Tag Archives: Pakistan

Dai The Diplomat

China’s top diplomat, Dai Bingguo, has been busy in troublesome places for China’s foreign policy just beyond the country’s outer marches, first visiting Myanmar, now Pakistan: two outlets for China’s overland energy routes to the oil of the Middle East, and forming a pincer around India.

The two countries provide mirror image challenges for Beijing’s foreign policy. In Myanmar’s case, a fast ally turning towards Washington; in Pakistan’s case, an ally of Washington, if never a fast one, falling out with its erstwhile friend and turning toward Beijing. In both places, there is unrest: ethnic minorities fighting for autonomy in northern Myanmar along the border with Yunnan; the overspill of the Afghanistan conflict in the other, along the border with Xinjiang, Beijing also believes that its own rebellious Uighurs take shelter in exile in northwestern Pakistan.

Beijing’s interest lies neither in turning allies nor picking sides, however. It is in stability, so it’s strategic commercial interests, such as CNPC’s new oil exploration deal in Afghanistan, can thrive and its hydropower stations, oil terminals, pipelines, and the coaling stations for its blue water fleet — its string of pearls around the Indian Ocean — can be constructed without disruption.

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China Conducts Third Round Of Mass Vaccinations Against Polio

China is conducting a third round of mass vaccinations in the wake of the fatal outbreak of polio in July in Hotan Prefecture in Xinjiang near the border with India and Pakistan, the source of the outbreak. The vaccinations started on Nov. 15 and will take a week. They are being given to 3.8 million children in Xinjiang–all under 15 years olds in the outbreak areas and all under fives in the other parts of the province, as well as to 4.5 million 15-39 years olds in southern Xinjiang. They are the same groups that received the second round of vaccinations in late September and early October.

Preventive programs are being conducted in all provinces across the country in an effort to again rid China of polio, which had previously seen its last case in 1999. Eighteen cases of polio have been confirmed in the latest outbreak in Xinjiang, 12 in Hotan prefecture, 5 in Kashgar prefecture and 1 in Bazhou prefecture. Nine cases are children under three years of age and nine young adults between 19 and 31 years old, according to the World Health Organization. One infant has died.

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China Expands Vaccination Campaign Following Deadly Polio Outbreak

China has expanded its mass vaccination program following a fatal outbreak of polio in Hotan Prefecture in Xinjiang near the border with India and Pakistan, the source of the outbreak. Immunizations of 4.5 million 15-39 year olds in the south of the province started today, following confirmation that four of the 10 known cases involved young adults. Earlier this month, 3.8 million children, everyone under 15 years old in the outbreak area and all under fives in the other parts of the province, were given a first vaccination, with health officials going house-to-house, kindergarten-to-kindergarten and school-to-school. A second round will take place in early October. Children are being marked behind their ears with indelible ink to track whether they have been vaccinated. The outbreak, the first in China for more than a decade, has already killed one infant.

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Polio Outbreak Spreads To China From Pakistan

A mass vaccination program is underway in Xinjiang following an outbreak of polio that has left at least one infant dead. The World Health Organization has confirmed seven cases of wild poliovirus type 1 in the province over the past two months. (Update: Chinese officials have now confirmed 10 cases.) It is the first outbreak of polio in China in more than a decade. The disease, which can cause irreversible paralysis, is said to have spread from Pakistan, one of the few countries in which polio is still endemic.

The first cases were detected in July, four young children aged between four months and two years from Hotan (sometimes written Khotan) Prefecture. The Chinese government notified the WHO at the beginning of this month. Hotan is a sparsely populated region of 1.8 million people, mostly Uighurs, in 250,000 square kilometers on the southern rim of the Taklamakan Desert. It borders Pakistan to the west, India to the south and includes the disputed Aksai Chin, part of Kashmir that China controls but India claims. The blocking of historic trade routes between Hotan and India because of the dispute has boosted Hotan’s links with Pakistan.

