Political crisis in Pakistan won’t affect friendship with China

The current political crisis in Pakistan, which, at time of writing, has seen Prime Minister Imran Khan forced to relinquish office following his loss of a parliamentary vote of no confidence, a vote he had attempted to derail by dissolving parliament, only to have the dissolution overruled by the Supreme Court, has led to considerable speculation in some anti-imperialist circles, focused not least on the nature and extent of the US role in the crisis and the prospects for China/Pakistan relations.

In an attempt to provide some clarity on these matters we are pleased to republish two important and thoughtful articles from China’s Global Times, both published on April 10. They deserve to be carefully read in full, but we highlight here some salient points by way of introduction. 

An OpEd piece bylined simply as Observer and entitled Futile for US to sow discords between Pakistan and China, states:

“[Imran] Khan implied that the US was behind the motion against him. Chinese scholars argue that even if the US was playing tricks from behind the scene, it cannot sow discord between China and Pakistan.” 

It goes on to quote Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, as saying:

“There is no difference between Pakistan’s major political parties in their friendship and the all-weather strategic cooperative partnership with China. If there’s a difference, it would lie in which party will uphold such relations better.”

Qian further notes that, “In China-Pakistan relations, the Pakistani military has played the role of a stabilizer and ballast stone in building a closer China-Pakistan community with a shared future”, adding that, “no matter which party is in power in Pakistan in the future, it should not be labeled as pro-US.”

In similar  vein, the article Pakistan’s political change ‘won’t affect solid friendship with China’ written by senior journalists Yang Sheng and Liu Caiyu, notes:

“The potential successor of Khan is from the Sharif family which has been promoting China-Pakistan ties for a long time, and cooperation between the two countries could be even better than under Khan.”

This article also quotes Qian Feng as noting: “The latest political change in Pakistan is mainly caused by political party struggles and issues with the economy and people’s livelihoods,” adding that “due to the impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, many people in the country believe that Khan’s administration has failed to stop the economic situation from worsening… In general, current internal problems in Pakistan have nothing to do with its solid ties with China, so there will not be a significant impact on China-Pakistan cooperation.  Khan is from a newly rising political party – the Pakistan Movement for Justice, and when traditional major political parties like the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) or the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) return to power, China-Pakistan cooperation could be even better because these traditional major parties have much closer and deeper ties with China.” 

“When [Shehbaz] Sharif [candidate for Prime Minister] was regional leader of the eastern province of the Punjab, he struck many BRI cooperation deals with China directly to improve local infrastructure and economic development, and his family have maintained long-standing ties with China as his brother Nawaz Sharif is a three-time former prime minister and the leader who kicked off the CPEC project,” the paper quoted unnamed experts as saying.

Neither article seeks to deny that the US is interfering in Pakistan and attempting to create discord both internally and in the country’s relations with China. However the newspaper quotes Rana Ali Qaisar Khan, executive member of the Central Standing Committee of the Pakistan National Party, one of the country’s historic left-wing parties, with its main base in Balochistan Province, as saying, “the US has always tried to influence many countries’ domestic affairs, including Pakistan’s, but its role should not be exaggerated and the current political situation in Pakistan is mainly caused by internal reasons.”

Futile for US to sow discords between Pakistan and China

Pakistan’s 342-member National Assembly announced on Sunday that it passed a motion of no confidence against Prime Minister Imran Khan with the support of 174 members. Khan became the first prime minister in the country’s history to be censured through such a motion. Earlier in March, Khan implied that the US was behind the motion against him. Chinese scholars argue that even if the US was playing tricks from behind the scene, it cannot sow discord between China and Pakistan. 

What is taking place in Pakistan will not impact the country’s relations with China in the slightest, Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times. 

“There is no difference between Pakistan’s major political parties in their friendship and the all-weather strategic cooperative partnership with China. If there’s a difference, it would lie in which party will uphold such relations better,” Qian said. 

China-Pakistan relations, whether between political parties, peoples or their militaries, have enjoyed a strong historical foundation and will not be disturbed by turmoil. The two countries’ relations always move forward firmly regardless of changes in the international landscape.  

On March 23, during Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Pakistan, Wang held a meeting with Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa of Pakistan. On the occasion, Bajwa spoke highly of the high-level strategic cooperation between the two countries, and he praised and expressed support for China’s foreign policies.

Since the founding of Pakistan, the Pakistani military has played an important role in the country’s politics, Qian noted. In China-Pakistan relations, the Pakistani military has played the role of a stabilizer and ballast stone in building a closer China-Pakistan community with a shared future in the new era. In this context, relations between the two countries will not be affected by Pakistan’s domestic political changes.

According to Qian, after Khan leaves office, the two major opposition parties – the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the Pakistan People’s Party – could become the ruling party. Both parties have a long traditional friendship with China, and this is why Chinese scholars believe the current changes in Pakistan will not affect its relations with China. 

Khan previously implied foreign interference specifically from the US against him. Zhao Gancheng, a research fellow at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, said it is in line with what the US has been doing to other countries in Khan’s case as Washington is not satisfied with Khan. 

“When the US is unsatisfied with a certain government, it will rope in the oppositions offering promises or money – using these coup-like measures to incite the opposition,” Zhao said. 

Nevertheless, Qian noted that no matter which party is in power in Pakistan in the future, it should not be labeled as pro-US. “Pakistan has independence in its policies and diplomacy. Even though it may take a balancing strategy among major powers, it will not engage China with such policy. Because the China-Pakistan relationship is so special that it is beyond comparison to Pakistan’s ties with any other major powers,” Qian said. 

As a matter of fact, the US has been trying to drive a wedge between Pakistan and China, but has never succeeded. 

