Mr Shiv Shankar Menon, India's National Security Adviser (NSA), visited China as the special envoy of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh from July 3 to 6, 2010, for talks with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and other Chinese leaders. President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan visited Beijing for four days from July 6. Thereafter he proceeded to Shanghai to visit the International Expo. He was to return to Pakistan from Shanghai.
The two visits were scheduled independently of each other and were not inter-connected. Despite this, what stood out was the quiet Chinese determination not to allow India’s core concerns relating to Pakistan come in the way of China’s expanding presence in Pakistan and Chinese assistance to Pakistan in matters and areas which add to India’s concerns regarding the implications of the Sino-Pakistan relations to its internal and external security.
The discussions of Mr Menon with his Chinese interlocutors including Prime Minister Wen Jiabao covered the broad parameters of the co-operation between India and China at the global level--sustaining the global economic recovery, climate protection, economic co-operation in third countries etc-- but not the nuts and bolts of it. Mr Zardari's talks with the Chinese leaders covered the nuts and bolts of the co-operation at the bilateral and regional levels without any pretensions of the relationship having a global significance. The nuts and bolts touched upon related to keeping the Chinese interest in the Gwadar port sustained, infrastructural development and linkages between Pakistan and Western China in the fields of road, railways and fibre optics and Chinese assistance to meet Pakistan's nuclear and conventional energy needs. Other areas touched upon were bilateral co-operation against Pakistan-based terrorism affecting peace and stability in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, Chinese concerns over the security of the over 10,000 Chinese nationals living and working in about 120 projects in Pakistan and scope for bilateral co-operation and initiatives within the framework of the SAARC of which China is an observer and the Shanghai Co-Operation Organisation (SCO) of which Pakistan is an observer.
The repeated Chinese assurances to Mr Zardari that China would maintain touch with Pakistan on the question of United Nationa reforms were meant to remove Pakistan’s fears that as a result of the seeming improvement in China’s relations with India, Beijing might support India becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Pakistan has been opposed to this. Instead of saying so directly, it has been saying since the days of Gen.Pervez Musharraf that it is time to make a Muslim country--Indonesia or Saudi Arabia-- a permanent member. China has not been unsympathetic to Pakistan’s view. The Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported that President Hu Jintao said that China would continue to maintain contact with Pakistan on issues such as the reform of the UN Security Council.
Mr Zardari was reported to have assured Mr Hu that Pakistan would continue to function as “China’s force-multiplier”. How is Pakistan playing this role of “China’s force-multiplier”? By keeping India faced with the threat of a two-front war against Pakistan and China. By continuing to supply nuclear and conventional military related and relevant equipment and technology to Pakistan China has been nursing this force-multiplier dimension of Pakistan. It became clear during Mr Zardari’s talks with the Chinese leaders that there would be no change in this role of Pakistan as China’s force-multiplier against India, though India was not mentioned by name.
The APP reported as follows: “China is a friend and a strategic partner, committed to the promotion of stability and economic progress of Pakistan” is how (Hu) Jintao summed up the strategic relations. Zardari responded by saying, “It is our belief that Pakistan can act as a force multiplier for China and we will continue to work towards this end.”
Generally, in the past, China had not been using expressions such as "core interests", "major concerns" etc in characterisation of its relations with India and Pakistan. It uses such expressions with reference to its relations with the US and Japan and its interests in the South and East China Seas. Some of the subjects and issues which it seeks to cover under this characterisation are its insistence on the one China principle, supply of US arms to Taiwan, US naval movements in the East China Sea, its differences with Japan on the East China Sea islands and the US contacts with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Beijing never hesitates to express its protests openly and loudly whenever it feels a threat to its core interests in these matters
During the recent visits of Mr Menon and Mr Zardari to China, one saw references to the concept of core interests and core concerns, which plays an important role in the formulation and assertion of Chinese foreign policy. The Chinese media reported Mr Menon's discussions with Prime Minister Wen in the following words. "Premier Wen Jiabao said Monday (July 5,2010) that China regards India as an important strategic partner of cooperation. "We will work with India to maintain high level visits and take care of each other's core interests and major concerns," Wen said when meeting visiting Indian prime ministerial special envoy Shiv Shankar Menon.
