are all nations that have entered into defence arrangements with the US and therefore China feels they could turn hostile in the event of a confrontation with the US. On the other hand, Vietnam and India have unresolved territorial disputes with China. In this context, China accords significant strategic importance to its alliances with Pakistan, North Korea and Central Asian states.

A war between China and the US may sound far fetched given the volume of trade between the two countries and between China and its pro-US neighbours. But international relations are a perpetual struggle for power. Every nation is in the race for power and is trying to beat the nation running ahead of it. In the case of China, it is running second to the US and now feels it has the potential to overtake it. Weeks before former International Monetary Fund Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested for alleged sexual assault on a hotel maid, the Fund had predicted that China would overtake the US as the world’s number one economy in five years.

Economy is the key factor that sustains all the other factors that go into the making of one’s power. The other factors include the military power, population, social progress such as a high level of education and the capacity to carry out research and development, political stability, the will to pursue a national strategy and the strategic purpose. China whose economy is on the ascendancy appears to be carefully investing its multi-trillion-dollar trade balance surplus in military power and social power.

The United States, too, followed the same method in the years preceding World War II. But today with its economy fast crumbling, it is using its brute military power to boost its flagging economic power. Its wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya have more to do with taking control of the resources of the Middle East and Central Asia than with a so-called war on terror or moves to establish democracy. This approach is likely to land the US in further economic misery and lead to the gradual decline in the overall US power. This perhaps explains why China and Russia often give their tacit support to US military campaigns. In other words, they give the US enough rope to hang itself — go, fight and get lost.

However, China and Russia will resist efforts by the US to come to their backyard.

China considers Pakistan as its backyard and that was why Beijing on May 18 gave the visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani the assurance that China would regard any attack on Pakistan as an unfriendly act against China. If only General Pervez Musharraf had been in power now or if the assurance had come during his reign, Pakistan probably would have said a firm no to Washington’s command to join the war on Afghanistan. Musharraf indeed wargamed and concluded that his country was militarily too weak to fight the US. Of course when the Afghan war began in 2001, China was not as a powerful as it is today.

Pakistan shares a border with China. The Karkoram highway connects China’s Xinjiang province with Islamabad and then through a network of highways with Pakistan’s Gwadar Port – a deep sea port which China is expanding — overlooking the Arabian Sea. The link will give China fast access to the oil-rich Middle East and enhance the current trade volume with the region by many fold.

Any US military invasion of Pakistan will jeopardize China’s ambitious move to link up with the Middle East. With US President Barack Obama being obsessed with taking the war in Afghanistan to Pakistan, China has become alarmed. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu told a May 19 news conference that his country categorically demanded that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan be respected, an obvious reference to the Osama Bin Laden hideout raid which the US carried out without Pakistan’s consent.

Gilani returned home a happy man from China which also offered Pakistan 50 JF-17 fighter jets.

Pakistani political analyst Talat Masood told AFP that if US and Indian pressure continued, Pakistan could now say ‘China is behind us. Don’t think we are isolated; we have a potential superpower with us’.

With China strongly backing it, Pakistan can and must ditch the United States, an unreliable ally which is not only responsible for much of the chaos that is tearing apart the once relatively peaceful country but also seeking to denuclearize Pakistan. Pakistan’s former intelligence chief Hamid Gul says he believes the recent terrorist attack on the Mehran Naval base in Karachi was a sponsored attack by a foreign power that seeks to prove that Pakistan’s nuclear facilities are not safe.

Pakistan will benefit immensely if it seeks full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a security cum economic grouping that brings together China, Russia and four resource-rich Central Asian countries. The grouping also seeks to keep the US military out of Central Asia.

(This article also appears in Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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