Originally Published 2004-12-27 08:52:09 Published on Dec 27, 2004
Visit of Pakistan Prime Minister to China - An AssessmentD.S. Rajan
Visit of Pakistan Prime Minister to China - An Assessment
Visit of Pakistan Prime Minister to China - An Assessment
D.S. Rajan 

The 'official' visit of Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz to China (December 14-18, 2004) has received attention mainly for its focus on bilateral economic cooperation. 

Bilateral Economic Cooperation 

Seven accords were signed during the visit, notable among them being the Agreements on China's assistance of US$ 150 million to Pakistan for the expansion of Chasma Nuclear Power Project (Phase II) and a joint study for establishing a Free Trade Area as well as a Memorandum of Understanding on expansion of the channel capacity of Gwadar seaport to facilitate passage of big vessels. 

Among other highlights of the visit were Pakistan's recognition of 'free market economy' status of China, which as Aziz put it, would enhance the interest of the Chinese in investing in joint ventures in Pakistan and using that country as a spring board to reach other world markets and the related Chinese objective spelled out at high levels, particularly by Premier Wen Jiabao, to realize the augmentation of their country's investment in Pakistan's "mega projects", through the channel of the China - Pakistan Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC). The next JMC meeting is to be held, prior to the planned Premier Wen's visit to Pakistan in March/April 2005. China's annual trade with and investment in Pakistan are presently around US$ 2.4 billion and US$ 4 billion respectively. In the post-visit scenario, there appears to be strong possibilities of a substantial growth in such figures. 

Chasma II 

Facts surrounding the now announced Chinese assistance to Chasma II project have aroused interest as Pakistan President Musharaff had earlier failed to clinch a deal in this regard during his visit Beijing in November 2003, despite a consensus already reached. Aziz was frank in admitting (Islamabad, December 19) that so far the Chinese had reservations on the subject, which have now been removed. Elaborating the matter, the Pakistan officials who accompanied Aziz (Dawn, December 19) opined that the Chinese side now considers the actions of the nuclear scientist AQ Khan as those of an individual, for which the State should not be held responsible. The assistance is also causing concerns centering on proliferation issues. An oft-repeated question has been whether China would allow Islamabad to obtain enriched Plutonium while being non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? 

South Asia 

Statements on Pakistan's perceptions about China's role in South Asia , made during the visit, appear to have some fresh nuances The reference by Aziz to China's "anchor" role to the peace and stability in South Asia reflects his country's fears about India's pre-eminent position in the region and the need felt by it to balance it with China as a counterweight. Stressing the strategic importance of Pakistan to China, Aziz told his Chinese counterpart that Pakistan had the potential of becoming an anchor of stability in South Asia, Central Asia and Middle East if economic and defence ties between the two countries continue to grow. Another point made by him was that China's assistance for development in the region would serve its own strategic interests by contributing to the stability of "largely Muslim North-Western Province of Xinjiang". Aziz's three- point approach to South Asia - dialogue for settlement of disputes, particularly in Kashmir, restraint and security balance and cooperation in economic development, both in bilateral and SAARC sense, contained in his speech at Tsinghua University is also noteworthy. On no occasion did he describe Kashmir as 'core' issue. The Chinese pronouncements on South Asia, on the other hand, were in measured tones. Premier Wen spoke only about China's "positive" role in facilitating peace, development and stability of South Asia. 

Defence Cooperation 

No briefing to media was given on China - Pakistan Defence Cooperation, a subject discussed during the visit. Aziz had meetings with President and Central Military Commission Chairman Hu Jintao, Premier Wen ( restricted session) as well as Defence Minister Cao Gangchuan. Talks with Cao were described as "in-depth". The remarks made by Aziz (Beijing, December 16) that the two sides agreed to further strengthen defence ties keeping in view " the ground realities" (underline-ours) may convey some meaning. 

India's UNSC membership 

The matter of India's UNSC membership, undoubtedly, came up for discussion during the visit. Aziz refused to disclose (December 16) what commitment the Chinese made on the issue. His viewpoint in this regard was however expressed on several occasions - "no cherry picking of member nations" and the UNSC membership should be on "equitable basis". Scholars of a Chinese think tank, close to the authorities, the China Institute for Contemporary International Relations, held "diverse" views on the subject. They were of the view that India should fulfill three conditions before becoming a UNSC member - resolution of all outstanding issues in South Asia, resolving of conflicts with neighbours and contributing to world peace. 


Stressed during the visit was the readiness of China to jointly fight with Pakistan , the three forces of terrorism, extremism and separatism and Pakistan's assurance to China on its determination to never allow any terrorist activities on its territory against "foreign countries", along with its commitment to protect the lives of resident Chinese engineers. An anti-US sentiment on the question of countering terrorism, was however visible among scholars of the China Institute for Contemporary International Relations , who, in their interviews with Pakistan media criticized the 'unilateral ' approach of the USA adding that China would not support any other objective in the name of counter-terrorism. Aziz also indirectly criticized the US "unilateralism" in his speech at the Tsinghua University, saying that Iraq situation demonstrated the need for a multilateral approach, with "respect to political primacy of the United states". 

Kashmir issue - Chinese mediation?

Aziz, in his address to Tsinghua University, wanted a settlement of Kashmir issue that is acceptable to Pakistan, India and Kashmiris. The Chinese side made no reference to the "Kashmiris" on any occasion during the visit. As told to Aziz by HU, " China is prepared to facilitate the two countries to resolve their bilateral disputes through dialogue in a peaceful manner". Scholars of China Institute for Contemporary International Relations in their interaction with Pakistan media (December 15), however said that they are aware of India's opposition to a third party mediation."But,if needed at any stage, Beijing would be willing to play the required role". (emphasis ours) 

How China views relationship with India and Pakistan? 

Aziz, before leaving for China, described China and Pakistan as " strategic partners". No Chinese leader or media were heard during the visit describing the relationship in such a manner. The Chinese references during the visit have always been to " comprehensive cooperative partnership" and " all-weather, time tested friendship" between the two countries ,with no use of the word" strategic". On the other hand, China hoped for "handling ties with India from a strategic and overall point of view" (Wen to Manmohan Singh, Vientiane, November 2004). There is a need to take note of such different Chinese signals and their likely implications. 


The visit of Aziz to China is important primarily in an economic sense. Both sides took care during the visit in not criticizing India openly on any occasion( barring an oblique reference by Aziz to the relation between confidence building measures and improvement in human rights situation in Kashmir, at an interview to China Daily). The Chinese assistance to Chasma Phase II project, announced after a delay of one year ,may however, require a careful scrutiny from the point of view of proliferation potentials. With no details on defence cooperation openly available, it would be difficult at this stage to evaluate the likely implications for South Asia and other regions in this regard. In counter-terrorism context, the anti-US tone adopted by Aziz and also by scholars of an authoritative think tank on the issue of Iraq, may indicate a congruence of interests of both China and Pakistan to some extent in favour of "multilateralism". 

Courtesy: South Asia Analysis Group, New Delhi, Paper No. 1199, December 24, 2004.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.