Is the Sino-Pakistani alliance a threat to India?

Is the Sino-Pakistani alliance a threat to India?

President Xi Jinping’s recent trip to Pakistan has cemented the strategic and economic imperative of Sino-Pakistani relations. With $46 billion of Chinese financing slated to be invested in Pakistan, both Beijing and Islamabad are anticipating a windfall of economic and strategic benefits.

The most notable announcement to emerge from Xi Jinping’s highly symbolic visit to Pakistan was the creation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The CPEC will produce several intended economic consequences.

Firstly, the project will connect Pakistan’s Port of Gwadar to China’s western Xinjiang region. In doing so, the CPEC will infuse much-needed capital into the isolated Port of Gwadar in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province.

At the opposite end of the corridor, Beijing hopes the CPEC’s economic benefits will assuage China’s Muslim separatists (Uighurs) in Xinjiang province. Lastly, much of the $46 billion pledged by China will be used to build much-needed power plants in energy-starved Pakistan.

From a strategic perspective, both Islamabad and Beijing can claim tangible gains. Through the development of the Gwadar port, China has secured a strategic foothold in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. Furthermore, Beijing’s generous investments in Pakistan will further compel Islamabad to step up efforts to suppress Islamist militants along the prospective economic corridor, a point of contention between the all-weather allies.

China has promised to supply Islamabad with eight conventional submarines, most likely the Type 041 Yuan-class, a key acquisition for countering India’s rapid expansion of its naval and nuclear capabilities.

Will Sino-Pakistani economic ties challenge India?

While India must always be wary of Chinese and Pakistani cooperation, the latest developments should not be perceived by Delhi as a direct threat to its interests or security. Despite a deep-rooted regional rivalry and innate suspicion between India and China, both nations share myriad common strategic and economic interests. It can be argued that common interests far outnumber issues which put the two powers at odds.

It is these very interests which make the likelihood of either China or India initiating any sort of offensive highly improbable. In fact, India stands to benefit from greater Chinese involvement in Pakistan.

China’s expanded economic footprint in Pakistan will not come at India’s expense. Beijing and Delhi enjoy stable and widening economic ties worth roughly $70 billion dollars annually, almost six times greater than current Sino-Pakistani trade volumes.

Even at the apex of the CPEC, trade between Islamabad and Beijing is not expected to exceed $20 billion. Fears that Pakistan will usurp India as China’s most prominent regional economic partner are wholly unfounded. The superpower will remain China’s most important economic partner in the region for the foreseeable future.

Pakistan’s economic growth and stability is vital to Indian and Chinese regional interests alike. A prosperous and surefooted Pakistan is more likely to liberalize trade barriers with India and promote regional economic integration.

More importantly, a financially viable Pakistan, capable of delivering power and basic services to its citizens, will be better positioned to combat the plethora of violent Islamist operating in its territory. This is, perhaps, the greatest advantage for India should the CPEC be realized.

Should India be threatened by China’s footprint in Central Asia?

With the drawback of US troops from Afghanistan, the United States has welcomed the prospect of greater Chinese involvement in the region. Though the United States has not given Beijing a carte-blanche to do as it pleases, Washington does recognize that China is one of the few states with the capital and regional credibility required to promote true economic integration and security cooperation in restive Central Asia.

If the United States is not overtly threatened by a Chinese presence in Afghanistan, there is little reason why India should be overly fearful of a Chinese presence in Pakistan. China is the only nation with the political clout and financial capacity to restore a semblance of internal stability in Pakistan.

A deeply invested China may also help foster a more peaceable coexistence between Islamabad and Delhi. With its economic interests vested in regional stability, China may come to represent a convenient and powerful interlocutor for both India and Pakistan, mitigating the possibility of future conflict.

Do deepening Sino-Pakistani ties represent a strategic threat to India?

Both China and Pakistan represent India’s most formidable regional rivals. Ongoing and unsettled border disputes continue to dampen Indo-Sino relations. Furthermore, China’s naval expansion into the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, coupled with fears of encirclement by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), have stimulated unprecedented growth in India’s naval capabilities.

With China now solidifying its sphere of influence over Pakistan and Central Asia, India could legitimately perceive an erosion in its status as a regional superpower.

This perception is partially unfounded. While the successful development of the Gwadar Port will elevate Pakistan and China’s status in Central Asia, India still maintains considerable clout and even leverage over China.

India’s loss in Central Asia will be balanced by its network of strategic allies in Vietnam, Singapore, Myanmar, South Korea, and most notably, the United States. As such, India would in no way find itself in a position of weakness when negotiating with China.

Does China’s naval expansion into the Indian Ocean compromise Indian security?

While there is little doubt that the China “String of Pearls,” a network of naval bases encircling the South Asian subcontinent, and its naval foray into the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea do challenge India’s prominence in the region, the expansion should not necessarily be considered an imminent or insurmountable threat.

Despite Gwadar’s strategic significance, China’s primary interests in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea are predominantly commercial. The Western Pacific, along with the reunification of Taiwan and the protection of territorial claims, will be of much greater strategic significance to China for the time being.

China is still many decades away from becoming a threatening naval power in the Indian Ocean because it has prioritized the cultivation of commercial rather than strategic relations with its “String of Pearls” partners. The extent of PLAN’s operations over the next 25 years will likely be limited to anti piracy missions, showing the flag, and generally increasing Chinese political and diplomatic leverage along India’s maritime periphery.

For its part, India has sufficiently built up its air and naval capabilities such that any ratcheting up of Chinese military assets or presence in the Indian Ocean would be dangerously vulnerable to attack and counterattack by Indian forces.

Is Pakistan’s acquisition of Chinese submarines a threat to India?

Whilst Islamabad’s acquisition of the eight conventional Chinese submarines will effectively make the Pakistani Navy a more formidable force, India’s naval capabilities will remain far superior for decades to come. As such, Pakistan’s expanded submarine fleet does not represent an insurmountable challenge to India’s maritime supremacy in the region.

Amidst India’s rapid enhancement of its military and the recent purchase of 36 French-made Rafale fighter jets, Delhi is unlikely to admonish China for the sale. Rather, it is likely to look to China to minimize provocations emanating from Pakistan.

Moving forward, India and China must remain focused on areas of mutual economic and strategic interest. Cooperation, rather than confrontation, is the optimal formula for serving both nations’ respective interests.

Robust bilateral ties between China and India can effectively contain and steer Pakistan in the proper direction. Furthermore, maritime cooperation in the Indian Ocean will protect rather than compromise commercial interests.

Categories: Asia Pacific, Security

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