By Muhammad Daim Fazil, The Diplomat, 29 May 2015
A month ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping was in Islamabad, where he unveiled a $46 billion infrastructure spending blueprint for Pakistan, to serve as a linchpin of Beijing’s drive to open new trade and transport routes across Asia and challenge the U.S. as the dominant regional power. Pakistani officials hailed the visit as a landmark and game changer.
Despite decades of mismanagement and a feeble socioeconomic infrastructure,Pakistan does enjoy a strategic location. Among its neighbors, the only one with which Pakistan has maintained cordial ties since independence is China. Enjoying genial relations with a neighbor that is also a major power is clearly a boon for an otherwise diplomatically isolated Pakistan.
For China, which has begun to build a presence in multiple regions,Pakistan is a gateway to the Gulf States and Middle East, where China seeks to showcase its soft power, and develop trade and diplomatic links. While the U.S. still dominates in the Middle East,China has certainly made ground over the past decade. It wants to continue that progress, and supplementing its energy trade, improving the balance of trade, and identifying new investment opportunities with more robust commercial links will be vital. Securing a route to the Indian Ocean via the port of Gwadar will do the job nicely, and will also help China develop its military presence in the region, while playing a role in its “String of Pearls” strategy..