The vaccination program applies to 3.8 million children in Xinjiang, all under 15 years old in the outbreak areas and all under 5 in the other parts of the province. The first phase was completed earlier this month. A second phase will take place early next month. (Update: With four cases now reported in young adults, the vaccination program is being expanded to cover 4.5 million 15-39 years olds in southern Xinjiang.)

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More Grit In The China, Pakistan, U.S. Relationship

Chinese military engineers were allowed by Pakistan’s intelligence services to inspect part of the U.S.’s advanced ‘stealth’ helicopter that crashed during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, according to the Financial Times. The report says that the engineers were able to photograph the helicopter’s tail, which came down outside bin Laden’s compound and thus couldn’t be preemptively destroyed by the U.S. Navy Seals conducting the raid, and to take samples of the stealth paint that makes such aircraft invisible to radar. (China is developing a stealth fighter of its own.) This latest incident will only deepen the U.S. military establishment’s concern about China’s military modernization, its anger about the co-operation it believes Pakistan’s intelligence services give to the Taliban forces it is fighting in Afghanistan, and it’s frustration at a supposed ally that is trying to play off the support of Washington against that of Beijing, a balancing act that doesn’t sit particularly comfortably in Beijing, either.

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Port In A Storm

Quite what is going on with Gwadar, the Pakistani blue-water port and natural-gas terminal that China may or may not have been asked to run and develop as a naval base during Pakistan prime minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani’s recent visit to Beijing?

This Bystander noted last year that China is already developing a deep-water port and naval base at Gwadar, which is on the Gulf of Oman close to the border with Iran, along with other strategic transport and energy links in Pakistan, which, to Beijing’s eyes, looks a lot like a corridor from the high plateau of China’s western reaches to the shores of the Arabian Sea and thus shipping routes to the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

First, the Financial Times reported that Gilani had asked the Chinese to take over running the port (which at least everyone agrees the Chinese helped build and are now helping expand) when the Singapore Port Authority’s management contract expires (though that is not until at least 2027). He was also reported to have asked Beijing to build a naval base. Then, Pakistan’s Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar said China had agreed to take over running of the port. Now, the foreign ministry says the issue, as it understands, wasn’t touched upon during Gilani’s visit.

The foreign ministry’s understanding of China’s international affairs often does not run as broadly as is customary with other nation’s foreign ministries, especially in military and security matters. It could well be the case that there were conversations that it knew nothing about. It could also be the case that the ministry has no particular interest in China being seen to be nestling even closer to Pakistan and so complicate further its relations with the U.S. and India at a sensitive time. Confirmation of what would be China’s first overseas naval base wouldn’t do anything to reassure those in Washington, Delhi and Southeast Asia’s capitals who are nervous enough of Beijing’s growing abilities to project regional power. Hence foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu playing a straight bat of carefully worded plausible deniability.

To answer our own question, the expansion of the port’s deep-water facilities and development of a base for the Pakistan navy are to all intents and purposes the same project, which China is already working on and helping to pay for. Expanding the naval base to accommodate the PLA-Navy, which needs a base to support its anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa and generally to secure sea lanes from the Middle East used by oil tankers and Chinese-flagged merchant shipping, isn’t much of a stretch. There wouldn’t really be anything much to ask.

Footnote: There is stiff local opposition in Balochistan to the Pakistan government’s plans for Gwadar. Last week, construction work on a new international airport there had to be stopped because of what was described as a worsening security situation. A senior official from the Civil Aviation Authority told the defense committee of Pakistan’s Senate that “the law and order situation as well as continuous resistance by locals in the acquisition of land has halted work at the [airport]“. The airport is now unlikely to be completed by the end of this year as planned. As a historical aside, Gwadar was an Omani enclave that Pakistan bought in 1958. Some residents still harbor feelings of being “colonized” by Karachi. Might as well have two foreign navies there as one.

