In the Westphalian system, state-to-state relations are forged on the basis of perceived common interests among the states. In such connections, the states in relation mutually benefit from their symbiotic dealings, which the neo-liberal school of thought describes as ‘non-zero sum game’ or ‘win-win relations’. The Indo-US or Pakistan-China relations are prime examples, as all party states benefit from their bilateral relations.
However, Andrew Small in “The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s new geopolitics” goes one step further, claiming that although Pakistan and China are mutual benefactors from their current relations, has the situation not been exactly thus, China would still have cooperated with and supported Pakistan to secure its strategic interests vis-à-vis India.
Small has presented a detailed and painstakingly researched account of Pakistan-China relations; relations that until now have remained a surprisingly under-researched area – very few studies describe this most secretive, albeit stable, relationship that has existed for decades. The book discusses at length Chinese cooperation with Pakistan in the realm of nuclear weapons development, the supply of conventional arms to the Pakistan Army and the Chinese strategy to combat terrorism in the region and in its restive province Xinjiang. The Chinese have been the principle arms supplier to Pakistan as well as the main diplomatic protector of Pakistan.
Andrew Small traces the genesis of Pakistan-China relations as the product of the three wars of 1962, 1965 and 1971; he claims that these wars laid the foundation for this profoundly Indian-centric, ‘deeper than oceans and higher than the Himalayas’ relationship in the first chapter of the book. Andrew further argues that these relations were made ‘sweeter than honey’ with the Chinese help to Pakistan in the development of nuclear weapons and the strengthening of its conventional forces. Moreover, the rise of India as a potential economic power that could threaten China in future had further catalysed the Chinese vision of making Pakistan a counter-balance force against India. He also discusses the key irritants, both local and international, that have hindered the realisation of grand economic projects in Pakistan. He argues that despite all odds and obstacles, Pakistan and China have managed to give a final push to the mega projects and financial ties along with the strategic cooperation.
The book provides deep insight into the growing Chinese anxiety about the emerging threat by Uighur militants in the Chinese province of Xinjiang. Furthermore, Small argues that China, once merely a keen observer of the Taliban militancy in Afghanistan, now wants a more active role in putting an end to the militancy in the country, through its own active engagement. He opines that China is now ready to work even with the US in eliminating terrorism in Afghanistan.
In its conclusion, “The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geo-Politics” claims that China is now more of a ‘free rider’ entity in the international system. It has shunned its previous defensive position and now wants to exercise a more assertive role in the region. Through economic and financial leverage, China wants to change regional politics and balance of them in its favour.
Andrew Small is an expert of Chinese foreign policy and gives deep and detailed insights about the Chinese interests in south Asia and Central Asia. He claims that China’s deepening ties with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics highlights the changed policy from defensive to an assertive one. China wants to shift its development focus to its western region that has traditionally been the main source of Chinese land-power but now is industrially under-developed. Andrew numerates Chinese interests in Pakistan, ranging from building roads and rail infrastructure to developing a web of pipelines for the transition of gas and oil from the resource-rich Gulf and Middles Eastern States. In addition to its economic interests, China wants to build a naval base at Gwadar which would enable it to ensure its energy security. Gwadar would be the last point in the Chinese naval strategy of building a ring of ports that starts from East Asia and extends all the way to the Gwadar port.
While the book is certainly one of a kind and thoroughly researched, it gives an impression of the emerging two alliances of Pakistan-China and Indo-US in a similar manner to that of the Cold War ‘zero-sum’ game blocks between the USA and the defunct USSR. Contrary to this presumption, Pakistan and China relations are bilateral in nature and have little in common with the Cold War system of alliances. Pakistan has been an important ally of the US and beneficiary of US economic and military aid over the last few decades. Pakistan wants to sustain and benefit from its relations with both China and USA. Labelling Pakistan-China ties as an alliance against the US and India is a gross misrepresentation of ground realities, and greatly contentious in Pakistan.