The US, China and Pakistan: Geopolitics of triangular relationship | By Zeeshan Fida


The US, China and Pakistan: Geopolitics of triangular relationship

WITH the rise of China and a gradual decline in the American relative power position in the global system, the cordial relationship between the two great powers has turned its head.

The client state of Pakistan has caught on fire between these two patrons. As Pakistan is already facing a series of crises, political polarization, economic instability and climate catastrophe, its foreign policy behaviour needs to be pragmatic and cautious in the ensuing years when the great power confrontation further escalates.

Islamabad can no longer afford to become the pawn in the chess game of great power politics.

The foreign policy establishment of Islamabad has to recalibrate its power capabilities and devise a mechanism to enhance its vital national interests and bridge the gap between the two emerging poles.

In retrospect, Islamabad played an active role in the rapprochement between the two Cold War adversaries; the open door policy of Deng Xiaoping and the establishment of the diplomatic relationship reset the course of the warm relationship between China and the US.

With the demise of the Soviet empire, the US pursued strategy of engagement towards China which would be continued during the Bush Administration.

However, with the changing nature of the global configuration of power in the international system, the transformation in American foreign policy behaviour towards China has been quite conspicuous in the last few years.

The Obama Administration’s pivot to Asia-Pacific signalled a shift in the American foreign policy toward China from engagement to containment.

Besides, the Trump Administration continued the containment strategy of the Obama era vis-à-vis China but with a mixture of confrontation and cooperation.

The Trump Administration announced the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy on the military front.

On the economic front, it would trigger trade wars with China and also question the Chinese foreign policy project of BRI.

However, on the political front and human rights, the Trump Administration would reaffirm its commitment to the One-China policy towards the Taiwan Strait, retreat from democracy promotion and human rights.

In addition, the Biden Administration has continued to pursue the hawkish policies of his predecessor.

Thus, the friction between the two great powers has been widening, be it Beijing’s rage over Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, the geo-strategic confluence between Russia and China and divergence in policy overtures between China and the US over the war in Ukraine.

A recent diplomatic spat between America and China has involved Pakistan over Anthony Blinken’s statement.

He urged Pakistan to engage China on some of the important issues of debt relief and restructuring so that Pakistan can more quickly recover from the floods.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin called out the US for “passing unwarranted criticism against Pakistan-China cooperation” and urged it to do something “real and beneficial” for the people of Pakistan.

Thus, Pakistan has to walk on a tightrope as the confrontation between the two great powers escalates.

The foreign policy establishment of Islamabad needs to identify various areas for cooperation and urge the great powers to shun their differences and work for the united cause.

The Chinese ruling establishment seems willing to work within the global rules of the game. However, the previous US administrations infringed the rules and norms of international politics.

Furthermore, it is the time for unity and multilateralism. It is not the time for war. The possible areas of cooperation between the great powers are counter-terrorism, climate justice, and food insecurity, including the prevention of humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan and regional stability in South Asia.

—The writer is lecturer at IR Department, Fatima Jinnah Women University, Rawalpindi.


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