Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

China’s ‘String of Pearls’ – Real or Fake? #Forbes #China #India #Pakistan

China’s ‘String of Pearls’ not a figment of journalists’ imaginations: Maha Atal on seeing the economic forest for the trees.

– – –

China’s ‘String of Pearls’ – Real or Fake?
by Maha Atal
Source – Forbes, published February 2, 2013

Dan Drezner has a blog post up arguing that China‘s ‘string of pearls’ is a figment of journalists’ imaginations. The ‘string of pearls’ is the name given to China’s strategic investments in South and Southeast Asia, which, when plotted on a map, look awfully like a string of pearls encircling IndiaPakistan is critical to this strategy, both because of its size and its location. Drezner is right to suggest that without the Sino-Pakistani link, the string of pearls theory doesn’t hold.

I’ve written about the string of pearls, and specifically about its Pakistani component, several times, for Forbes and other outlets, and I confess I’m not fully persuaded by Drezner’s critique.

1. Drezner depicts the Sino-Pakistani relationship as something that has arisen in response to the U.S. presence in the region and China’s growth:

Please click here to read the rest of article at its source.

For the past few years, a low level theme that occasionally pops into my news feed is the idea of greater Sino-Pakistani cooperation.  Now this has a certain amount of realpolitik sense to it.  The United States and Pakistan are not exactly on the best of terms, China is a rising power, they share a comon interest in containing India, yadda, yadda yadda.  As a result, there has been the occasional press story about closer ties, which begets the invetiable U.S.-based blog posts about China expanding its “string of pearls” strategy of more deepwater ports in the Asia/Pacific region.

But China’s status as a Pakistani ally long predates the war in Afghanistan, or China’s rise as a major power. China and Pakistan established ties in the late 1940s, being among the first countries to recognize one another’s governments. The alliance deepened in the 1960s. China’s territorial dispute with India gave it common cause with Pakistan. The Sino-Soviet split prompted India’s abandonment of its non-aligned position in a 1971 treaty with the USSR, with China and Pakistan paired up in opposition. China’s arms sales to the Pakistani military and various defense cooperation agreements date from this period. Today, China is still a major supplier to the Pakistani Air Force, even if other divisions of the military enjoy closer cooperation with the United States. Arguing that there’s no Sino-Pakistani military link ignores this history; it would be more accurate to say that a longstanding Cold War-era link is under pressure in a post-Cold War world, as Pakistan has become more entangled with the U.S.

2. Drezner then goes on to highlight Gwadar, often depicted hysterically in the western, and Indian, press as a naval base for China. This is, as Drezner correctly points out, a depiction out of touch with the facts, but he jumps from the recognition that Gwadar isn’t a military base to the conclusion that it’s not a strategic asset at all, just a ‘fake pearl.’

A Chinese harbor development firm spent $200 million financing its development, it has been run for the last 5 years by the Port of Singapore Authority, and, the New York Times reported yesterday, a Chinese firm will be responsible for overseeing the port from 2013 onwards. When I reported on Gwadar in 2010, officials from both the Chinese developer and the PSA described its purpose as an economic one, a base for trade with the Persian Gulf. This week’s announcement is completely consistent with that interpretation.

Drezner rightly points out that there hasn’t  been much traffic to Gwadar so far: the main reason for that is that Pakistan has failed to develop promised road and rail networks to connect Gwadar to the rest of the country. At one point, a frustrated China announced it would take responsibility for this infrastructure. That it hasn’t yet done so may reflect instability in Pakistan that prevents construction projects from going ahead, or it may reflect more fundamental Chinese skepticism about Pakistan, or both. But it’s got little to do with the non-military status of Gwadar; that’s how the port was always planned.

3. The fundamental point Drezner misses is that the ‘string of pearls’ isn’t about acquiring new military assets in Pakistan at all. It’s about building on existing military ties in Pakistan by A. investing in non-military assets in Pakistan and B. investing in both military and non-military assets elsewhere in the region.

On that front, Chinese activity has been mixed. China’s state-owned mining company is the dominant player in Pakistan’s minerals sector, and protects that advantage aggressively, even coming into conflict with the U.S. government over a copper and gold reserve in Balochistan. In 2010, China pledged an additional $35 billion worth of investment in Pakistani oil and gas, heavy industry and electronicsAt the same time, a Chinese bank has prominently withdrawn its financial support from a gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan that the U.S. government strongly opposes. Meanwhile, Chinese investments elsewhere in the region continue to grow. In a part of the world where regional trade is nearly non-existent, China’s bilateral arrangements with each country hold special significance.

In short, there is a case to be made that the Sino-Pakistani relationship – and with it the ‘string of pearls’ strategy – is weakening. That may be due to wariness about Pakistani instability or concerns about links between Pakistani militant groups and recent terrorist activity in China. It may be a sign that China is holding back until the U.S. presence in Pakistan is dialed down. It may reflect a judgment that the overall strategic goal of containing India is less urgent, given India’s own blundering when it comes to asserting itself in the region. But you’d have to ignore a lot of economic evidence to suggest that the strategy was never there at all.


Filed under: Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Communications, Forbes, Foreign aid, Government & Policy, India, Influence, International Relations, military, Pakistan, Peaceful Development, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Soft Power, Strategy, Territorial Disputes, The Chinese Identity

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,575 other followers

East/West headlines of Rising China

East/West headlines of Rising China

About Wandering China

Click to find out more about this project

Support //WC

Support Wandering China now - buy a Tee Shirt!

Be a champ - Support Wandering China - buy a Tee Shirt!

The East Wind Wave

China in images and infographics, by Wandering China

China in images and Infographics, by Wandering China

Wandering China: Facing west

Please click to access video

Travels in China's northwest and southwest

Wandering Taiwan

Wandering Taiwan: reflections of my travels in the democratic Republic of China

Wandering China, Resounding Deng Slideshow

Click here to view the Wandering China, Resounding Deng Slideshow

Slideshow reflection on Deng Xiaoping's UN General Assembly speech in 1974. Based on photos of my travels in China 2011.

East Asia Geographic Timelapse

Click here to view the East Asia Geographic Timelapse

A collaboration with my brother: Comparing East Asia's rural and urban landscapes through time-lapse photography.

Wandering Planets

Creative Commons License
Wandering China by Bob Tan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at Wanderingchina.org. Thank you for visiting //
web stats

Flag Counter

free counters
Online Marketing
Add blog to our directory.
%d bloggers like this: