China Sees A Role Amid Pakistan-U.S. Rift

News of Osama Bin Laden’s death has also revealed the tensions between the U.S.-Pakistani government. China sees this as a strategic opportunity to step in and pursue closer relations with Pakistan. China’s ultimate aim seems to be that it wants to leverage its relations with Pakistan as a way to gain greater access to Afghanistan. From the Hindu Times:

Renewed strains in relations between Pakistan and the United States following last week’s killing of Osama bin Laden have been seen in China as opening the door for closer engagement with Islamabad.

According to officials and analysts here, China is keen to further tighten its already close relationship with its long-term strategic ally, driven by the view that the country is going to play a crucial, even defining, role in Afghanistan, amid declining U.S. influence there.

With the expected withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan from July, coupled with widely-held perceptions that the death of the al-

Qaeda leader will inevitably see a toning down of the so-called “war on terror”, officials and analysts here see Pakistan as providing a crucial foothold for China in the region. Even if the U.S. decides to scale back assistance to Pakistan, they said, China would be prepared to step up financial and economic assistance to back its strategic ally.

Even before bin Laden’s death, U.S. media reports claimed that Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had called on Afghan officials to engage with China more, with increasing criticism of U.S.-led efforts for a military solution. Now, while Chinese officials publicly say they expect the U.S. and Pakistan to tide over current differences, they are also growing increasingly critical of Washington’s pressure on Islamabad.

The Chinese government has been slowly increasing its investments and economic cooperation in Afghanistan. From AEI Center for Defense Studies:

The extent of China’s economic engagement in Afghanistan is by now well known. Since 2002, China has pledged nearly $1 billion in aid to Afghanistan (though only a fraction of it has been disbursed, and it remains modest sum compared to the U.S., UK, Japanese, and Canadian contributions). In 2008, a state-owned Chinese firm provided the largest single foreign direct investment in Afghanistan, dropping $3.5 billion to develop the Aynak copper field in Logar province.  And despite the continuing security concerns and infrastructure challenges that have hampered progress at Aynak—the ambitious proposal also called for the construction of a freight railway, a power plant, housing, a mosque, and a hospital—China remains in the running to develop the Hajigak iron ore deposit in Bamiyan province, west of Kabul.

Of late, Beijing has launched a charm offensive in Afghanistan, having no doubt sensed, as with most other states in the region, that the time to begin shaping Kabul’s post-2011 regional alignments is now. Thus, during his March trip to Beijing, Afghan president Hamid Karzai was treated to meetings with Chinese president Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao, and Wu Bangguo, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. In the course of the visit, Karzai and his Chinese hosts signed agreements on expanding economic cooperation, ensuring favorable tariffs on Afghan exports, and creating scholarships for technical training programs across a range of critical fields: commerce, communications, education, health, economics, and counternarcotics.

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