Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe wrapped up his two-day visit to Pakistan on Tuesday. According to Pakistani media reports, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to further deepen cooperation between the two countries was inked during Wei’s visit. It soon caught the eyeballs of Indian media, particularly its tabloids. This pack of sensationalists argued that the new defense deal was signed by China and Pakistan to harm their “common foe – India.” They claimed that it “is changing military dynamics in South Asia.”
This is obviously an over-interpretation of the actual situation. Since China and Pakistan are all-weather strategic cooperative partners, it is natural for the two countries to not only keep high-level strategic mutual trust, but also deepen their military and defense cooperation. Such interactions do not necessarily have any connection with considerations regarding India.
Due to the pandemic, some senior Chinese officials’ foreign visits have had to be postponed. It is highly likely that Wei’s Pakistan tour was planned long time ago, but only realized until now. It is a tour to maintain strategic cooperative partnership between Beijing and Islamabad – nothing more, nothing less.
It’s hoped politicians and pundits in India will not continue to think that China-Pakistan ties are aimed at India – and create antagonistic actions from this wrong-headed rhetoric. It could backfire from being a fantasy and materialize into a reality. That won’t be good news for India.
The world witnessed huge changes in geopolitics this year. More are immediately in the making. India is also gradually setting aside its traditional principle of nonalignment, while getting increasingly closer to anti-China forces, especially the US. For China, if cooperation with Pakistan can constitute a certain kind of deterrent toward India, it may be considered as a good approach to balance regional powers.
But in fact, as the two countries seem to keep their high-level defense cooperation, their joint work in military field is far from reaching the level of that in a real all-weather strategic cooperative partnership. There is much room for improvement in this regard.
Both China and Pakistan are shouldering the task of safeguarding their national security and territorial integrity. The two good neighbors need to enhance their national strategic deterrent capabilities and upgrade their conventional militaries.
Over the years, the national security of some small and medium-sized countries in South Asia has confronted challenges. Border tiffs have emerged from time to time. New Delhi has decided to make provocative moves toward its neighbors on border issues. A case in point: the sudden release, in November 2019, of a new Indian political map which includes a part of territory claimed by Nepal.
The security and defense cooperation between China and Pakistan can thus help to enhance the confidence of other South Asian countries to strengthen their strategic independent capability by reinforcing their national defense construction. This is conducive to promoting the rebalance of power in South Asia.
The timing is also important. Some terrorist groups are exploiting the pandemic to build their strength and support networks. China-Pakistan military cooperation can also help combat terrorist and extremist forces that have been spreading to some parts of South Asia and China’s western periphery.
However, several Indian media outlets are saying that the MOU will change the “military dynamics in South Asia.” Such analysis made by India is not surprising. After all, the country has long seen the normal cooperation between China and Pakistan as a thorn in its flesh.
The development of China-Pakistan relations has its own rhythm and logic. Unfortunately, India simply cannot stay calm or observe it without using a zero-sum game mentality. India’s concern is always about whether its hegemony in South Asia and its sphere of influence will be affected. But the country should understand that its position and influence ultimately depends on its own governance ability and its own country’s development – not on other external factors.
Moreover, no country should be in other country’s sphere of influence or become someone’s satellite state as all eight countries in South Asia, including India, are members of the United Nations. They are all independent, equal and sovereign states.
India will eventually find that there is no room for its mentality of striving for sphere of influence to survive. Such logic will not be acceptable to any other country in this era.
The author is the deputy director of the Department for Asia-Pacific Studies at China Institute of International Studies.