US-China relations: The bitter truth

Riaz UsmanBusiness Editor

26th Jul, 2021. 01:53 pm

No other diplomatic relations are more consequential than the one between the United States and China, which are not only affecting the two countries but also leaving an impact on the entire world, especially Pakistan. Though Sino-US relations have hardly been cordial during the last several decades, the bitterness between the two is increasing with the passage of time.

It was widely expected that there would be less inflammatory statements and rhetoric towards China after Joe Biden came into power but the paranoia continues, while China keeps focusing on increasing its influence across the world through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and by strengthening its economic muscles.

Owing to this, Pakistan becomes a sandwich between the two global powers with a longstanding and strong relationship with both the countries. Now the relation between the two rivals, US and China, is becoming more hostile and it has become a challenge for Pakistan to maintain an equilibrium in its ties with the two countries.

“Historically, China has been more accommodating towards Pakistan, as understanding our problems, it did not even react negatively when Pakistan became a member of the Central Treaty Organisation (Cento), the organisation formed to contain the influence of communism. Similarly, the relationship between Pakistan and the US has been fluctuating all along,” says Dr Naveed Elahi, president of the Centre for Peace and Security Research.

The Baghdad Pact was a defensive organisation founded in 1955 by Turkey, Iraq, Great Britain, Pakistan and Iran for promoting shared political, military and economic goals. The organisation was established, keeping in mind the framework of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (Sato).

The main purpose of the Baghdad Pact was to prevent communist incursions and foster peace in the Middle East. It was renamed the Central Treaty Organisation, or Cento, in 1959 after Iraq pulled out of the pact.

In the past, Pakistan had played the role of an honest broker to bring the US and China together and that changed the global balance of power.

“Those of you who read the history know that 50 years ago on July 8, 1971 Dr Henry Kissenger [President Richard Nixon’s National Security Adviser] flew from the Rawalpindi’s Chaklala Airbase to Beijing on a secret PIA flight, arranged by [Pakistan] President Yahya Khan, to meet Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai. It was the biggest change in the balance of global power then at the height of the cold war,” Senator Mushahid Hussain recalled.

“There was a rapprochement between the United States and China and Pakistan was the pivotal player. We were the bridge between that rapprochement so we had a role in bringing the two sides together and that changed the global balance of power. So, 50 years later, I think the situation has changed, [as] we see the United States and China at loggerheads largely at the doing of the United States because it seems that their preparation has been made for [the] new kind of a cold war, new kind of confrontation,” he added.

The geopolitical context of this Sino-US conflicted relationship, as it exists today, is very important to understand.

With an inexorable shift in the global balance of economic and political power away from the West to the East now the focus is on the Asia-Pacific, what America calls it the Indo-Pacific.

Secondly, the US retrenchment in the broader Middle East, which is manifested by the recent decision to have a military exit from Afghanistan. It also marks the formal end of the 9/11 era after the US squandered $6.5 trillion in the so-called war on terror.

“At the same time, we see a reassertion of [the] United States military power and political clout in the Asia-Pacific Region that is where they are trying to focus on China,” the senator said.

“There are other trends, which we also see is the rise of China, this process has been ongoing, and today China is [the] world’s second largest economy. Militarily America is still the number one power but, economically and politically, China is challenging America’s primacy, because [the] Asia-Pacific Ocean is no longer an American lake alone. The BRI, which is probably the most important diplomatic and developmental initiative of the 21st Century, which today includes 140 countries of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Europe in which the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the centrepiece,” Hussain said.

He explained that this process of the so-called new (cold) war actually began 10 years ago at the time of President Obama. In July 2011, Hillary Clinton, the then secretary of state, went to India and announced the launch of what she called the new Silk Road from India that moves through Afghanistan and central Asia. The talk of a new Silk Road, as if they are having an alternative of what China had assumed, was its own heritage.

“The second important development in 2011 was when President Obama announced the pivot to Asia, and that was in November 2011 in his speech in the Australian parliament and that was the opening salvo of the new policy to confront China, and they think China is becoming [a] stronger country, a new super power and that’s why the process has begun,” he added.

“In this context, we see if China is responding politically and economically, the US is responding militarily.”

US response to new China relations

Regarding the US response in this new US-China situation, he said: “Basically, they are trying to put a new architecture of security in this region and this architecture of security includes roping in countries for a military alliance to confront China. We have seen the Quad [Quadrilateral Security Dialogue], which includes Australia, Japan, India and the United States.”

Then a special relationship started with India. India has become a lynchpin of the American strategy and they started off three or four agreements.

“There is a communication agreement and on October 27, 2020, they had a BECA [Basic Exchange Cooperation Agreement]. Basically, it means sharing of real-time intelligence in [the] case of a conflict and so America is now an enforcement deployer on behalf of India when [it] comes to India’s core security interest in the region,” Hussain added.

“Of course, it is directed mostly against China but since Pakistan also perceived [it] as an adversary and friend of China by India so we also come into the firing line.”

Chinese view

The Chinese view of the world could be gauged by the most recent statement of President Xi Jinping on July 1, 2021, on the occasion of celebrating the 100 years of Communist Party of China, when he said: “Any country that tries to subjugate, bully or oppress China will find themselves on a collision course against a great wall of steel forged by 1.4 billion Chinese people.”

Pakistan had been through this situation in the 60s when President Ayub Khan decided to be friends with China. At that time China was the worst enemy of the United States and also an adversary of the then Soviet Union, now Russia.

“I would like to mention one statement from President Ayub Khan when he went to see President Johnson after the 1965 war in November and Johnson told him that you guys are flirting with China, you are supposed to be an ally of the United States. Khan told him if we have problems with the United States we will damage our economy, but if we try to break with China we will damage our national security and the country will be damaged, so we cannot compromise,” Senator Hussain said.

“Pakistan is very clear about the future, of course, we are not publically making a noise about it. But we have seen that the United State has taken a strategic position to embolden, strengthen and support India against China. In this context, Pakistan would like to continue with its strong relations with China. Right now, the US also needs Pakistan for Afghanistan so that kind of pressure is not there, overall we are going to see the fallout of the new conflict between the US and China,” he added.

“I think it is going to be an interesting situation but the US is on the wrong side of history, they are making a mistake to have this kind of confrontation because the days when it was [the] only superpower comes to an end. History has to move on. It’s a multipolar world with different competing power centres. They have to cope with [the] China’s power and China’s influence, especially in Asia where Pakistan and China belong,” Senator Hussain added.

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