Ongoing tensions between Pakistan and the United States have the potential for not only creating a conflict between India and Pakistan, but may also affect the reconciliation process in Afghanistan, and directly or indirectly pose a threat to China’s border security, an expert has said.
In an article written for Washington-based magazine The Diplomatist, Li Hongmei, a Visiting Scholar at SAIS, Johns Hopkins University, has warned that deteriorating relations between Washington and Islamabad could have three major negative impactful effects for Beijing.
Hongmei says poor relations between the U.S. and Pakistan could potentially increase chances of a conflict between India and Pakistan, and in turn undoubtedly affect and threaten China, which borders both nations, and this could easily drag Beijing into a possible war with India.
“Declining relations between Pakistan and the United States will also make it more difficult for Washington to combat terrorism in Afghanistan..The fragmentation of politics will easily breed terrorism,” he maintains.
Looked at from China’s perspective, he further states that such a scenario could ring alarm bells, as Beijing is concerned about East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) terrorists hiding in Afghanistan and impacting the security and stability of Xinjiang province.
This threat perception from Afghanistan Beijing believes may also affect the ongoing over USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.
Hongmei, who is also a doctoral candidate at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs, Fudan University, Shanghai, China, is of the view that Beijing also cannot afford to be seen as having a different view on terrorism emanating from Pakistan’s soil to that of the international community.
“If China fully supports Pakistan, that could ruin China’s reputation on anti-terrorism issues in the international community. In fact, anti-terrorism is a long-term task for China, and Beijing has firm determination to combat terrorism. China also actively seeks cooperation against terrorism by cooperating with other countries such as the United States, India, Russia, Pakistan, and so on,” he says in his article for The Diplomatist.
China’s expression of concern over violence being perpetrated by terrorist groups based in Pakistan at the Ninth BRICS Summit in Xiamen, Fujian Province was, he says, an expression of Beijing’s determination to combat terrorism.
Longmei says, “..Tolerance for Pakistan will ruin China’s image as a responsible country committed to fight terrorism, and also weaken China’s soft power in the world.”
Contrastingly, he says that if Beijing sides with the international community and publicly criticizes Islamabad on this matter, then the latter’s behavior will be seen as a betrayal of the former, and “deeply damage” bilateral ties, “not to mention (impact on) CPEC or anti-terrorism cooperation.”
Worsening relations between U.S. and Pakistan currently puts Pakistan’s economic outlook at risk, and if U.S. pressure to put Pakistan back on the FATF watch list in May succeeds, Islamabad could face global economic isolation, and this in turn could result in China facing huge pressure to promote Pakistan’s economic development through the CPEC.
“If other economic options dry up, Pakistanis may focus more on CPEC and raise their expectations toward it. If certain groups, especially local Baloch people, don’t see their lives improved by CPEC, this could easily cause dissatisfaction from the public and they will have a low opinion of the initiative. Second, Pakistan’s continued high debt levels may be unfairly blamed on China and ruin China’s image in Pakistan, especially with increasing worries about Pakistan’s debt from other countries. In fact, Pakistan’s high debt issue has accumulated over a long period and is not the result of CPEC,”” Longmei concludes.