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More Celebration Than Substance To Pakistan PM’s Visit

There is a whiff of opportunism to the four-day visit of Pakistan’s prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, coming as it does when Pakistanis are turning even more angry at America in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s killing and Americans are turning even more angry at Pakistan for mirror-image reasons.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and Pakistan. Pakistan certainly wants to boost its bilateral ties with China and Beijing is unlikely to do anything to cloud Islamabad’s view of it as as an “all-weather friend”. China is already helping Pakistan develop its nuclear energy program and communications infrastructure. It is also selling Pakistan arms and military equipment.

However, none of that is sufficient to let Pakistan ditch its economic and military reliance on the U.S. ($3 billion in 2012). Nor would Beijing necessarily want that. Pakistan is not sufficient a prize to compensate for the damage that would do to China’s more important relations with the U.S. and India.

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A Pipeline Called Pakistan

To Beijing, Pakistan looks a lot like a corridor from the high plateau of China’s western reaches to the blue water ports of the Arabian Sea and thus access to shipping routes to the Middle East, Africa and Europe. The distance is relatively short, less than 1,500 kilometers as the crow flies, but at the northern end the terrain is difficult, the weather harsh, borders unsettled and security uncertain. Road and rail links are patchy, particularly north of Pakistan’s capital Islamabad. Nor is there yet a motorway connecting the capital to the southern port city of Karachi, let alone to Gwadar on the Gulf of Oman close to the border with Iran and where China is developing a deep-water port and naval base. That is why additional Chinese investment in Pakistan’s N-35 highway, the Karakoram Highway, may prove to be the most significant of the deals announced during Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s visit to the country.

The highway (left) links Hasan Abdal, on the Peshwar-Rawlpindi motorway in the northern Punjab some 40 kilometers west of Islamabad, to Kashgar in Xinjiang via the Khunjerab Pass. Started in 1959 and not completed until 1986, the road snakes for 1,300 kilometers (two-thirds of it in Pakistan) over some of the highest paved road in the world. It makes for a stunningly beautiful trip across the Karakoram mountains along one of the branches of the Old Silk Road, but it is less splendid as a commercial artery. It is mainly two lanes and impassable for parts of the year because of either winter snows or summer monsoon; the border crossing is closed for a third of the year.

The two countries agreed in 2006 to to triple its width and upgrade it so it can take heavy trucks in all weathers. The long-term plans call for the Karakoram Highway to be linked to Gwadar by rail; Chinese investment is funding a rail connection from the port to Rawalpindi. Separately, a feasibility study is underway for the rail link to go all the way through to Kashgar, following the Karakoram Highway from Havelian, a town on the N-35 at the northern edge of Pakistan’s existing rail network. At Kashgar, it would connect to the Chinese rail network at its most westerly point.

There are also plans to run a parallel oil pipeline from Gwadar into Xinjiang. Before then trucks carrying natural gas bound for western China may be rumbling up the roads of the Indus valley, the first part of their journey being on the $200 million coastal highway between Gwadar and Karachi that Beijing is paying to build. Gwadar will also be a terminal for the proposed natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan, intended originally to give Central Asian states access to European markets without going through Russia, but now seemingly another of the web of links connecting Central Asia’s natural resources with western China.

There are geo-political reasons beyond the purely commercial for Beijing’s relationship with Islamabad, reflected in the other deals struck during Wen’s visit and in the delicate dance China is engaged in with India. It also gives Pakistan an alternative to its uneasy relationship with the U.S. and thus Beijing another front to its own complicated relationship with Washington. But if Pakistan is to be an energy pipeline for China, it also underlines Beijing’s obsession about separatistism in its western reaches.

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China And India: A Partnership Based On Mutual Mistrust And Rivalry

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s visit to India is rife with sub-texts. He is leading a delegation of 400 businessmen, a larger commercial entourage than accompanied other recent visitors to Delhi, U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Nicholas Sarkozy and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron. China, this says, is the country to do business with. Wen will then be going on to India’s arch-rival and China’s closer military ally, Pakistan. None of Obama, Sarkozy or Cameron made India a way-station on the road to Islamabad. And unlike in India, once he gets there, Wen will address Pakistan’s parliament. China, all this says, marches to the beat of its own strategic regional interests.

