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Enhanced Chinese Interest in Pakistan

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has announced that at the invitation of the Chinese Government President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan will be visiting China from July 6 to 11,2010, for talks with President Hu Jintao, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and other Chinese leaders.This will be his second official visit to China at the invitation of the Chinese Government. His first visit was in October,2008, shortly after he took over as the President. In fact, after assuming office as the President, he chose China for his first official bilateral visit to emphasise the importance attached by him to his country’s relations with China.

2. He had announced during his first visit that he would be visiting various Chinese provinces once a quarter to learn from the Chinese experience in economic development. In pursuance of this, he had visited China thrice last year. These visits were not undertaken at the invitation of the Chinese Government. He visited a number of Chinese provinces and discussed with the local officials and businessmen about their experience in developing their provinces. He also discussed with them prospects for co-operation between their provinces and Pakistan. During these visits, he did not go to Beijing. The Chinese Foreign Minister flew to one of the provinces being visited by Mr.Zardari and called on him. Before leaving for Pakistan, he spoke with Mr.Hu and Mr.Wen over telephone.

3. The most productive of his visits so far has been his visit to Hang Zhou in the Zhejiang province and Guangzhou in the Guangdong province from August 21 to 24, 2009. During this visit, he sought Chinese participation in the development of hydel, thermal and solar energy projects, irrigation and fisheries and mobile telephone networks and in creating facilities for higher technical education, including the setting-up of a telecommunications university and research complex. Among the concrete results from this visit were:

The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to promote cooperation in river fisheries and related technologies by representatives of the Indus River Fresh Water Fisheries Research Institute and the Pearl River Fishery Research Institute of Guangzhou.

The signing of an MOU for the construction of a dam at Bunji in the Astore district of Gilgit-Baltistan by officials of Pakistan’s Ministry of Water and Power and China’s Three Gorges Project Corporation. The Chairman Board of Investment Saleem Mandviwala and Li Yang’an of the Chinese corporation signed the MoU. The dam, one of the eight hydel projects short-listed for construction by the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), will have a capacity of generating 7,000 megawatts of electricity.

The signing of an MOU on cooperation in drug regulation and production of hepatitis B and C vaccines.

The signing of another MOU between the Sindh Agricultural University in Tandojam and the South China Agricultural University in the Guangzhou province for cooperation in agricultural research, plant protection and animal husbandry.

The signing of two separate MsOU by the Board of Investment of Pakistan with the China Council for Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT), Guangdong province and the Guangdong Sub Council of CCPIT.

4.Mr. Zardari attended a presentation on small and medium sized dams, water conservation and irrigation by the Zhejiang Design Institute of Water Conservancy and Hydroelectric Power. Li Yueming, the President of the institute, said they had carried out feasibility studies of a couple of medium-sized dams in the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK).Shakeel Durrani, Chairman of the WAPDA, who was present on the occasion, said that Chinese companies were already working on a number of hydel projects in Pakistan, including Neelum-Jhelum and Gomal Zam and the raising of the height of the Mangla dam in the POK. He said the institute would be invited to bid for the construction of 12 small dams. Five of these dams were to be built in Balochistan, four in Sindh, two in Punjab and one in Khyber-Pakthoonwa.

5.In a report carried by the “News” of August 18, 2009, before Mr. Zardari’s visit, Mr. Kamran Khan, its journalist, alleged that without inviting open bidding from interested companies and investors, the Pakistan Steel had signed a non-transparent secret MoU with the Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) for a $2.2 billion expansion programme to raise its current production capacity of 1.1 million tons to five million tons. According to him, contrary to relevant government rules and regulations as well as basic norms of transparency, the Pakistan Steel didn’t place any advertisement in the local and international press to seek the best international offers before entering into secret negotiations with the Chinese company, which was long seeking to clinch this deal. He said: “The most shocking element of this MoU, available with this correspondent, which will bind Pakistan with an additional foreign loan of $2.2 billion, is a clause that requires complete secrecy of this understanding. Clause 6.1 of this MoU states: “This MoU and any discussions related to it shall remain strictly confidential between the parties and no public announcement shall be made without written consent of both parties.” Kamran Khan quoted a Pakistani official as saying: “This was not our requirement but the Chinese company asked for this secrecy clause and we agreed.”

