Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is on a week-long trip to China where he is strengthening military ties between the two countries. His trip follows that of Pakistani Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who was in Beijing a week ago with the mission of strengthening counterterrorism cooperation. In an e-mail interview, Harsh V. Pant, lecturer in the Department of Defense Studies at King's College of London, explains the context for China-Pakistan military relations.
WPR: Historically, what have been the driving priorities in China-Pakistan defense ties?
Harsh V. Pant: Based on their convergent interests vis-à-vis India, China and Pakistan reached a strategic understanding in the mid-1950s, a bond that has strengthened ever since. Sino-Pakistan ties gained particular momentum in the aftermath of the 1962 Sino-Indian war, when the two states signed a boundary agreement recognizing Chinese control over portions of the disputed Kashmir territory.
Over the years, China has emerged as Pakistan's largest defense supplier, and has also provided extensive economic and technical assistance. Military cooperation includes joint production of armaments ranging from fighter jets to guided missile frigates, as well as Chinese assistance in establishing weapons factories. China has also played a major role in the development of Pakistan's nuclear infrastructure, and emerged as Pakistan's benefactor at a time when increasingly stringent export controls in the West made it difficult for Pakistan to acquire materials and technology elsewhere. Despite being a member of the NPT, China has supplied Pakistan with nuclear materials and expertise, and has provided critical assistance in the construction of Pakistan's nuclear facilities. It is perhaps the only case where a nuclear weapons state has actually passed on weapons-grade fissile material as well as a bomb design to a non-nuclear weapons state.
WPR: How has that changed over the past few years?