(Why) Do China and Pakistan Have a Strong Relationship?


Right from the beginning of China’s post-1949 journey, Pakistan was among the first batch of nations who ended their diplomatic relationships with the Republic of China and, instead, established a new relationship with the People’s Republic of China (for more information, read our article about the China – Taiwan relationship).

Since then, China has been one of Pakistan’s top allies, despite this state of affairs bringing about various tensions with other nations. For example, it should come as no surprise that India is less than thrilled about the fact that Pakistan and China are so close that various infrastructure-related investments in Pakistan represent core pillars of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, for example. Still, unlike China’s relationship with North Korea, which tends to at least be portrayed as volatile, Pakistan has always been publicly presented as an important ally.

Here’s why:

  1. The military dimension, with China representing the top country Pakistan imports weapons from and its #3 trading partner at this point in time. Of course, this relationship goes both ways, with Pakistan being a key variable of China’s arms export industry, with almost of 50% of China’s exports in this sector heading toward Pakistan
  2. The diplomatic dimension, with (as mentioned previously) diplomatic relationships being established very quickly in 1950 and as of that point, the two nations supporting each other on a diplomatic level when it comes to various problematic issues. For example, China has been known to take Pakistan’s side throughout its conflict with India that pertains to the Kashmir region, whereas Pakistan reciprocating by taking China’s side in matters related to Taiwan, Tibet and so on. Furthermore, there have been all sorts of less than expected diplomatic success stories involving their relationship, for example Pakistan’s role in what ended up representing President Richard Nixon’s 1972 Beijing visit
  3. The trade dimension, with the trade volume between China and Pakistan surpassing $20 billion for the first time back in 2017. When we take a close look under the hood, we cannot help but notice that China is the clear beneficiary as far as exports are concerned, with approximately 10% of the trading volume being represented by Pakistani exports to China, whereas an impressive 90% is represented by China’s exports to Pakistan
  4. The cultural dimension, with China’s close relationship with Pakistan acting as a significant gateway for China to the Islamic world. For reasons which range from needing the various resources Islamic nations have to offer to reasons which have to do with China’s intention of increasing its geopolitical influence, establishing close ties with Islamic countries represents one of China’s significant priorities
  5. The “PR” dimension, with China being considered a primarily positive influence by Pakistani citizens based on polling data and the same way, the Chinese are among the most Pakistan-friendly citizens worldwide (occupying position #3 at this point)
  6. The infrastructure dimension, with examples being more than frequent, whether we’re talking about China’s role in the Gwadar deep-water port or the crucial importance of Pakistan in China’s Belt and Road Initiative equation

… the list could go on and on.

In light of the fact that Pakistan tends to have a let’s call it volatile reputation in the Western world (occasionally treated as an episodic ally when geopolitical interests dictate it but mostly perceived as a “black sheep” nation due to issues such as human rights-related ones), China’s geostrategic bet can be considered fairly risky.

Occasions most definitely emerge when China has to suffer as a result of its relationship with Pakistan and yes, even its trade volume with far more significant partners (significant in terms of GDP, current trade numbers with China and so on) is sometimes being put at risk but it has become clear that this geopolitical friendship is here to stay. Whether the pros will prove to outweigh the cons in the long run remains to be seen.

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