Tuesday, May 28, 2013

China in Pakistan–Good and Bad for US

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived in the Pakistan capital under extra-tight security on Wednesday on the second leg of his first official trip since taking office in March after a visit to Pakistan's and China's arch rival, India.

Li's plane was escorted by six air force fighter jets as it entered Pakistan air space. Security measures also included shutting down mobile phone networks across the city.

China and Pakistan should make cooperation on power generation a priority, Li said, as Islamabad seeks to end an energy crisis that triggers power cuts of up to 20 hours a day, bringing the economy to a near standstill.

Pakistan was one of the first countries to switch diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China, in 1950, and Li told a lunch attended by Prime Minister-elect Nawaz Sharif and President Asif Zardari that China and Pakistan should remain “trustworthy partners" and good neighbors. He said there was still "great potential" for the relationship. Bilateral trade last year rose above $12 billion for the first time and both sides are aiming to reach $15 billion in the next two or three years. "Our two sides should focus on carrying out priority projects in connectivity, energy development and power generation and promoting the building of a China-Pakistan economic corridor," Li said.

The power shortages have sparked violent protests and crippled key industries, costing hundreds of thousands of jobs in a country already beset by high unemployment, a failing economy, widespread poverty, sectarian bloodshed and a Taliban insurgency.

China and Pakistan already have several joint energy and infrastructure projects under way. The most important (and most troubling to the United States and to India) is China’s taking over operation of the strategically important Gwadar port.

When complete the port will open an energy and trade corridor from the Gulf, across Pakistan to western China.  It will be used by the Chinese Navy giving them a base of operations in the strategically important Strait of Hormuz.

Pakistan is going through a turbulent chapter in its ties with the United States, which plans to withdraw most of its troops from neighboring Afghanistan in 2014. Many U.S. officials have questioned Pakistan's commitment to fighting Islamic militancy since U.S. forces tracked down and killed Osama bin Laden in a garrison town near Islamabad two years ago.

China's Xinhua state news agency said Beijing was looking for "pragmatic" military cooperation with Pakistan, "which is in the front line of the fight against international terrorism".

The good news for the United States is that China will now come even more directly exposed to the problem of Islamic Militancy. It is not widely publicized but they have been experiencing increasing problems with Islamic radicals and terrorists in their Western Provinces. A substantial increase in their presence in both Pakistan and Afghanistan as the U.S. withdraws will put them in the cross hairs of both Al Qaeda and the Taliban. An example of what China may be facing happened in southern Karachi on Tuesday. A roadside bomb exploded near the seafront which police said was aimed at a passing van full of Chinese port workers.

One other “good” aspect to all of this is that China has a vested interest in keeping Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal out of the hands of the terrorists –something that keeps American and Indian officials awake at night,,,,
As for a Chinese Naval strategic base of operations in the Port of Gwadar, that’s not that big a deal, certainly not something the US Navy needs to be overly concerned about. And the good news there is that as China interest in keeping an economic corridor open through the Straits of Hormuz, their interest in keeping Iran from acting up will also increase.

All in all, I think that we (Americans) are over-exposed in the Middle East and I like the idea that we are reducing our presence there. If China wants to “fill the void” as we leave – fine. I wouldn’t mind at all sitting on the sidelines and watching them “take a ride on that tiger”…..

Live Long and Prosper...

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