The Chinese and Pakistan flags. Photo: Asia Times graphic
The Chinese and Pakistan flags. Photo: Asia Times graphic

General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the Pakistani army’s chief of staff, made a three-day official visit to China earlier this week, meeting with his counterpart and President Xi Jinping.

Just a few days before his trip to China, which concluded on September 19, he met the Chinese ambassador in Islamabad, Yao Jing, and discussed matters of mutual interests. He assured him of his support for the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and briefed him on security arrangements for Chinese nationals in Pakistan. The ambassador was impressed and praised his efforts to protect Chinese citizens in Pakistan. Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councilor Wang Yi made a state visit to Pakistan on September 7.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis visited India for the 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue and the declaration of India as a major defense partner. The defense agreements between India and the US are aimed at strengthening India and maintaining its military supremacy in the region.

US-India defense cooperation may initiate an arms race and cause instability in the region. India has committed hostile acts against its neighbors in the past and smaller countries in the region are facing a direct threat from Indian military supremacy. The US, India, Japan and Australia have deepened cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. This is an alarming situation for smaller countries in the region.

Meanwhile, security issues continue to be of concern in Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Qatar, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, etc. Pakistan is situated in a very strategic location and faces many regional challenges. At the same time, Pakistan is coping with a domestic economic crisis.

The general’s visit was the first by a high-level Pakistani official since the new Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government came to power and Imran Khan became prime minister.

It is hoped that CPEC, which has popular support, will revitalize the Pakistani economy

Pakistan and China enjoy excellent relations. The history of relations between their two armies goes back to the 1950s when General Geng Biao was appointed as Chinese ambassador to Pakistan (1956-1959). Geng developed personal friendships with the leaders of that time, President Sikander Mirza and President Ayub Khan, both of whom were army generals. He used to go hunting with them – a popular hobby among generals on both sides. The interaction between the two armies intensified over time. The Sino-Indian War in 1962 and the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 played important roles in strengthening Pakistan-China relations.

But Pakistan was also a partner of the West during the Cold War era and has been a frontline state in the “War on Terror.” Pakistan engaged with the West under several agreements including the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO). But Pakistan’s relations with China were always very warm. China has become a major defense supplier to Pakistan. The relationship between the two nations has broadened significantly.

It is hoped that CPEC, which has popular support, will revitalize the Pakistani economy. The Pakistani army is committed to providing security for all CPEC projects and Chinse nationals working in Pakistan. The army has created a special security force to protect CPEC. Around 15,000 troops are assigned to providing security for various CPEC projects. That number will increase to 25,000 in the near future. This security presence guarantees the success of CPEC.

During his visit, General Bajwa promoted mutual understanding and further strengthened the existing ties between the two “Iron Brothers.”
On Tuesday, Zhang Youxia, a deputy chairman of China’s powerful Central Military Commission headed by Xi, reiterated to Bajwa that the two countries are “all-weather” strategic partners.

“China-Pakistan military ties are an important backbone of relations between the two countries,” said Zhang, according to a statement from China’s Defence Ministry late on Tuesday. “The two militaries should further pay close attention to practical cooperation in all areas, keep raising the ability to deal with various security risks and challenges, and join hands to protect the common interests of both countries.”

On Wednesday, the general met with Xi and said the two countries should firmly support each other on issues concerning their respective core interests. Bajwa conveyed cordial greetings from Pakistani President Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan to President Xi. Xi expressed thanks and asked Bajwa to convey his sincere greetings and best wishes to them.

Such visits have been fruitful in the past and hopefully this one will be even more beneficial for both sides, further strengthening the ties between the two “Iron Brothers.” Pakistan and China both aim to promote peace and stability in the region. Pakistan is committed to establishing harmony and promoting development based on mutual interests.

Professor Zamir Ahmed Awan is a sinologist at the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) Chinese Studies Center of Excellence, Islamabad, Pakistan. Posted to the Pakistani Embassy in Beijing as science counselor (technical affairs) from 2010-16, he was responsible for promoting cooperation between Pakistan and China in science, technology, and higher education.

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