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What are the implications of growing Pakistan-China commercial relations for the United States?

Question submitted by Monish Gulati, from New Delhi, India, May 24, 2013

Answered by: Pir Zubair Shah, Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow


The first foreign leader to visit Pakistan following its recent elections was the prime minister of China, signifying the close relations between the two countries. During the visit, Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari said, "Our top priority is to further strengthen economic linkages."

Historically, the relations between Pakistan and China have been confined to security and defense ties, but commercial relations have been increasing in the past two decades. Bilateral trade between the two countries has reached $12 billion, and both sides are committed to reaching $15 billion over the next two to three years.

An important milestone in this direction was achieved earlier this year when the Pakistanis handed over management of the Gwadar deep sea port to China. The port has important geostrategic and political implications for U.S. policy and interests in the region: it will connect China to the Arabian Sea and to the Strait of Hormuz, an important gateway for a third of the world's traded oil. If used as a Chinese naval base, the port will have new implications, not only for the United States but also for its primary ally in the region, India. China is also heavily investing in Pakistan's nuclear energy projects. Due to Pakistan's history of proliferation, the United States has serious concerns over this cooperation.

The United States can use the growing commercial relations and the increasing economic dependence between the two countries to address some of the concerns and goals that it shares with China in the region. For example, China can be helpful for the United States in Afghanistan, by asking Pakistan to bring the Taliban leadership operating out of the country to the negotiation table. Similarly, China and the United States can work on the issue of terrorism emanating from Pakistan, which is a threat to the security of both countries.