Wen also pledged to enhance dialogue and cooperation with India to benefit the two peoples, and make joint efforts to promote world peace and common prosperity. The two countries have also reached important agreements and made sound coordination in coping with the international financial crisis, climate change and other major issues, Wen noted. Wen said China and India, as neighbors and large developing nations with largest populations, enjoy not only profound historical and cultural origins but also broad common interests. "A healthy, stable and dynamic China-India relationship is of far-reaching significance to the two nations, Asia and the whole world at large," he said. "
A reference to the core concept was not there in the Chinese media accounts of Mr Zardar's meetings with President Hu and Prime Minister Wen. However, it was there in the media accounts of his meeting with Mr Jia Qinglin, Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). According to the Chinese media, Mr Jia told Mr Zardari that China has always valued its relationship with Pakistan, and treats the bilateral ties from a strategic and long-term perspective. “Jia applauded the Pakistani government's firm support in issues concerning China's core interests, saying that China would work with Pakistan to cement traditional friendship and act on all consensuses reached by the two sides. Jia hoped the two nations would work together to push forward the bilateral strategic partnership of cooperation, in a bid to benefit the two peoples and promote regional peace and prosperity.”
China's perception of India's global importance as against Pakistan's purely regional importance came out clearly in the Chinese media accounts of the talks of Mr Menon and Mr Zardari with the Chinese leaders. In the case of India, the emphasis was on New Delhi and Beijing caring for each other's core interests and major concerns. In the case of Pakistan, the emphasis was on Pakistan's support to China "in issues concerning China's core interests." The Chinese have, however, not clarified what they saw as the core interests and major concerns in their relations with India.
However, there were references in the Chinese media to India's concerns relating to the Chinese move to supply two more civil nuclear reactors (Chashmas III and IV) to Pakistan without obtaining the clearance of the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG). The Chinese media also referred strongly to China's unhappiness over Indian suspicions regarding Chinese telecommunication companies and imposing restrictions on Indian companies purchasing Chinese telecom equipment and technology. The reported assurance of Mr Menon in his interaction with the media in Beijing that India was evolving a telecommunication import policy which will uniformly apply to all countries and will not be China-specific does not appear to have satisfied the Chinese critics of the Indian policy. Chinese media criticism of alleged Indian black-listing of a large number of Chinese telecom companies tended to become virulent despite the assurance reportedly conveyed by Mr Menon.
Expectations that during Mr Zardari’s visit the Governments of China and Pakistan might formally sign the agreement for the Chinese supply of Chashmas III and IV did not prove correct. However, both Chinese and Pakistani officials sought to remove any impression that China might be having second thoughts on the issue or might be going slow on it because of India’s concerns or the misgivings reportedly expressed by some members of the NSG, including the US.
While reiterating China's resolve to go ahead with the supply of Chashmas III and IV to Pakistan, Chinese analysts sought to reassure India that there is no need for it to be concerned over this transaction. An article under the title “India should not fidget at signs of intimacy” published by the “China Daily” on July 8,2010, said: “Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's on-going visit to Beijing has aroused a lot of interest and concern from some Indian media. The much-anticipated deal on nuclear reactors between China and Pakistan was the centerpiece of the attention. Though, no further deal was reached when Zardari and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao held talks on Wednesday (July 7), the visit certainly firms up Beijing's commitment to continue its co-operation with Islamabad in the field of civil nuclear energy. On the surface, concern on possible nuclear proliferation in South Asia seems to have fueled the related media reports. However, delving deeper, lack of political trust is the crux of the matter. The proposed nuclear reactors constitute an expansion of the decades-old Chashma project in Pakistan's Punjab province. The Sino-Pakistani Chashma project has been under safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency. As a signatory state to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, China always remains committed to safeguarding the international regime on nuclear non-proliferation. Therefore, any concerns over this nuclear energy project are unnecessary. They would only intensify suspicion and distrust between New Delhi and Beijing. Due to the enmity between New Delhi and Islamabad, Beijing often feels like walking a political tight rope when trying to balance its relations with the two. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met Indian National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon, the envoy of the Indian prime minister, in Beijing one day before Zardari's arrival. Beijing highly values its good neighborly ties with Islamabad and New Delhi, regarding both as a strategic partner. While cherishing the traditional bond with Islamabad, it is also eager to bring its relations with New Delhi to a higher level. Maintaining stable bilateral ties with the two major players in South Asia is in the national interests of China. As a close neighbor, China is willing to see and contribute to peace and security in the sub continent. In this regard, the interests of the three countries converge. Therefore, New Delhi does not need to fidget each time it sees signs of intimacy between Beijing and Islamabad. Instead, it should look to the larger picture of India-China relationship and deepen its political trust with Beijing. Sino-Pakistani friendship takes its root in a high degree of long-term mutual trust and support. That is why it has been widely acknowledged as "all-weather and time-tested." If Sino-Indian relations could sail along a smoother track, they will embrace an even brighter future too.”