6. During his interactions with local officials and businessmen in the course of this visit, Mr.Zardari kept pointing out that the Western regions of China now being developed were closer to Pakistani ports than to Chinese ports and invited ideas and proposals for developing rail and road communications between Pakistan and Xinjiang. Since taking over as the President, he has reportedly been pressing the Chinese for early implementation of the ideas mooted by Pakistan when Gen.Pervez Musharraf was in office for the construction of gas and oil pipelines between the Chinese-constructed port of Gwadar and Xinjiang and for the construction of a railwayline between Pakistan and Xinjiang. Pakistan had also mooted with Beijing the idea of China purchasing part of the gas which will be coming into Pakistan from Iran when the proposed Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is completed.

7. The Chinese have not yet shown much interest in the proposal for pipelines between Gwadar and Xinjiang because of the bad security situation in Balochistan and in the proposal for the supply of gas from Iran to Xinjiang because of the difficulties which this project is expected to face due to the threatened US sanctions against foreign companies collaborating with Iran in energy projects. However, the Chinese have agreed to conduct a feasibility study on the proposed railway line between Pakistan and Xinjiang. Two MsOU were signed on October 28, 2009, and March 6,2010, between the Railways Ministry of Pakistan and China Railway Group Limited on the feasibility study. The progress made in this regard is expected to be discussed during Mr.Zardari’s forthcoming visit to Beijing.

8. Despite the public controversy in Pakistan over the poor quality of the railway engines and other rolling stock supplied by Chinese companies to the Pakistan Railways, Mr.Zardari has reportedly been keen to seek Chinese help for improving management practices and maintenance facilities in the Pakistan Railways. He has also been pursuing the idea of a private railway company run by the Chinese which can use on payment the tracks of the Pakistan Railways.

9. Mr.Zardari’s visit will be taking a place less than a month after the China Nuclear Industry Fifth Construction Company (CNIFCC) and the China Zhongyuan Engineering Corp, which specialises in foreign nuclear projects, signed at Shanghai on June 8, 2010, an agreement to work together on the third and fourth nuclear power plants at the Chashma complex. A Chinese language announcement regarding the signing was made on June 8 on the website of the Construction Company. China also reportedly informed the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group during its recent meeting at Christ Church, New Zealand, of its decision to go ahead with the supply of Chashma IV and V to Pakistan. Pakistani sources say that while there were questions raised as to on what basis the Chinese claimed that these additional projects are not subject to NSG restrictions on the supply of nuclear equipment and technology to non-signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), there were no formal objections to the Chinese move.

10. All formalities for the inauguration of the construction, including arrangements for a soft Chinese loan to fund the construction, have been completed on the Chinese side, but a formal agreement between the Governments of China and Pakistan under which Pakistan will agree to place Chashma III and IV also under the safeguards and supervision of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency is still to be signed. This will be similar to the earlier agreements about Chashma I and II. The signing of this formal agreement is likely to be discussed during Mr.Zardari’s visit.

11. Recent comments by Chinese officials intriguingly indicate that China now projects not only the proposed Chashma IV and V, but even the wider agreement between the two Governments for civil nuclear co-operation as beyond the purview of the NSG as it was reached before China joined the NSG in 2004. This interpretation, if it prevails, would mean that China considered itself free to supply not only Chashma III and IV, but also four other nuclear power stations, not part of the Chashma grandfather project, which Musharraf had requested for. Musharraf, a Mohajir, as well as Mr.Zardari, a Sindhi, have been keen that at least one or two Chinese-aided nuclear power stations must be located in Karachi, the capital of the Sindh province, which has been going through a severe power crisis for some years now affecting local industrial production. Mr.Zardari is expected to press this issue further.

12. The Chinese will face difficulty in discussing nuclear matters with Mr.Zardari because the Pakistan Army does not trust him in nuclear matters just as it didn’t trust Mrs.Benazir Bhutto when she was the Prime Minister. This lack of trust in Mr.Zardari became evident on November 27,2009, when Mr.Zardari gave up the chairmanship of the Nuclear National Command Authority and transferred it to Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani. Though this was made out as a decision taken by Mr. Zardari at his own initiative, it was believed to have been prompted by the Army.

