On the website of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) the words of President Xi Jinping stand out in simplicity. He refers, as usual, to the “all-weather strategic cooperative partnership” but makes it clear he wants more. And when one considers the way the Western world is behaving at the moment and is likely to stagger for the foreseeable future, it would serve Pakistan well to move even closer to China.
Of course China is not a purring pussycat, no matter what honeyed words might be uttered by its leader, and Beijing will always seek to obtain advantage from any agreement in which China engages — but it seems that, so far, its international commercial and diplomatic arrangements appear to have worked well and to the satisfaction of its partners.
Mr. Xi wants China and Pakistan to “strengthen mutual assistance and deepen strategic cooperation” while “we should advance our shared interests and achieve common development. We should use the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to drive our practical cooperation with focus on Gwadar Port, energy, infrastructure development and industrial cooperation so that the fruits of its development will reach both all the people in Pakistan and the people of other countries in our region.”
It is all very encouraging, but is there to be a golden age for Pakistan? Perhaps not altogether, and certainly not quickly, because Pakistan’s current economic situation is not satisfactory and will take a long time to rectify. In March 2018 the International Monetary Fund forecast that the current account deficit will soon be 4.8% of national income, some $16.6 billion, which is 83% higher than the government’s official estimate. This reflects a critical imbalance between imports and exports, but the longer term benefits of CPEC will almost certainly include amelioration of the import-export predicament, especially if such sectors as cotton production are attended to by the government in Islamabad.
On the Chinese front, relations are cordial and fruitful, but from the other side of the world the Administration of the United States appears determined to destroy whatever bilateral amiability existed in former times. President Trump’s first tweet of the year was appallingly insulting to the nation of Pakistan, and Washington’s actions since then have accelerated the decline in relations.
Later in January the State Department announced suspension of $255 million in military assistance to Pakistan, placed the country on the Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom and deferred $900 million in Coalition Support Funds which is money “used to reimburse coalition partners for logistical and military support to US military operations.”
In March 2018, on the other hand, India was declared to be “an incredibly important, incredibly valuable and incredibly close counter-terrorism partner of the US.” The Washington Administration’s representative noted that President Trump and Prime Minister Modi had “held a very, very productive series of meetings . . . and in response to that set of meetings, the US government and the Indian government have forged ahead to create a really powerful partnership.” Pakistan has been given the message, and would be well-advised to cut its losses to far as the US is concerned.
One major difference between the international policies of the US and the People’s Republic of China is in how they engage with Africa. As Forbes observed, “In December 2015, President Xi Jinping ushered in a new era of ‘real win-win cooperation’ between China and Africa. This strategy aims to create mutual prosperity, allowing investors to ‘do good while doing right.’ China has backed this proposal up with a commitment of $60 billion of new investment in major capital projects, which are tied to developing local economic capacity.”
Washington has a decidedly different approach, and is building up militarily in Africa, to the extent of having formed ‘Africom’, the US Africa Command (with its headquarters, astonishingly, in Stuttgart, in Germany).
The Pentagon now has some 7,000 troops permanently positioned in fifty of Africa’s 54 countries (but nobody knows, not even the US Congress, how many others move in and out on temporary deployments). According to Africom, it maintains “14 enduring locations which give the United States options in the event of crisis and enable partner capacity building.” There are 20 “Contingency Locations” with the purpose of “support[ing] partners, countering threats, and protecting US interests in East, North, and West Africa.”
The difference between the policies of China and the United States are manifest: on the one hand Beijing “aims to create mutual prosperity” while Washington, in the words of Africom’s commander, General Waldhauser, in testimony to a Congressional Committee in March 2018, has the policy of “forward staging of forces to provide operational flexibility and timely response to crises involving US personnel or interests . . .”
And so it is in Asia. The US has no interest in assisting Pakistan either economically or in the international political sphere. Washington is out for what it can get, which is inherent in the oft-repeated “America First.” It would be ingenuous to imagine that China does not give priority to its own economic interests, but it does exhibit loyalty to partners, rather than using them and then tearing them up.
Pakistan should keep its wagon hitched to the China Star.
By Brian Cloughley