Can China help stabilise Pakistan?

December 11, 2009

forbidden cityWhen President Barack Obama suggested in Beijing last month that China and the United States could cooperate on bringing stability to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and indeed to “all of South Asia”, much of the attention was diverted to India, where the media saw it as inviting unwarranted Chinese interference in the region.

But what about asking a different question? Can China help stabilise the region?

As I wrote in this analysis, China — Islamabad’s most loyal partner — is an obvious country for the United States to turn to for help in working out how to deal with Pakistan.

It already has substantial economic stakes in the region, including in the Aynak copper mine in Afghanistan and Gwadar port in Pakistan. Its economy would be the first to gain from any peace settlement which opened up trade routes and improved its access to oil, gas and mineral resources in Central Asia and beyond. It also shares some of Washington’s concerns about Islamist militancy, particularly if this were to spread unrest in its Muslim Xinjiang region.

There is virtually no chance of Beijing sending military forces to Pakistan or Afghanistan. But Chinese support could come in the form of pressure on Pakistan, help for its economy, and at least tacit backing for U.S. actions and demands.

It already indicated a willingness to take a more nuanced approach to Pakistan when it supported a U.N. ban on the Jamaat ud-Dawa, the humanitarian wing of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, after last year’s attack on Mumbai. It is also looking for ways to help bolster Pakistan’s economy –a Pakistani finance ministry official said this week that Pakistan was in talks with China on a currency-swap deal with the aim of conserving its foreign exchange reserves.

But Chinese antipathy to interference in other countries’ affairs, a divergence of views on exactly what needs to happen in Pakistan, and China-India rivalry all limit how far Beijing can be roped into helping on Pakistan.

You can see the rest of the analysis here, or read this very detailed report (pdf) by the German Marshall Fund of the United States on the possibilities for greater Chinese involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

For now the jury is still out on how far China and the United States can work together on Afghanistan and Pakistan, at least in the short term. In the longer term, the path is fraught with difficulties, not least because of tensions between China and India dating back to their 1962 border war.

Historically, rivalry between India and China has had a major impact on Pakistan. At its most obvious level, India developed nuclear bombs in response to the perceived threat from China; Pakistan developed nuclear bombs — with help from China — in response to the perceived threat from India.

torchlightBut Sino-Indian rivalry has also played out in less predictable ways. India, Pakistan and China all hold parts of Jammu and Kashmir, the former kingdom which has been the cause of much of the tension in South Asia since partition of the subcontinent in 1947.

The 1962 war was triggered by what India saw as Chinese encroachment in the Aksai Chin on the remote fringes of the former kingdom. Years later, when India began sending military expeditions to explore the Siachen glacier — a move that escalated into open conflict with Pakistan in 1984 — its interest was underpinned by concerns about China’s presence in the region. Even today, India is wary about Chinese investment in dams on the side of the former kingdom under Pakistani control.

If you consider the China-Indian border then stretches from the Kashmir for 3,500 kms to the east — where the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh is itself a source of tension with China — you have a minefield for a U.S. administration which would like China’s help in stabilising the region. And all that is while trying to encourage Pakistan and India to reduce their own tensions as part of its efforts to reverse a stalemate in Afghanistan.

(Photos: President Barack Obama visits the Forbidden City in Beijing; torchlight protest in Kashmir)


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

What we really need to understand beyond the ‘can’ is ‘will’ China help stabilize Pakistan. Instability in the region benefits China more than anyone else. The so-called all weather friends sell weapons and provide nuclear technology to Pakistan but then conveniently choose never to involve in any conflicts between India & Pakistan. Peace in the region will lead to a significant drop in their revenue model. Also, if peace between India and Pakistan is miraculously achieved, the next conflict zone is the India-China border which is a conflict that both sides are quite content maintaining the current status quo.

The only benefit that they might gain is peace in the Xinjiang region, but then again, its not really much of an issue for them. The Chinese government maintains such strict control over their territories that even if things were to escalate in the region, they would ruthlessly crush the rebellion (eg. Tibet). Also, unlike other situations involving occupation such as Kashmir(where Pak raises its voice against India) and Tibet(where India and the world raises its voice against China); there are no real worldwide supporters of the cause. Besides, with complete control on information outflow, the rest of the planet would be left completely in the dark about any atrocities that may be committed.