13.But, even in the case of Mrs.Benazir Bhutto, the Army did not allow its distrust of her to come in the way of using her services during her second term as the Prime Minister for reaching a secret agreement with North Korea on the acquisition of North Korean missiles and related technology. It is therefore, unlikely to have any objections to Mr.Zardari using his friendships and contacts in China for facilitating an agreement for the construction of more Chinese nuclear power stations in Pakistan.

14. Mr.Zardari’s forthcoming visit will coincide with the third joint counter-terrorism exercise between the armies of the two countries. The Chinese Ministry of National Defence announced on June 24 that the third joint counter-terrorism exercise will be held at Qingtongxia in northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region from July 1 to 11. The first exercise was held in 2004, in Xinjiang’s Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County bordering Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. About 200 soldiers from both countries participated. The second exercise was held in 2006 in the Abbottabad area of Pakistan. About 400 soldiers from both sides participated. The third exercise was to have been held in China in 2008, but was postponed for unexplained reasons. According to Uighur sources, the authorities of the two countries were probably concerned that a joint exercise in the wake of the anger over the Chinese role in the Lal Masjid raid in July 2007 could lead to fresh attacks on Chinese nationals in Pakistan.

15.Though no joint exercise has been held since 2006, the close co-operation in counter-terrorism continues at two levels—between the two armies and between the Interior Ministry of Pakistan and the Ministry of Public Security of China. Mr.Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, had visited China in 2009 and again earlier this year to discuss counter-terrorism co-operation, including exchange of intelligence.

16.Replying to the debate on the budgetary demands of the Ministry of the Interior in the National Assembly on June 24, 2009, Mr.Malik said: “Due to the efforts of the President and the Prime Minister, the Chinese Government has provided $290 million for capacity building of our security forces.”

17. The decision of the Chinese authorities to assist Pakistani capacity-building in counter-terrorism was officially conveyed to Mr.Malik when he visited Beijing and Shanghai from June 9 to 12, 2009. The visit was preceded by the Pakistan Government’s handing over to the Chinese of 10 members of the Uighur diaspora in Pakistan despite objections from the Amnesty International, which feared that these Uighurs might be executed by China without proper trial, The Pakistani authorities, who officially revealed the handing-over on June 5, 2009, as reported by the “News” of June 6, claimed that these Uighurs, who were rounded up during the Pakistan Army’s counter-insurgency operations in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), belonged to the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).

18. The “News” of June , 2009, reported as follows: “According to some sources in Islamabad, the Chinese militants were extradited despite opposition by the Amnesty International. In March 2009, Tim Parritt, Deputy Director of the Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme, had observed that whatever these militants were accused of, the risks posed to them were extremely grave, if forcibly returned to China. He had maintained that under the international law, states were obliged not to expel, return or extradite any person to a country where they risk torture or other ill-treatment. However, the Pakistani authorities insist that all those who had been extradited to Beijing were involved in terrorist activities both in China and in Pakistan and had also developed links with al-Qaeda network in the tribal areas of Pakistan. They said the fact that the ETIM militants had extended their network of terrorist activities to Pakistan was evident from a threat they had conveyed to the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad, saying they intended to kidnap Chinese diplomats and consular officers stationed in the Pakistani federal capital with a view to highlighting their cause. The Chinese mission subsequently informed the Pakistani authorities in a letter that some members of the ETIM had already reached Islamabad and planned to kidnap their staffers from the federal capital. The letter reportedly pointed out that terrorist groups located in Pakistan, including al-Qaeda, had been providing support to the ETIM activists for the likely kidnappings. Subsequent investigations had established that the anonymous threat was issued by none other than the East Turkistan Islamic Movement and that the would-be kidnappers had first travelled to Jalalabad in Afghanistan to finalise their plans.”

