It comes as no surprise that Pakistani authorities are looking toward China after the US State Department decided to suspend security assistance to Islamabad on Thursday.
China has been a close regional ally of Pakistan for decades and has often provided the South Asian nation with much-needed financial and diplomatic support. Currently, Beijing is spearheading a nearly $60 billion (€50 billion) China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is part of its international One Belt One Road initiative. Pakistani officials say the project would boost the country’s economy and help alleviate its energy crisis.
Now China also has the opportunity to replace the US as Pakistan’s biggest security financier. But it is unclear whether Beijing would be interested in increasing military aid to Islamabad. Also, assuming that China is willing to fill the void left by the US, would its security assistance be equivalent to what Washington had been offering to Islamabad?
Pakistan finds itself in a tight spot after US President Donald Trump’s January 1 tweet, in which he lashed out at the South Asian country for taking billions of dollars in US aid in exchange for “lies and deceit.”
“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
It was not an empty threat. The US State Department on Thursday announced the White House’s decision to suspend security assistance to Pakistan worth around $900 million.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the decision signaled growing frustration in the White House over Pakistan’s failure to target terrorist networks attacking US troops stationed in Afghanistan.
Ye Hailin, an expert at the Beijing-based Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the US decision to suspend security aid for Pakistan was “unfair.”
“It’s not that the US provided aid to Pakistan and it received nothing in return. Pakistan has supported the US with logistics and supplies for its troops [in Afghanistan],” Ye told DW.
Read more: Pakistan summons US ambassador to explain Donald Trump tweet
But China’s own concerns about Pakistan-based Islamist militants are no secret. With the US out of the picture, China could actually dictate its terms to the Pakistani military and government over the extremism issue.
What can China offer?
A day after Trump’s Pakistan tweet, Geng Shuang, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, came to Islamabad’s defense.
“Pakistan has made great efforts and sacrifices for combating terrorism and made prominent contributions to the cause of international counterterrorism, and the international community should fully recognize this. We welcome Pakistan and other countries’ cooperation on counterterrorism and in other fields on the basis of mutual respect and their joint commitment to the security and stability of the region and the world,” Geng said at a press conference this week.
“China stands ready to further deepen cooperation with Pakistan in various fields to bring greater benefits to the two peoples,” he added.
But can a strategic partnership with China be a substitute for Pakistan’s ties with the US? After all, US troops are stationed in Pakistan’s neighborhood, Afghanistan. The US military bases are spread across the region, and Trump is willing to lend more support to Pakistan’s archrival India.
“It is true that China is helping Pakistan a lot, but I do not think it can replace the United States. The US has also not sought to sever bilateral ties completely; it just wants Islamabad to pay heed to its demands,” Hasan Askari, a Lahore-based security analyst, told DW.
But Amjad Shoaib, a defense analyst, believes Pakistan can do very well without both Chinese and US help.
“We can manage without anybody’s help. There could be some problem with the military hardware, but that can be obtained from a host of other countries. We did get some equipment for F16 fighter jets from Turkey. Pakistan also bought tanks from Ukraine, some aircraft from the Scandinavian and other European countries. I think Pakistan can live without US aid,” Shoaib told DW.