If China really wanted peace in the region, why not involve in Afghanistan. They after all have the largest land army and are pretty much neighbors. It cannot be because they value human life and would rather not risk a chinese soldier’s life. We all know their track record as far a human rights go. What the world at large needs to understand is that China is the next super power and they are consolidating their position through economic means (fixed price of the yuan and cheap/forced labor), keeping prices of commodities low and thereby shutting down manufacturing operations worldwide. In the meanwhile, they are upgrading their armed forces and fortifying their territorial ambitions. The recent skirmishes with US patrol vessels and their air force’s statement that the next conflicts will be fought in space are sufficient testament to their conviction.

In a hypothetical WW3 scenario, the only realistic last remaining super power will only be China. US and western forces have been drastically depleted through long and unnecessary wars. To top it all off, the burgeoning debt would make rearming quickly enough for most nations difficult if not impossible. By playing the gamble of proxy wars to keep its closest competitors in check – India through direct Maoist support and indirect Pakistani terrorist support and Japan though support of North Korea; they are buying time to build their core and are getting more and more secretive and protective about it.

This may be just my personal opinion, but I think China ‘Can help’ but ‘Absolutely will not’ help. Instability benefits them economically and economics is the new face of war whether the world is willing to come to terms with it or not.

Posted by khuidude | Report as abusive

China can contribute to stabilize Pakistan, but they will always fuel weapons to the Pak Army and help fuel insurgencies and terrorism that are sympathetic to the anti-India cause. In short, Pakistan is probably willing to help stabilize Pakistan within the context of helping make a Pakistan that works to maintain enmity with India. China has purely selfish and amoral reasons to help Pakistan, that being, to enable Pakistan to agitate India.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive

I think China is getting what it wants from Pakistan. When Chinese girls were kidnapped in Islamabad (working in parlor and accused of prostitution by fundamentalists), it was Chinese pressure that pushed Musharraf—who otherwise was delaying for months—to raid Lal Masjid. Flushing out fundamentalists via raid was followed by killing of three Chinese nationals in Peshawar by terrorists (revenge probably). China should be worried about the safety of Chinese workers in Pakistan.

Internally China has faced sporadic violence by Uighur Muslims, fighting for the independence of Xinjiang. Some Uighur Muslims trained by Taliban/A-Q, were arrested in Pakistan and are in G’bay (some released from there). Violence between Uighur Muslims and the majority Han-Chinese in Urmuqi/Xinjiang in China left over 200 dead. China recently executed nine men for murder and arson for that violence–obviously they all will be Muslims. Al-Qaida vowed revenge for Chinese Muslims fallen in onslaught by China.

Taliban/A-Q comes into picture and despite good relations it is in Chinese interests not to have any kind on Taliban back in power and should pressurize. But I do not think it is time yet for Chinese to worry too much about it. So they will pressurize Pakistan to get as much as they can.

Obama and Hu would have talked for some time in 5 days over the issue at hand. Rather than a statement on Chinese pressurizing Pakistan, Obama statement mentioned the role that China can play in stabilization of India-Pak relationship. Probably China suggested that for Pakistan to act, this first step is must.

Chinese are hard nut to crack and I doubt they will pressurize Pakistan unless Chinese are killed in Pakistan. That is not a tough pre-requisite to achieve in international espionage.

Can anyone here comment on the significance of MOU between Jamaat-e-Islami party of pakistan and China? I think signed less than a year ago.

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

I tend to agree with Rajeev’s views about China being less than enthusiastic about actively engaging in Pakistan. It is fairly confident of the fact that with its existing relationship with Pakistan, it is best able to look after its interests most satisfactorily and would not like to rock the boat.
The US to-day is fairly unpopular within Pakistan, China would be hesitant to be seen as playing any role in Pakistan at US behest.
Moreover, though it does play hot and cold with India, it is also sensitive to the fact that its role in the region will not be seen by Indians as that of an honest broker. While accepting the view that its relations with Pakistan and stability in that country would boost its economy even more, I think China knows that India itself is a huge market for its cheap products and that trade between the two is rapidly increasing . It would not like to jeopardise that economic benefit lightly.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

It is futile to imagine about Chinese strategic interests from the American, Canadian or Indian’s point of view. One needs to study and understand the chinese culture first. The chinese do not regard themselves as victims like India does nor a bully which the successive anglo saxon Govts. have practiced, but simply do not interfere into the internal politics of foreign countries,least of all its neighbours!! We should also not forget that the Chinese have given a sizeable loan of one trillion dollars to the bankrupt USA and still keep dollars as a reserve currency, whereas the Indian Fakir has already started replacing US dollars with Gold.

Posted by rexminor | Report as abusive

@We should also not forget that the Chinese have given a sizeable loan of one trillion dollars to the bankrupt USA and still keep dollars as a reserve currency, whereas the Indian Fakir has already started replacing US dollars with Gold.
- rexminor

Rexminor: This is global trend. China has also increased its Gold reserves.