In October 2021, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Authority head Khalid Mansoor accused the US of fake news and “negative propaganda” about the viability of the CPEC. He said the US is inimical to the CPEC but its attempts will fail.

Washington warned Islamabad in November 2019 that “China’s going to take a growing toll on the Pakistan economy.” Alice Wells, the then US principal deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, smeared that “CPEC is not about aid,” suggesting the US can bring a better model for Pakistan. 

In this regard, Qian said that the US has been futile in trying to affect Pakistan’s diplomacy. “The Pakistani people have long seen US pragmatism: Americans cozy up to Pakistan when they think it is useful and cold-shoulder Pakistan when they don’t need it. It is futile for the US to try to steer Pakistan, as it is not welcome by any part of Pakistani society,” Qian noted. 


Pakistan’s political change ‘won’t affect solid friendship with China’

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was ousted from office in a no-confidence vote in the country’s parliament on Sunday, but such a major political upheaval in Islamabad will not affect the solid friendship between China and Pakistan. Experts from both China and Pakistan are confident in the future of the China-Pakistan ties, as they believe the new government will continue to uphold the country’s long-standing tradition to make sure the friendship with China and all China-Pakistan cooperation projects will be unaffected.

A new government will be formed most likely under opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, after parliament reconvenes on Monday to vote for a new prime minister, according to media reports.

Chinese and Pakistani analysts consider that the solid China-Pakistan relations will not be affected by the internal political change in Pakistan because to safeguard and develop the bilateral ties is the joint consensus of all parties and all groups in Pakistan. The potential successor of Khan is from the Sharif family which has been promoting China-Pakistan ties for a long time, and cooperation between the two countries could be even better than under Khan.  

Although the US has always attempted to instigate or make trouble for China-Pakistan ties, especially targeting the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project and the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China does not need to be worried, experts noted. 

Current internal political struggles in Pakistan were caused by economic problems mainly brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, while the CPEC and the BRI, as well as China-Pakistan cooperation in other fields including counterterrorism and fighting coronavirus, are significant for Pakistan to overcome its current challenges. This means China is the most reliable, trustworthy, powerful and irreplaceable partner for  the country, said analysts. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a routine press conference on Wednesday when asked about the current political situation in Pakistan that “China follows the principle of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs. China and Pakistan are all-weather strategic cooperative partners. History has proven time and again that China-Pakistan relations have always been unbreakable and rock-solid, no matter how the international landscape and their respective domestic situations may change.” 

Zhao added: “We believe that the overall situation of China-Pakistan cooperation and the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will not be affected by the political situation in Pakistan. As Pakistan’s iron-clad friend, we sincerely hope that all parties in Pakistan will remain united and work together for national development and stability.”

Solidarity and friendship

The latest political change in Pakistan is mainly caused by political party struggles and issues with the economy and people’s livelihoods, said Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University. Qian added that due to the impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, many people in the country believe that Khan’s administration has failed to stop the economic situation from worsening, 

In general, current internal problems in Pakistan have nothing to do with its solid ties with China, so there will not be a significant impact on China-Pakistan cooperation.  Khan is from a newly rising political party – the Pakistan Movement for Justice, and when traditional major political parties like the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) or the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) return to power, China-Pakistan cooperation could be even better because these traditional major parties have much closer and deeper ties with China, Qian noted.

When Sharif was regional leader of the eastern province of the Punjab, he struck many BRI cooperation deals with China directly to improve local infrastructure and economic development, and his family have maintained long-standing ties with China as his brother Nawaz Sharif is a three-time former prime minister and the leader who kicked off the CPEC project, said experts. 

Rana Ali Qaisar Khan, executive member of the Central Standing Committee of the National Party of Pakistan and an expert on China-Pakistan relations, told the Global Times that “China is all-weather friend of Pakistan, so no matter who leads the government they cannot affect relations” with China. 

US influence very limited

Khan’s government had tense relations with the US especially after his visit to Russia on February 24, with the US considering it was a clear signal of taking sides between the US and Russia on the Ukraine crisis. Khan earlier accused the US of backing moves to oust him because he had visited Moscow in February. Washington rejected his charge, Reuters reported.

Rana Ali Qaisar Khan said the US has always tried to influence many countries’ domestic affairs, including Pakistan’s, but its role should not be exaggerated and the current political situation in Pakistan is mainly caused by internal reasons. 

Qian echoed that Pakistan is an independent regional major power, and in the past decades, Pakistan-US relations had seen up-and-down changes from being close allies to estrangement almost every 10 years. Pakistan has learned the nature of the US, and Washington’s image in Pakistan is still very bad. 

Some voices have said that the Pakistani military does not like Imran Khan’s diplomatic stance, which they believe has impacted the neutrality of the country and brought unnecessary frictions with the superpowers of the world as the country’s military also has cooperation with the US. “This is another reason why the Imran Khan administration was ousted, but we need to remember that the Pakistani military also attaches great importance to ties with China,” Qian said.

The latest significant defense cooperation announced in February of China exporting advanced J-10C fighter jets to Pakistan has greatly improved the combat capability of the Pakistan Air Force, said analysts. 

“China has solid and friendly ties with all groups in Pakistan, including the military and all parties whether they are in or out of office,” Lin Minwang, a professor at the Institute of International Studies of Fudan University told the Global Times on Sunday.

China has never acted like the US to interference in other countries’ internal affairs, and the reason why China can have an all-weather strategic cooperative partnership with Pakistan is that China equally deals with all parties that come to power and respect their reasonable demand and stay away from their internal affairs, Lin said. He noted that the US should understand they cannot instigate the solid China-Pakistan ties, and the most they can do is to use NGOs or media to spread negative disinformation about China-Pakistan cooperation, but the impact would be limited. 

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