Sometimes the art of international relations is paraphrased into truisms. One famous example is that ‘the enemy of your enemy is your friend’. As it is publicly known that India shares tense bilateral ties with both China and Pakistan, could we see a new friendship arise between the latter two? The Sino-Pakistan Trade Corridor Project seems to support this notion and closer examination will reveal its potential geopolitical significance.
Ever since the partition of India in 1947, conflicts and disputes have characterized the complex relationship between Pakistan and India. The fact that both countries possess nuclear capabilities has for instance major implications on the fear for escalation. While the recent agreement on the Non-Discriminatory Market Access on Reciprocal Basis (NDMARB) reflects rising hopes for long term peaceful coexistence, the continuing recurrence of terrorist attacks and the unresolved nature of the Kashmir dispute unfortunately remains at heart of their relationship.
Inevitably, one might argue, China will seek the friendship of Pakistan.
The ties between China and India are equally complex, as limiting your analyses to the Sino-Indian Border Conflict would render incapable of explaining the forces that are at stake today. India and China are world leaders in economic growth and population size, and they are rightfully considered regional and global powers. While both countries are heavily trading with each other, strong discrepancy on each other’s ulterior agendas continue to persist. Today’s power play in both the South Asia Sea and along their borders are, for example, not particularly beneficial for gaining mutual trust.
Inevitably, one might argue, China will seek the friendship of Pakistan. As in the phrase ‘the enemy of your enemy is your friend,’ China and Pakistan share a common adversary and cooperation would strengthen both their positions. The nearly finished Sino-Pakistan Trade Corridor could thus be viewed as a way to strenghten the Chinese geopolitical stance in the Arabian Sea and along India’s Western Borders. Moreover, the improvements made the infrastructure are also conducive for Pakistan’s ability to mobilize troops.
However, while this simplification does serious harm to your understanding of the complex relationships between these three countries, it also disregards the abundant existence of financially driven motives for cooperation. Connecting Gwadar Port in southern Pakistan to China’s northwestern autonomous region of Xinjiang shortens the trade route from Shanghai to Rotterdam by 40%. Due to Gwadar’s proximity to the Strait of Hormuz, China has closer access to 35% of the world’s seaborne oil trade. From the side of Pakistan, the project equally makes sense financially as their infrastructure is drastically improved with only 20% of the cost.
Whether this Sino-Pakistan Trade Corridor is driven by peaceful incentives or not will be apparent in the future. For now, it suffices to say that a simple truism is rarely able to provide you with the full answer.