Posted: December 27, 2010 in Oriental Morning Post
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A new article in Chinese on Sino-Pak relations for a Chinese paper called the Oriental Morning Post. It tries to explain to a Chinese audience why it is the West is so worried about Afghanistan and Pakistan and why they would like the Chinese to do more to help. Unfortunately for the time being, all I can provide here is a link to it for those who want to try to read me in Chinese. I will get the text to post as soon as possible, but in the meantime for those very eager and unable to read Chinese, please drop me a note through the contact page.

Update, here is the English text I initially submitted:

Chinese Premier Wen Jiaobao’s visit to Pakistan marks another high point in Sino-Pak relations. With billions of dollars in trade deals and bilateral loans signed, the visit confirmed China as Pakistan’s closest ally in Asia. Frustratingly for the NATO Alliance, however, the issue of Afghanistan and terrorist training camps did not seem to be a top element on the agenda, suggesting China was unlikely to be applying much pressure to Pakistan on this sensitive issue.

It is easy to understand China’s perspective on this matter. First of all, this was a visit to Pakistan by Premier Wen, and while Afghanistan is a major regional security issue, the priority was clearly the Sino-Pak relationship that predates current troubles in Afghanistan. Secondly, Pakistan is a state beset with domestic problems: the Chinese government’s calculus is that more pressure is unlikely to stabilize the situation. Thirdly, the simple fact is that for China, Afghanistan ranks as a secondary security concern. While sitting on China’s Western border, the nation has thus far not exported many security threats to China, with militants seemingly more eager to target Western forces and cities in Europe and North America than China and her interests.

But China underestimates the degree to which the west is concerned about Afghanistan and terrorist training camps. In the week prior to Premier Wen’s visit, an unmanned drone strike destroyed a vehicle in Pakistan’s lawless North Waziristan allegedly killing, amongst others, two British converts who were in the region connecting with Al Qaeda militants. It is unlikely that we are ever going to know what exactly they were up to, but they do highlight the ongoing threat that is posed by Al Qaeda and affiliated groups to the West. Previous individuals who trained in Pakistani camps have returned to Europe to carry out the July 7, 2005 bombings on London’s public transport system that killed 52 people as they were going about their daily business. Earlier this year, a similar tragedy was only barely averted when Faisal Shahzad incorrectly assembled the car bomb he left in Times Square New York. Shahzad had spent time the previous year training alongside the Pakistani Taliban in Waziristan. Earlier plots with links to the region have been disrupted targeting other British cities, as well as cities in Spain, Germany and Belgium to name but a few.

Clearly, this link is still alive and well, and while some responsibility clearly lies with the West where much of these individuals radicalization takes place, it still remains the case that they are training at camps in Pakistan. In addition to this, the camps in Pakistan provide Taliban elements in Afghanistan with a secure refuge that they can use to mount attacks that continue to result in the deaths of Afghan civilians and NATO soldiers. And while Western leaders continue to apply pressure to Pakistan to do more about this, stories from the region still point to the fact that the problem has not gone away.

But what role might China play in this already complicated situation? Clearly, Chinese forces on the ground in either Afghanistan or Pakistan are not really an option. NATO warmly appreciates current support that China provides to both countries, but there is a strong sense in the West that China could play an even larger, possibly game-changing role, if it wanted to. As this latest visit by Premier Wen highlights, the connection between China and Pakistan remains “higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, sweeter than honey and stronger than steel.” What the West hopes is that China were able to use this political influence to stiffen Pakistani resolve in countering and eliminating the network of terrorist training camps that continue to act as a haven for radicals worldwide.

Additionally, while China’s support of Afghanistan is appreciated, it is clearly much less than China could provide. Premier Wen’s single visit to Islamabad has resulted in deals or aid worth almost $30billion, a sum that eclipses the $3.5billion investment China’s MCC has put into the Aynak Copper mine in Afghanistan and the roughly $200million China has given and pledged to the nation so far.

Like any sensible policy choice, this is not one that China would do for selfless reasons. Extremists targeting China continue to also be present to some degree or another in Pakistan’s lawless regions, and the presence of camps in Pakistan keeps the global extremist Islamist movement alive, threatening China’s other western border states like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Furthermore, a stabilized and extremist free South Asia would provide a region of prosperity that would directly benefit China’s underdeveloped Western Xinjiang province.

Additional to this there is the easy policy victory that China would score with the West. An active move towards helping the situation in South Asia and resolving trouble in Afghanistan would win China plaudits throughout the West and would lower the growing tensions around what is perceived as being a more assertive China globally. As State Councilor Dai Bingguo recently wrote while explaining China’s new path of Peaceful Development, “if a country wants to have security, it must make others feel safe too.” By taking more proactive positive steps in South Asia, China could play the role of change agent in the region, enhancing everyone’s sense of security and stability.

Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and a China Program Associate at the European Council of Foreign Relations.


  1. […] South China Morning Post, this time exploring the Sino-Pak relationship. A fascinating topic that I have touched upon before within the context of Afghanistan, but I think would be worth a close exploration in its own right […]

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