As bilateral ties reach zenith, China builds advanced submarines for Pakistan

By Dr Abdul Ruff | Asian Tribune

ON THE WEB, 8 October 2015

The all-weather relationship between China and Pakistan has been reinforced now with Beijing deciding to strengthen Pakistani military infrastructure. Pakistan continues to focus on Indian aggressions in order to retain illegal occupational status of Jammu Kashmir.

China and Pakistan also share close military relations, with China supplying a range of modern armaments to the Pakistani defense forces. China supports Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir while Pakistan supports China on the issues of Xinjiang, Tibet, and Taiwan.

Military cooperation has deepened with joint projects producing armaments ranging from fighter jets to guided missile frigates.

On 20 April 2015, Xi Jinping arrived in Pakistan and signed agreements valued at $28 billion which includes hydro, wind and solar energy projects in Pakistan, with China’s government providing concessional loans for infrastructure projects.

The relations between Pakistan and China have been described by Pakistan’s ambassador to China as higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, stronger than steel, dearer than eyesight, sweeter than honey, and so on. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Pakistan is China’s biggest arms buyer, counting for nearly 47% of Chinese arms exports.

China and Pakistan also share close military relations, with China supplying a range of modern armaments to the Pakistani defense forces. China supports Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir while Pakistan supports China on the issues of Xinjiang, Tibet, and Taiwan. Military cooperation has deepened with joint projects producing armaments ranging from fighter jets to guided missile frigates.

China is Pakistan’s biggest supplier of military hardware, which includes battle tanks, naval ships as well as fighter jets. The two countries jointly manufacture J-17 Thunder warplane. In addition, China had planned to invest $46 billion in Pakistan as part of the economic corridor project passing through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) aimed at providing China easier access to the oil-rich West Asia.

China has recently announced it will assist Pakistan in building four of the total eight submarines it has agreed to provide the South Asian nation. These underwater ships would be constructed at Karachi shipyard under a direct transfer of technology to Pakistan by China, a senior Pakistan official said Dawn.

While officials have been tight-lipped about the crucial technology aspects of these ships, defence strategists assume China offering Type 41 Yuan-class diesel-electric submarines. The deal with China would allow Pakistan to multiply its depleted submarine fleet two-fold from the existing four, comprising mostly the French-made Agosta-class diesel attack submarines.

Tailor-made to meet Pakistan’s war hostilities with arch rival India, the Type 41 submarine is being fitted with Air-Independent Propulsion system (AIP), and would also be equipped with Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) capabilities. This crucial technological element would be especially useful in case of an Indian blockade of Pakistan’s coast and could give New Delhi grounds to pause before deploying its planned new aircraft carrier-the INS Vikrant. Notably, AIP adds stealth by reducing the noise dissipated during a submarine’s displacement below the ocean surface.

Meanwhile, India’s maritime build up in the Indian Ocean has rung alarm bells among the Chinese military establishment. India’s indigenous nuclear attack submarine Arihant, which is currently undergoing sea trials, is expected to enter service soon. The Navy plans to position six such ship submersible ballistic, nuclear in service in the near future.

Beijing is also wary of New Delhi’s naval posturing by teaming up with the navies of US, Japan and Australia under the multilateral Malabar exercise. China has shown immense interest in understanding India’s new class of destroyers built using indigenous capabilities.

China–Pakistan relations, now flourishing at a tremendous speed, began in 1950 when Pakistan, as young nation born in 1947, was among the first countries to end official diplomatic relations with the Republic of China on Taiwan and recognize the newly People’s Republic of China (PRC). Since then, both countries, Communist and Islamic, have placed considerable importance on the maintenance of an extremely close and supportive relationship and the two countries have regularly exchanged high-level visits resulting in a variety of agreements. Beijing has provided economic, military and technical assistance to Pakistan and each considers the other a close strategic ally. Bilateral relations have evolved from an initial Chinese policy of neutrality to a partnership with a smaller but militarily powerful Pakistan.

Maintaining close relations with China is a central part of Pakistan’s foreign policy. China supported Pakistan’s opposition to the Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan and is perceived by Pakistan as a regional counterweight to NATO and the USA.

Diplomatic relations were established in 1950, military assistance began in 1966, a strategic alliance was formed in 1972 and economic co-operation began in 1979. China has become Pakistan’s largest supplier of arms and its third-largest trading partner. Recently, both nations have decided to cooperate in improving Pakistan’s civil nuclear power sector.

Chinese cooperation with Pakistan has reached economic high points, with substantial Chinese investment in Pakistani infrastructural expansion including the Pakistani deep-water port at Gwadar. Both countries have an ongoing free trade agreement. Pakistan has served as China’s main bridge between Muslim countries. Pakistan also played an important role in bridging the communication gap between China and the West by facilitating the 1972 Nixon visit to China.

