US-China strategic rivalry, implications for Pakistan | By Sultan M Hali

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US-China strategic rivalry, implications for Pakistan

THE unipolar world of yester years has given way to two main protagonists in today’s international political world order: China and the United States.

With great power rivalry between the two actors intensifying, G7 Group is considering countering President Xi Jinping’s mega project of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with its own partnership for global infrastructure and investment.

BRI is a global infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 to invest in nearly 150 countries and international organizations, which calls for China to assume a greater leadership role for global affairs in accordance with its rising power and status.

The US, India, Japan and Australia are four major countries that oppose the BRI but most of Europe, Africa and Asia is on board.

Pakistan has a strong stake in the mega project because the flagship initiative of the BRI, the China-Pakistan Economic Project (CPEC), will benefit both China and Pakistan immensely.

Since China and the US are vying for economic supremacy, at times their rivalry takes the form of acrimony.

US President Donald Trump used to indulge in anti-China rhetoric, while the current President Joe Biden, perceives BRI as not just a humanitarian concern, but mainly as an economic and a security concern for all.

In this milieu of fierce great power competition, other countries are striving to juxtapose themselves with ethnocentric views of gaining maximum benefit for themselves without antagonizing either power.

Pakistan, being one of them, is attempting to run with the hare as well as hunt with the hounds since its foreign policy is defined by relations with China and the United States.

To date, Pakistan has not exclusively taken a side with either Beijing or Washington DC, but the question is how long Pakistan will be able to maintain this delicate balance between the two great powers?

Since the intensifying competition between the US and China also poses major risks for regional stability in South Asia and Pakistan is no exception, it has to tread carefully.

The various challenges comprise influence in war-ravaged Afghanistan, increased possibilities of conflict across contested boundaries, an escalating nuclear arms race and a deepening US-China rivalry.

All of these could exacerbate the protracted India-Pakistan conflict by increasing advanced arms and intelligence capabilities coupled with US-India strategic partnership.

India’s capacity building and capability enhancement by the US is in all probability, leveraged by the rationale of US juxtaposing India as a bulwark against China but will pose a risk for Pakistan.

Amidst this environment, Pakistan is faced with a myriad of challenges. Joe Biden is hell bent on criticizing Pakistan although with the regime change in Pakistan, it was expected that Washington DC may develop a soft corner for Islamabad.

There has been pressure on Pakistan from both the US and its strategic ally to go slow on CPEC but Pakistan cannot afford to take a position either with its trustworthy and time-tested strategic ally and neighbour China, or a formidable superpower that has considerable influence over the international financial Institutions (IFIs).

Considering, Pakistan is under IMF debt, it causes serious implications for Pakistan internally and externally, at regional and global level.

Islamabad is necessitated to continue striding on a careful path in its relations with all major powers.

Its national interest should be the only criteria for maintaining ties with these two important powers.

India’s enhanced military capabilities will pose a risk for Pakistan; therefore, Islamabad has to be cognizant of the developments in this sphere and have to be proactive instead of reactive.

Already armed to the teeth, India carries a major threat to Pakistan. The animosity between New Delhi and Beijing is no secret while India is reportedly insisting on the US to pressurize Pakistan to abandon CPEC.

This creates another challenge to Islamabad because it cannot afford to compromise on the CPEC which is crucial for Pakistan’s economy.

The Indian military developments and overtures especially in the Indian Ocean need to be carefully examined while appropriate preparations are made.

The rising Sino-US tension over Taiwan Strait, South China Sea, US deliberate policies and measures to counter China need to be taken cognizance of.

The US has revived the QUAD Group which comprises Australia, India, Japan and the USA and formed the AUKUS, having Australia, the UK and the US as anti-China alliances.

China has the potential to replace the United States as the greatest superpower in the future.

But Beijing perceives it differently, since it desires to rule over the global economy rather than aiming for global hegemony.

Every now and then, China has emphasised over the fundamental responsibility of status equality and role of both Beijing and Washington as global leaders.

Pakistan being one of the major powers in South Asia with nuclear capabilities, plays a significant role in regional peace and stability.

Its strategic geographical location adds impetus to its importance. With respect to US-China strategic rivalry, the alliance formation in the South Asian region is very much patent.

US allies with India for a much bigger partnership, as India is the third-largest economy in the world, edging out Pakistan’s long term relations with the US.

Pakistan has to strengthen its relations by diversifying its avenues of friendship, a cooperation at global level and not just with America alone, may it be China or even Russia.

With the current global economic crisis and Pakistan’s economic recession aggravated by its political crisis, it’s an obligation for Pakistan to pursue its national interests and leave behind efforts that were forsaken in the past.

This is why Pakistan must endeavour to maintain a steady relationship with both great powers to endorse its national interests, brushing off any inclination with any of the two at any given period.

The future of US-China competition in the Indo-Pacific region is uncertain and this region is again vulnerable to giant economies like US-China rivalry in the IP.

China and the United States need to take into consideration the regional countries because they are directly and indirectly impacted by the strategic competition.

—The Author is a Retired Group Captain of PAF, who has written several books on China.

 

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