Once close allies in the War on Terror, Pakistan and the U.S. have experienced a deteriorating relationship in the past 18 months. Misdirected drone strikes, civilian deaths, and a belief in Islamabad that America has consistently trampled on Pakistani sovereignty has left the relationship in a state of cold fury.Of course, Pakistani anger at the U.S. has not got unnoticed in Beijing. Sensing an opening, China’s foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, is leading a high-level delegation to Pakistan’s capital. This is how the Pakistani press described Yang’s visit:
Yang met President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and held formal talks with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. He is also scheduled to meet Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani today.At a joint news conference with his Pakistani counterpart, the Chinese foreign minister threw his country’s weight behind Pakistan’s efforts to safeguard its sovereignty, security, territorial integrity and dignity.Without referring to the ongoing tensions between Pakistan and the United States, he pointed out that partnership between Pakistan and China had become ever more important due to recent international developments.
On the one hand, the visit by Yang , who was accompanied by senior intelligence officials, signals a definite Chinese move in the Game of Thrones, as Beijing seeks to take advantage of the schism between Pakistan and the U.S. Chinese intelligence experts may sense the opportunity to collect a bounty of information from a country which has learned quite a lot about how the U.S. operates. One thing the intel experts will be looking for: hard information from Pakistan that will help them crush Uighur activists, some of whom are religious radicals who in the past have received aid from the ISI, Pakistan’s security service.The visit is also intended as a signal to India, which has been making its own moves in the region. Earlier this week, India’s Prime Minister traveled to Burma to discuss increasing trade and investment links between the two neighbors. It was the first visit by an Indian leader in 25 years, and another demonstration of how Burma is detaching itself from its Chinese umbilical cord. For its part, China—never the most popular kid in school—could do with more friends in the neighborhood. The only reliable ally it can currently count on is North Korea, so the opportunity to draw Pakistan closer to its orbit is one that China doesn’t want to flub.Nevertheless, Yang’s sojourn is unlikely to send shivers up the spine of the folks at Foggy Bottom. Press coverage from Pakistan, as usual, overhyped the visit. Pakistan is feeling incredibly lonely and vulnerable: in its eyes, it has been betrayed by the U.S., a country to which it has always been a true ally. China, Pakistanis hope, will be the “good” patron who will pay all the bills, support every Pakistani wish—and do so without asking anything hard in return.As Pakistan is about to find out, that is not how China does business.