China and Pakistan have pledged to deepen their military cooperation and work together to protect regional peace and stability. The commitment was made during a meeting between General Syed Asim Munir, Pakistan’s army chief, and Zhang Youxia, the vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission. The Chinese defence ministry said that no matter how the international situation changes, China always gives Pakistan priority in its neighbourhood diplomacy. The two nations have ongoing border disputes with India, which threaten regional security. China has invested $60bn in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project and is Pakistan’s key economic and defence partner. The South Asian country owes nearly $30bn – 23% of its total debt – to China.
Munir’s visit to China is seen as crucial by analysts as it comes amid political, economic and security crises in Pakistan. Muhammad Faisal, an Islamabad-based foreign policy analyst and close observer of Pakistan-China ties, said that Pakistan’s dependency on China for economic stability and regional security coordination has grown in the face of financial challenges, renewed threat of terrorism and India-centric challenges. As Islamabad struggles to resume a much-needed $1.1bn loan programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it has sought help from its allies, mainly China, to roll over some of its existing loans.
While the Pakistani military remains engaged with China on regional security, economy has also taken over as a central agenda in the meetings between the military commanders of the two nations. Analyst Faisal said that this is a new development and indicates that Chinese military is closely following Pakistan’s economic challenges. As China continues to help Pakistan economically, the last few years saw multiple attacks on Chinese nationals and facilities carried out by armed groups in Pakistan.
Earlier this month, a Chinese national working at a hydropower plant being constructed by a Chinese company in northern Pakistan was accused of blasphemy – a sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan. The Chinese man is currently in a two-week judicial custody which ends on 2 May. Two years ago, 13 people, including nine Chinese nationals working at the same hydropower project, were killed in an attack claimed by the Pakistan Taliban, known by the acronym TTP. In April last year, three Chinese teachers and their Pakistani driver were killed in a suicide attack at a university in Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi. The attack was claimed by a Baloch rebel group fighting for a separate Balochistan in the southwest.
Chinese authorities have repeatedly demanded protection of their nationals amid escalating violence in the country. Analyst Faisal said that for Beijing, safety and security of its citizens remains the top concern amid resurgence of violence in Pakistan. On this, assurances of army chief will be taken with seriousness.