The ongoing crisis in Afghanistan and Pakistan looks like a prime candidate for closer cooperation between the United States and China. There are various broadly shared interests in combating terrorism, containing rising extremism, and supporting the stability of both states. With its extensive influence in Pakistan and substantial economic capacity, Beijing has important assets to bring to the table. In practice, however, efforts to achieve convergence have proved frustrating. Differences run deep over how to address the extremist threat and the broader geopolitics of the region. And as is true of its foreign policy elsewhere, China pursues a relatively narrow conception of its interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan, rather than supporting a more widely shared set of goals.
The problem for Beijing is that this narrow approach is proving increasingly unsuccessful. Security for its workers and major investment projects has deteriorated; the U.S. role in the region has expanded, much to China's discomfort; and Pakistan's capacity to protect Chinese interests has weakened. There is a debate starting in China about whether a strategic reassessment is needed, which has already resulted in a few tactical shifts on Beijing's part. But until China is forced to go through a more fundamental reappraisal of its strategy for dealing with extremism in the region, prospects for the United States and China to pursue complementary policies will remain limited.