The U.S. War On Terror has the Chinese wary of U.S. influence in the region, and as Pakistan is a US ally and major recipient of US military and economic aid, China is obligated to step up its support in order to maintain its influence in the region.

Pak-China Economic Corridor is under construction. It will connect Pakistan with China and the Central Asian countries with highway connecting Kashgar to Khunjrab and Gwadar. Gwadar port in southern Pakistan will serve as the trade nerve center for China, as most of its trade especially that of oil will be done through the port, which is already controlled by Beijing. Currently, sixty percent of China’s oil must be transported by ship from the Persian Gulf to the only commercial port in China, Shanghai, a distance of more than 16,000 kilometres. The journey takes two to three months, during which time the ships are vulnerable to pirates, bad weather, political rivals and other risks. Using Gwadar port instead will reduce the distance these ships must travel and will also enable oil transfers to be made year-round.

This ambitious mega-project intends to link China’s Kashgar to Gwadar Port in Pakistan through a network of roads. Both sides are also planning railways, pipelines and fibre optic networks. This is the largest deal in the history of two countries. If the implementation of the CPEC moves smoothly, China may double its investment.

The support with which China and Pakistan give each other is considered significant in global diplomacy Many in USA and India say Pakistan is both a Chinese pawn (against India) and platform for power projection, but there are limits to this approach.

The gravity of world politics is shifting from the West to Asia, with China at its centre. This has increased competition between the US (the established superpower) and China (the rising power) who are both seeking to gain a strategic foothold, especially in the Asia Pacific region. The US’s ‘pivot to Asia’ strategy, intensifying territorial disputes in the South China Sea and a resurging Japan under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are all ringing Chinese alarm bells.

China is looking for allies in the region, and finds Pakistan is its most reliable partner. This relationship is grounded in geographical proximity, common security outlooks toward the region and ‘trust’ built over decades. China is also motivated by a desire to help Pakistan restore its ‘glorious’ past.

China and Pakistan’s interests are converging in the changing geopolitical environment. Beijing wants to assert its sphere of influence in South Asia, the Middle East, get an access to the Indian Ocean and beyond. China also needs support against separatism in Xinjiang and is seeking to develop its Western region. To achieve some of those objectives, China has unveiled the One Belt, One Road project that will ultimately connect it with over 60 countries. Under this project, China will build a web of networks such as the Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar Economic Corridor, the Silk Road in Central Asia, the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and the CPEC.

The CPEC is the flagship of these projects. It acts as a bridge between land and sea, involves only one other country (Pakistan), and gives China the quickest route to the Indian Ocean and beyond. The CPEC will complement China’s desire to modernise its Western region and deal with separatists in Xinjiang. For the terrorism-hit Pakistan, the CPEC could bring huge investment, infrastructural development, China’s political and diplomatic support at international fronts.

China has already become Pakistan’s largest arms suppliers and meets over 50 per cent Pakistan’s weapons needs. China’s economic assistance is also backed by strong defence ties. Within days of Xi’s visit, China announced the supply of 50 JF-17 aircraft, jointly produced by China and Pakistan. The two sides have also finalized the largest defence deal for either side: six Chinese nuclear-capable submarines worth US$4–6 billion.

China’s renewed engagement with Pakistan is not directed against India as is generally perceived. That might be Pakistan’s wish, and the concern of some Indian and Western spectators, but it does not seem to be China’s intention. Since the late 1980s, Beijing has separated its relationship with Pakistan from its relationship with India. China deals with each country independently. China looks at South Asia from a long-term perspective, and is not focused on the Indo–Pakistan rivalry. A stable South Asia and improved India–Pakistan relations will also serve China’s interest more than any other big power.

Based on its geo-strategic location, Pakistan has acquired a new importance in Beijing’s long-term strategy. This can be seen in China’s bold investment in mega projects and burgeoning defence ties between the two nations. Given the high stakes, this will likely increase China’s influence in Pakistan. Unlike in the past, Beijing may now take stand on issues affecting its interests.

At the same time Islamabad is cognizant that in the wake of a partial withdrawal from Afghanistan, relations with the US may enter into another phase of uncertainty. Islamabad has thus shown alacrity in intensifying ties with China, especially through a commitment to the early implementation of the CPEC.

The unity of purpose, the deep congruence of mutual interests guarantees a durable Sino–Pakistani relationship into the future. And all strenuous efforts by India and USA to delink Pakistan from China, therefore, have repeatedly failed.

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