This week, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who is also vice chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), which oversees the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), met with General Khalid Wynne, Chairman of Pakistan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. The meetings, and associated announcements, underscore the close security relationship between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Pakistan.
China and Pakistan have a long history of military cooperation. The Chinese have helped Pakistan develop its indigenous arms industry, and joint ventures between the two states include joint production of the K-8 trainer and FC-1/JF-17 multi-role combat aircraft and Chinese assistance in the development of the Al-Khalid main battle tank. Meanwhile, Chinese investments in Pakistani transportation infrastructure, including the development of Gwadar port and the construction of the Karakoram Highway linking the two nations, are often seen as having national security implications for both nations.
The announcement of further strengthening of defense links likely constitutes several messages, from both Beijing and Islamabad, aimed at a number of audiences. The most obvious is a reminder to India of the close strategic ties between China and Pakistan. As India modernizes its military, both China and Pakistan share an interest in keeping the Indian leadership on edge.
At the same time, both Beijing and Islamabad may be signaling Washington, although with somewhat different messages. From the Pakistani point of view, the intent may be to remind American leaders that Pakistan is not dependent upon the United States; indeed, there are other powerful states that support the current leadership of Pakistan, whatever their policies towards Afghanistan and India.
China, meanwhile, may well be signaling Washington that any effort to forge a closer US-India relationship will be met by corresponding Chinese moves. Indeed, coupled with Chinese efforts to sell two nuclear reactors to Pakistan, it would appear that China will use various means to balance the United States in the Indian Ocean region.