One is access to warm water ports in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. Pakistan gives it the former and Sri Lanka and Myramar the later. One the well-worn principal of the flag following trade that suggests that both waters are ones where China eventually expects to be deploying its navy as well as its merchant marine, a prospect that will concern the U.S. as much as it does India. India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sounded positively Japanese when he talked recently of China’s growing “assertiveness” in the region.

A second strategic Chinese interest is stability and friendly states along its borders. The one with India is long, 4,000 kilometers, non-continguous and disputed at more than one point. The two countries went to war over it in 1962. Distrust still lingers on both sides, and periodically surfaces, while India’s sanctuary for the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, since the 1959 uprising in Tibet, is a constant bane for Beijing.

Since that conflict China and India have abandoned in good part economies based on communist and socialist precepts respectively to become Asia’s two emerging economic giants. That, too, has created an uneasy long- and short-term rivalry. The trade delegation accompanying Wen will seek to buy off some of the Indian concern about the heavy surplus in China’s favor on the $60 billion of trade between the two countries. It is unlikely to do much for Indian complaints about lack of access to the domestic Chinese market for its (world-class) IT and pharmaceutical companies.

That is work for the politicians. China has hinted that it would like to start work on a bilateral free trade agreement during Wen’s visit, which will be the equivalent of pushing off the problem to a committee, especially as India has recently become more protectionist over its natural-resources exports for which China has heavy demand. It would, however, keep the focus on trade and let the genial Uncle Wen India is likely to see get off to Pakistan without becoming too embroiled in the difficult security and border issues and geo-political rivalry between the two countries.

In one sense the rivalry  is the regional mirror image of the co-opetition between China and the U.S. Even as Beijing and Delhi, as fellow BRICies, have co-operated in international negotiations on climate change, trade rules and reform of multilateral institutions such as the IMF, China has tried to hem in India’s nuclear program, kept it at arms length from the Association of South-East Asian Nations and sought to prevent it becoming a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. For its part, India has developed a nuclear weapons program that Beijing sees directed at it as much as Pakistan, invested heavily in a blue-water fleet to protect its interests in the Indian Ocean and started to expand security co-operation with Japan and South Korea — all of which send messages of their own.

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China Coping With Flooding Better Than Pakistan

The extent of the death toll and chaos in Pakistan caused by monsoon flooding throws a favorable light on the efforts of China’s authorities to deal with months of similar devastating weather across the length and breadth of the country. The relief effort under difficult conditions has been massive with 287,000 military personnel put to rescue work (below) along with vast cadres of civilians. While not all the lessons of the disastrous floods of 1998 have been learned, sufficient have been to have averted what could have been a bigger catastrophe.

The scale of what China is having to deal with is indicated by a statement from the Red Cross Society of China that it is struggling to mobilize adequate resources in the wake of the appeals it carried out to respond to the Qinghai earthquake and serious drought in central parts of China earlier in the year. Latest official figures, as of July 29, put the death toll from flooding so far this year at 968 dead and 507 missing. The floods have affected 134 million people in 28 provinces. Direct economic losses are now put at 176.5 billion yuan ($26 billion). With rice harvests fast approaching in the southwest and central parts of the country, thousands of small-scale farmers face a hungry future.

The latest region to have been hit is Jilin in the northeast where more than 100 are dead or missing. Flash floods cut roads, triggered landslides and swelled rivers and reservoirs to critical levels. And still the rains continue.

Worst Affected Provinces
No. of People Affected (% of total provincial population)
Hubei: 10 million (17%)
Shaanxi: 3.65 million (10%)
Jiangxi: 5 million (12%)
Sichuan: 17.2 million (21%)

Source: Red Cross of China

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