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

China doesn’t intefere in the internal politics of others specially its neighbours?

How and from where do Chinese arms surface in the hands of Naxalites, Nepali Maoists, and even the Taliban? The worst kept secret was of the Chinese providing US funded arms, to the Taliban and Jehadis in Pakistan during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. There are no saints in the international arena and no permanent friends.

Anyone who knows anything about Indian preferences will know that most Indian households, including fakirs, have for centuries considered stocking gold as the best investment.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

If I was wearing a pair of chinese shoes purchased from a shop in Detroit and then kick a japanese, would you blame the chinese, the shopkeeper or me? Similarly if the Pushtoons purchase Chinese made Klashnikovs from the Iranians to defend themselves against the Russion forces in Afghanistan, would you blame the Pushtoons, the Russians or the Chinese?
These are not my comments but those of other bloggers and I was impressed.

Posted by rexminor | Report as abusive

@But Chinese antipathy to interference in other countries’ affairs, a divergence of views on exactly what needs to happen in Pakistan, and China-India rivalry all limit how far Beijing can be roped into helping on Pakistan.”


I agree with Dara that China has interfered in India. In addition to Dara’s examples, normally secretive China recently has been issuing paper visas to Kashmiris in India to which India has reacted.

Somehow there is a misperception that China does not interfere in other countries’ affairs—unless the bar is the US.

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

Dear Author,
Very good briefings, good analytical studies on this subject.
From so many decades, China has been helping,giving more aid and more co-operation on many infrastructure activities to Pakistan.
Whenever, any border conflicts between India and Pakistan happened, China always used to support Pakistan in many ways.
The recent some border disputes between China and India, now that is not a main concern to India,except here and there some news from mass medias,some press briefings by Indian main opposition parties for gaining some mileage,but,no serious differences on approach to India and China had in air.
Pakistan,India!s neighboring border country,subjects of conflicts, some bad,untoward incidents in borders, some alleged roles in India!s national affairs,India had tackled with high caliber and with wonderful ideas.
Pakistan also gets lot of aids in many forms from America,and from Arab nations.
Obama!s worries on Pakistan!s internal tensions, some terrorist involvement in Pakistan and in Afghanistan.
Because of good rapport with Pakistan and China, Mr.Obama expects some influence from China to reduce and stop militant scenes from Pakistan,Indian borders and some tactical help from China and it may lead to good results in neighboring countries of India,Pakistan and in Nepal.
Good move,good thinking from American President for using her influences for longer positive results.
But,we have to wait and see what will be the effect for entire world.

Posted by mdspatsy | Report as abusive

Can it really be said that China benefits from instability in the region? It is more accurate that Chine benefits from competition in the region, so that India diverts resources away from the Southern Chinese border. In fact, instability of the Pakistani regime would spell disaster for China: the fall of Pakistan would leave a power vacuum that would leave India unchallenged in South Asia and, if the unrest spilled over to Afghanistan, would cause much of China’s western border to become unstable. Both of these outcomes would require the diversion of resources and the deployment of Chinese military forces on those borders. Of course, when tensions are heightened and troops stare at each other from across borders, it is very likely that small mistakes and miscommunications can lead to serious consequences. Seeing as China, India, and Pakistan are all nuclear powers, we had better hope that stability reigns in South Asia. For more analysis of China, India, and Pakistan, see this article: china-and-pakistan/

Posted by pcasinelli | Report as abusive

China is great, I am a Chinese men, I support.But we are happy and the world to make friends with other people.We can provide the products you like.

Posted by Administrator | Report as abusive

[...] South Asia tour: win-win meets zero sum Just over a year ago, President Barack Obama suggested during a visit to Beijing that China and the United States could cooperate on bringing stability to Afghanistan and [...]

[...] a visit to Beijing in late 2009, President Barack Obama asked China to help stabilise Pakistan and Afghanistan. The logic was obvious. China is a long-standing ally [...]

[...] //]]> During a visit to Beijing in late 2009, President Barack Obama asked China to help stabilise Pakistan and Afghanistan. The logic was obvious. China is a long-standing ally [...]

[...] a visit to Beijing in late 2009, President Barack Obama asked China to help stabilise Pakistan and Afghanistan. The logic was obvious. China is a long-standing ally [...]

Aw, this became quite a excellent publish. In theory Let me produce like this furthermore getting moment and also actual effort to manufacture a beneficial post… nevertheless what can When i state… My spouse and i procrastinate much and don’t seem to find something carried out.