One constant in our foreign relations since the early 1960s has been our singularly positive relationship with China, unlike our ties with other countries, which have had their highs and lows. But how well we manage this relationship will determine whether it proves to be an all weather highway or something more mundane.
While our geostrategic value to China is self-evident, especially our ocean frontage, which would give them commercial access to the sprawling Indian Ocean and the countries on its rim, yet there are challenges to be met before that can be turned into a reality.
The problems are numerous, like religious extremism that has made us particularly inhospitable to foreigners; congenital political infighting; gross economic mismanagement and a serious erosion of state authority and state coherence. Another problem has been the mediocrity of our leaders who are totally unschooled in foreign affairs. If these problems persist, China may conclude that we are too big a risk for them to make grandiose long-term investments.
And that’s not all. Our international isolation is another risk that might make China cautious about strategic investments which would increase its dependence on us while exposing them to danger and uncertainty. All of this may cause China to revise its thinking and adopt a much less ambitious approach – not withstanding all the gibberish about our friendship being ‘higher than K-2 and deep than the Indian Ocean’.
Hence, there was alarm when the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman praised Zardari’s trip to India. Not just that. He also accused ‘a country in South Asia’, for providing sanctuary to six Muslim Uighur leaders of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement who ‘not only threaten China’s national security’ but, according to the official Xinhua news agency, ‘poses the most direct and real safety threat that China faces.’ Xinhua also made brief references to how important India-Pakistan normalisation is for China today because Beijing sees subcontinental stability to be in its strategic interest.