China may be looking to cozy up to its Middle East ally, Pakistan, now that the U.S. has vowed to cut security aid and other assistance to the country.
Historically, China and Pakistan have maintained close ties. Pakistan first recognized the People's Republic of China fewer than two years after it was established. Pakistan's Prime Minister has hailed China as his country's "best and most trusted friend," and the two nations remain close strategic trade partners.
But recent moves by China suggest the country may be looking to exploit Washington's decision to slash Pakistani aid in order to gain geopolitical advantage over the U.S. in the region.
China's foreign ministry spokesman was quick to defend Pakistan on January 2, just hours after Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, first announced it would continue to hold back $255 million in aid to the country. "Pakistan has made enormous efforts and sacrifice for the fight against terrorism and has made very outstanding contributions to the global cause of counter-terrorism."
Nikki Haley. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons.)
"China and Pakistan are all-weather partners. We stand ready to promote and deepen our all-round cooperation so as to bring benefits to the two sides," the spokesman added.
On Wednesday, the central bank of Pakistan announced it would begin using Chinese yuan (CNY) for bilateral trade and investment activities, saying that it "foresees that CNY denominated trade with China will increase significantly going forward; and will yield long term benefits for both the countries."
China's Ambassador to Pakistan announced during his visit to the country on January 3rd that China will expedite its multibillion dollar infrastructure project in Pakistan, called the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is part of China's One Belt One Road initiative to expand its trade influence across the globe.
But China's decision comes not out of humanitarian goodness, but political and economic strategy.
China sees its opening
According to Terry McCarthy, President & CEO of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, China will be quick to exploit any potential openings with Pakistan.
"China has a rivalry with both the U.S. and India, and mainly China is using Pakistan as an anchor for its One Belt One Road policy," McCarthy told Business Insider.
McCarthy explained that Pakistan is strategic to China expanding its own power, and serves as a crucial entry-point for the southern end of China's One Belt One Road development initiative, which cuts through Pakistan. Moreover, Chinese developments continue the flow of Chinese labor and supply into Pakistan, which provides China with an economic boost.
Pakistan also plans to reap the benefits from closer ties to China.
McCarthy said Pakistan uses its alliance with China as a "counterbalance" to the U.S. and its main foe, India. And while China doesn't provide huge amounts of aid to Pakistan, it does provide "solid economic assistance" in the form of projects and infrastructure.
More importantly, China has Pakistan's back, according to McCarthy: "Unlike the U.S., China doesn't comment on human rights, and has no particular stance on Pakistan's human rights issues."
U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson, flanked by his delegation participate in a bilateral meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and the Pakistani Government of Representatives at the Prime Minister's House in Islamabad, Pakistan on October 24, 2017. (Photo from U.S. State Department.)
The U.S. has strongly condemned Islamabad's alleged support for Haqqani militants, who are aligned with the Afghan Taliban.
Still, McCarthy believes that while Pakistan and China's relationship will grow stronger as a byproduct of cuts in U.S. aid, the U.S. still plays an important role to Pakistan, despite major strains.
"There's no doubt that the U.S. relationship with Pakistan is not that healthy at the moment. At the end of the day, Pakistan still needs some relationship with the U.S. because they're not going to get everything they need from China."