19. During his stay in Beijing, Mr. Malik met State Councillor and Minister for Public Security Meng Jianzhu, the Communist Party of China Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkong and the Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, who hosted a dinner for him. There were no reports of any meeting with President Hu Jintao or Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Talking to pressmen at Beijing, Mr. Malik said: “We have signed a number of agreements to build the capacity of our law enforcing agencies. We have signed agreements worth $ 300 million to acquire state of the art equipment to combat terrorism. The first consignment of these most needed equipment would be reaching Pakistan within three weeks. We want to ensure that our law enforcing agencies are well equipped, so that they could thwart with full force militancy. The equipment Pakistan needed included most modern mobile scanners that can detect hidden explosives and drugs. Initially, we would start employing these equipment in the metropolitan cities under threat of terrorism, like Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi and then gradually we plan to cover the entire country. ”

20. On June 12, 2009, a blogspot of the “People’s Daily” of China devoted to military issues had the following commentary: “Will China play a more “direct” role in both the Pakistan and Afghanistan conflicts? During the past two days, both Afghanistan and Pakistan are sending envoys to China to ask for China’s “direct” help in their fight against militants. The previous attempts to draw China into the conflicts by both NATO and US met with little success as China preferred to stay in the background and aid only in forms of financial and hardware support. China’s previous rejection to joining the military coalition is understandable as others have noted; while China does not view NATO/US missions in Afghanistan with suspicion compared to other Shanghai Co-operation Organisation states but allowing a military alliance to use China as a military supply route seem to undermine the Chinese Security-Umbrella that took 60 years and four wars to build. In addition, such an act violates China’s core foreign policy doctrine of non-interference in others’ internal affairs. At the same time, the core Chinese military doctrine is changing with the release of the new “Outline of Military Training and Evaluation” which for the first time placed focus on Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW) role for the PLA outside of China’s borders and anti-terror operation is considered part of the MOOTW. China is hosting the first “Non-traditional Security Forum of Armed Forces of ASEAN, China, Japan and ROK , something unthinkable just a few years ago. Maybe China is ready to move out of the “hide my capabilities and bide my time” phase to the “make some contributions” phase to be in line of what Hu coined the “harmonious world” (a.k.a, making the world safe for Confucianism) in his “Go Abroad” policy shift. It is also noted that both the Pakistan and Afghanistan’s request is coordinated and without “US/NATO involvement” which makes the request a bit more politically acceptable in China and the statement by Rehman Malik that “Pakistan has handed Chinese nationals accused of insurgent activity back to China and will continue to do so” is clearly aimed at audiences in China. Judging from China’s Foreign Ministry Press Release, China might be ready to take a more direct role. China is ready to further expand and deepen our cooperation in various fields on the basis of mutual benefit so as to push forward our comprehensive partnership of cooperation.”

21. Recent media reports emanating from the US about the existence of large mineral deposits in Afghanistan have given rise to speculation in Pakistan about the prospects of joint Pakistan-China projects for the exploration and exploitation of these minerals. China is already involved in the development of copper mines in Afghanistan. Its likely interest in the other minerals would make it receptive to suggestions in this regard from Pakistan. In the calculation of Pakistani officials, bringing in China in a big way for assisting in the economic development of Afghanistan would be one way of having the Indian role limited and ultimately reduced.

22.Why the recent indications of an enhanced Chinese interest in Pakistan? What role has the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) played in it? On March 31, 2010, the China Studies Division of the Center for Naval Analyses of the US had hosted a half-day roundtable to discuss China’s relations with and activities in Pakistan. Among its conclusions were the following: “China-Pakistan relations have a strong military component, which some participants alleged makes the PLA a key player in China’s decisions involving Pakistan. Bilateral military cooperation ranges from naval cooperation, to past nuclear assistance, to arms sales, to combined military and anti-terror exercises. Roundtable participants held that PRC leaders much prefer the military-led governments of Pakistan’s past and appear less confident about the capabilities and effectiveness of the current, democratically elected civilian government in Pakistan. The United States and China share important existential concerns in Pakistan. Both view stability in Pakistan as an important policy goal, and both see their interests better served by secular government rule in Pakistan rather than by the ascension of a hard-line or fundamentalist regime. Close U.S.-China coordination on many issues involving Pakistan was assessed as likely to remain difficult given Beijing’s predilection for bilateral action. Moreover, while the United States and China at this juncture share common interests in Pakistan on an existential level, Washington and Beijing have neither the same threat assessment nor the same hierarchy of priorities that could facilitate robust coordinated action. Even without close U.S.-China cooperation, participants felt there are good possibilities for complementary U.S. action, aid, and investment in Pakistan. It was suggested that the United States could capitalize on China’s aid and infrastructure investments in Pakistan by making complementary investments that would serve U.S. interests in Pakistan.” A detailed report on the Round Table put out by the CNA is available at (30-6-10)

( The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and also Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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