Having postponed it twice earlier, Chinese President Xi Jinping is currently on a two-day state visit to Pakistan. Expectations of economic and strategic announcements have generated interest. Pakistan has announced Xi will launch energy and infrastructure projects worth $46 billion during the visit, revising it later to $28 billion. This amount will be spent on the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor, a planned network of roads, railways and energy projects linking Pakistan’s Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea with China’s Xinjiang province. Also on the cards is a Chinese deal to sell eight submarines to Pakistan. Islamabad is also expected to hand over the Gwadar port on a 40-year lease to China, to be used by the ships and submarines of the Chinese navy. All this points to a strengthening of the bilateral relationship often celebrated as “higher than the Himalayas, deeper than the Indian Ocean and sweeter than honey”.
But this visit also exposes the vulnerabilities of an unequal relationship. Nearly 80 per cent of the proposed $46 billion investment — if it materialises by 2030 — will go back to Chinese entities engaged in power and infrastructure projects. A deteriorating security situation in Pakistan means that Beijing has been concerned about the safety of Chinese personnel working in that country even as the Pakistan army has reportedly agreed to set up a 12,000-strong special security force to protect Chinese workers. This, however, does not obviate the fundamental challenge: If any investment in Pakistan is to be economically viable, the country must be stable and secure. Pakistan is beset with a debilitating terror threat, growing domestic radicalisation and the spiral of sectarian violence.
Delhi must take note of the strategic implications of Xi’s visit. Even though Pakistan continues to be the means for China to hold India down, Delhi has the capacity to weaken that bond through bold policies. Much will depend on PM Narendra Modi’s visit to China next month and if he can convince the Chinese leadership that the costs of Beijing’s alliance with Pakistan will exceed the benefits. By reshaping the texture and contours of its relationship with Beijing, India can alter the regional dynamic to everyone’s benefit.