Pak-China-Russia trilateral strategic gamut
THE strong relationship between China and Pakistan, as illustrated most recently by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, has long played a key role in Asia’s geopolitics thereby paving the way towards trilateral strategic bonds between China-Pakistan and Russia.
However, broader regional developments over the last few months also mark the possibility of a new coalition involving Pakistan, China, and Russia.
This article focuses on the evolving relationship between the three countries; considers how real and potentially effective this trilateral partnership-perhaps fuelling the US policymakers to weave a strategy, thereby counterbalancing the US interests in the region and beyond.
This piece also endeavours to analyze the factors propelling such development and seek to discern the possible implications it may have on global geopolitics.
Needless to say, Russia’s robust engagement with China coupled with the recalibration of its ties with Pakistan, coming at the backdrop of Russia’s increasing estrangement with the West, Pakistan’s dissatisfaction with the USA over the suspension of security assistance, and India’s closeness toward the latter are leading scholars and political analysts to remark that Russia, China and Pakistan are gradually inching toward the formalization of an ‘axis’ or a strategic ‘counter alliance’ against the US-India ,and the US-NATO-Quad trajectory.
And yet, there are emerging signs that this trilateral symmetry is going to be a reality without any iota of doubt.
The undeniable significance is the emergence of converging interests among these three states that is gradually leading to deeper engagements among them.
The ongoing trilateral partnership between the three states is certainly dominated by the energy cooperation accompanied by opening new corridors of economic cooperation among them.
This development is a logical corollary to China’s expanding economic footprint and influence in South and Central Asia, Pakistan and Russia will likely desire to lessen their economic dependency on China.
Certainly, it is in their best interests to revitalise bilateral economic cooperation. Russia, with its abundance of natural and human resources, possesses huge potential to grow economically.
Arguably, beyond South and Central Asia, Moscow has taken its eastward pivot actively by pursuing FTAs with Southeast Asia such as Vietnam (2016) and Singapore (2019).
As Moscow’s economic footprint in Asia is still relatively low, Islamabad can dynamically capitalise on this opportunity to expand cooperation and attract Russian investment.
And most importantly, entailed by the strategic expediencies or concerns regarding China’s growing economic prowess and the deepening of United States (US)-India relations, Russia has developed a new interest in engaging with Pakistan.
Following the conclusion of the Russia-Pakistan Technical Committee meeting in 2020, both countries revived discussions on the North-South Gas Pipeline Project.
The project was initially inked in 2015, but it was put on hold due to Western sanctions imposed on Rostec, a Russian state-controlled company that was a stakeholder.
The PSGP is one of the largest Russian investments in Pakistan since the (former) Soviet Union assisted in developing the Oil and Gas Development Company and Pakistan Steel Mills in the 1960s and 1970s.
Russia is eager to welcome Pakistan as a new energy client as it plans to triple its LNG production capacity and increase LNG exports by 2035. Besides the PSGP, Russian companies have filed proposals to supply more LNG to Pakistan.
Lavrov, the Russian FM highlighted in his visit to Islamabad in April 2021 that Rosatom and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission are exploring cooperation in using nuclear energy for medicine and industry purpose.
The Pak-Russian officials meeting in the last week of November In Moscow is evidence to this development.
Moscow is likewise concerned with Beijing’s increasing assertiveness in foreign policy and improved economic and military capabilities.
In 2017, Russia initiated the expansion of the SCO membership to India to dilute the Chinese dominance in the organisation; China responded that this would be possible on the condition that Pakistan too joined as a member.
Recently, Pakistan and Russia signed the “Security Training Agreement” to train Pakistani military officers in Russian military institutions for the first time.
While Pakistan and Russia are not publicizing the nature of their cooperation as openly as Islamabad would do in Pakistan’s agreements with China, the trajectory is quite clear.
Pakistan is keeping its options with Moscow and Beijing open after the Trump Administration stopped military support and training for Pakistan military.
For the NSG bid, Pakistan logically expects from both China and Russia to support Pakistan to qualify for the eligibility criteria.
Pakistan envisages NSG membership to be a crucial element of Pakistan becoming part of the mainstream in the nuclear world order, which it believes would confer some sort of legitimacy to its nuclear weapons program, as has been the case with India.
Afghanistan is another core area where Islamabad, Beijing, and Moscow share their joint interests.
The increasingly close bilateral relationship between China and Russia is one of the most interesting, consequential, and surprising geopolitical developments since the end of the Cold War.
Beijing and Moscow, once bitter adversaries, now cooperate on military issues, cyber security, high technology and in outer space, among other areas. While it falls short of an alliance, the deepening Sino-Russian partnership confounds the US policymakers in Washington.
Some have proposed driving a wedge between the two countries, but this stratagem seems unlikely for the foreseeable future.
In the immediate aftermath of the Taliban takeover, China and Russia seemed to have pursued shared interests and avoided undercutting each other.
The two countries have engaged in some parallel actions of late by holding military exercises with Central Asian partners — both bilaterally and within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
Russia has been expanding its economic cooperation and diplomatic outreach with Pakistan, while China perseveres in developing the China0Pakistan Economic Corridor, a key artery of the Belt and Road Initiative.
It appears that Washington is also developing its geostrategic clout in global affairs, as has been richly evident to the fact that the US, UK and Australia have forged a new AUKUS.
The fact remains that a tug of geopolitical supremacy runs between the US, China, and Russia.
—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-international law analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.