Any Indian expectation that as part of the assurance of Prime Minister Wen of caring for India’s core interests and major concerns, China would reverse its policy of helping Pakistan in the development of its railway and road infrastructure in the Gilgit-Baltistan area bordering Xinjiang, which de jure is part of India’s Jammu and Kashmir, and developing the hydro-electric potential in the Gilgit-Baltistan area was belied when the two countries announced the formal signing of more agreements relating to Gilgit-Baltistan during Mr Zardari’s stay in Beijing. Under Memoranda of Understanding signed by officials of the two Governments during the visit, China will build the 165-km long Jaglot-Skardu road and the 135-km long Thakot-Sazin road. The projects would cost Pakistani Rs 45 billion with 15 per cent financing by Pakistan and 85 per cent by China. Under another MoU to be jointly executed by Chinese company Datang and Norwegian company EBT, 500 MW electricity would be produced through wind power. It is not known whether this will also be in the Gilgit-Baltistan area.
Mr Zardari and the officials accompanying him repeatedly indicated that the Chinese have agreed in principle to co-operate with Pakistan in the construction of a railway line connecting Pakistan with Xinjiang via Gilgit-Baltistan. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters in response to a question that cooperation for the construction of a railway link between the two countries was for mutual benefit and not directed against any third party. It would appear that details of the project such as arrangements for financing and the alignment of the railway line are yet to be worked out. Mr Zardari proposed that the Pakistan and China Railways should form a joint consortium for the timely execution of this project.
Mr Zardari once again took up with the Chinese the pending Pakistani proposals for the upgradation of the Gwadar port, the construction of an oil refinery and an airport in Gwadar and the construction of oil/gas pipelines from Gwadar to Xinjiang. While the Chinese have readily responded in a positive manner to various proposals for projects in the Gilgit-Baltistan area, they are still hesitant regarding new projects in the Balochistan area. While they do not anticipate any security problems in the Gilgit-Baltistan area, they are still worried about the security situation in Balochistan.
Mr Zardari’s disappointment over the Chinese hesitation in the Balochistan area became evident in his reported remarks to Prime Minister Wen that Pakistan desired that “China should take maximum benefits from the Gwadar Port.” From this it is evident that while Pakistan is keen for the quick implementation of the Gwadar-related projects, security considerations still inhibit the Chinese response.
The agreement in principle for the upgradation of the Karakoram Highway was reportedly reached more than 10 years ago. The Chinese agreed to meet the cost of upgradation on their side and Pakistan on its side. While the Chinese carried out the upgradation on their side ahead of time, the Pakistanis could not find the money for the upgradation on their side. As a result, the execution of the project was delayed and the Chinese ultimately agreed to give a soft loan to Pakistan for this purpose.
Pakistan has reached a similar deal wit Iran in respect of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. While Iran will finance and construct the pipeline on its side, Pakistan has agreed to do so on its side, but it does not have the money. Will the Chinese give the money and help in the pipeline construction in return for a supply of part of the gas from Iran? This is a question which Pakistan has repeatedly raised with Beijing. China has been reluctant so far. According to reliable sources, Mr Zardari raised this issue once again in Beijing, but there was no positive response from the Chinese.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.