The India Factor in China-Pakistan Defence Ties

 By Anushree Dutta

China and Pakistan have long-standing strategic ties, dating back five decades. China’s partnership with Pakistan first emerged during the mid-1950s when Beijing reached out to several developing countries, and then deepened significantly during the period of Sino-Indian hostility from 1962 to the late 1980s.Chinese policy toward Pakistan is driven primarily by its interest in countering Indian power in the region and diverting Indian military force and strategic attention away from China. The China-Pakistan partnership serves both Chinese and Pakistani interests by presenting India with a potential two-front theatre in the event of war with either country.

China-Pakistan Defence Equation                   

China’s rise to becoming the world’s third-largest arms exporter was to a large degree helped by heightened demand from Pakistan, which now buys 35% of these exports and is Beijing’s biggest buyer.[i]The most significant development in China-Pakistan military cooperation occurred in 1992 when China supplied Pakistan with 34 short-range ballistic M-11 missiles. China sold conventional weapons to Pakistan which includes JF-17 aircraft, JF-17 production facilities, F-22P frigates with helicopters, K-8 jet trainers, T-85 tanks, F-7 aircraft, small arms, and ammunition. Beijing also built a turn key ballistic-missile manufacturing facility near the city of Rawalpindi and helped Pakistan develop the 750-km-range, solid-fueled Shaheen-1 ballistic missile.[ii]Seventy percent of PakistanArmed Forces’aircraft and Main battle Tanks (MBT) were procured from China. China gave more than 400 military aircraft, 1600 MBT and more than 40 navy ships. Most of Pakistani missile projects are started by China.[iii]The Pakistan Navy is also seeing the Chengdu J 10 fighter plane and this was further discussed during the Pakistan Navy chief, Admiral Mohammad Afzal Tahir’s visit to China in May 2006.[iv]

China helped Pakistan in the development of its nuclear programme also. According to a US intelligence agency report, China had transferred not only the nuclear weapons designs but also weapon grade uranium so that Pakistan can build two nuclear bombs.[v]During President Musharraf’s February 2006 visit, China signed an agreement, to “build co-operation in the peaceful application of nuclear power”, not with standing Pakistan’s past record and international suspicion of Pakistan’s nuclear intentions.In January 2006, the Financial Times reported that China and Pakistan were negotiating the purchase of 6 to 8 new nuclear power reactors in addition to the Chinese built nuclear reactor now at Chashma in Punjab, built despite a de-facto international embargo.[vi]Although China built two nuclear reactors in Chashma and they also wanted to build two more nuclear reactors there but could not so far due to sanctions put on them.[vii]China declared the first two reactors it already agreed to construct for Pakistan – the Chashma-1 and Chashma-2 – at the time it joined the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2004, with the expectation that no new deals would follow. But in 2010, the China National Nuclear Cooperation announced it would export technology for two new reactors, Chashma-3 and Chashma-4 because it argued – rather controversially – that these projects were already grandfathered under previous agreements rather than being fresh proposals.[viii] In 2016, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif inaugurated the Chashma Nuclear Project – III, with a capacity of generating 340 megawatts of electricity.[ix]The power project is a joint collaboration between the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and China National Nuclear Corporation. It was executed by the PAEC under the guidelines of the International Atomic Energy Agency.[x]In 2017 Prime Minister ShahidKhaqanAbbasi has inaugurated nuclear power plant Chashma-4 here, withcapacity to generate 340MW electricity.[xi]In 2016, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif inaugurated construction work on a China-backed $10 billion nuclear power plant here. The Karachi Nuclear Power Plant II (Kanupp II) with capacity to produce 1,100 MW electricity is being built with the assistance of China, which has become the biggest investor in energy and infrastructure projects in Pakistan.[xii]

China seems to be establishing military bases abroad as part of a global expansion of its military facilities.[xiii]China will expand its military prowess after the construction of its first overseas naval base in Djibouti, a strategic location at the southern entrance to the Red Sea on the route to the Suez Canal.[xiv]At least one military base would be established in Pakistan. A Chinese military base in Pakistan would pressure India and would counter balance US influence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Not only this, Chinese military base(s) in Pakistan would also facilitate China to curb the uprising of Uighurs who are demanding an independent nation in Xinxiang province. China is helping Pakistan develop a deep-sea port at the naval base at Gwadar in Pakistan’s province of Baluchistan on the Arabian Sea. The port would allow China to secure oil and gas supplies from the Persian Gulf and project power in the Indian Ocean. China financed 80 percent of the $250 million for completion of the first phase of the project and reportedly is funding most of the second phase of the project as well. The complex will provide a port, warehouses, and industrial facilities for more than 20 countries and will eventually have the capability to receive oil tankers with a capacity of 200,000 tons. There is concern that China may turn its investment in Gwadar Port into access for its warships.[xv]Gwadar is situated on the Arabian Sea, just 180 nautical miles (330 kilometres) from the Straits of Hormuz, through which a third of the world’s oil supply passes. The port offers a prime location to monitor shipping passing through the Straits of Hormuz from the Persian Gulf, as well as access to cheap land routes or Middle East trade through Pakistan into Western China and Central Asia. The Chinese Navy will operate fromthe Arabian Sea to the African coast and the Gulf. Gwadar offers a shorter route to Western China – via the recently expanded Karakoram highway across Gilgit-Baltistan in northern Pakistan – and an alternative route to vulnerable sea lanes through the Strait of Malacca.[xvi]

In August 2016, Pakistan’s Ministry of Defence Production confirmed a contract with China for the purchase of eight conventional diesel-electric submarines, which will cost between $4 billion to $5 billion (Rs 25,600 crore to Rs 33,200 crore), China’s biggest defence export deal. The submarines could have a nuclear strategic capability – they could be used to launch nuclear-tipped land attack cruise missiles, providing Pakistan with a partial second-strike capability to rival India’s nuclear – submarine ballistic missiles.[xvii]

Pakistan’s military is willing to deepen cooperation with the Chinese army and support the Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism in Counter Terrorism by Afghanistan-China-Pakistan-Tajikistan Armed Forces.[xviii]

The Friction in India-China Relations

India and China share a ‘cooperation and competition’ relationship. Both the countries are fast “rising” and are perhaps destined to play major roles in the unfolding world order. China is still the main obstacle to India being a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Since long, the border dispute has been a serious irritant in India–China relations. Though the recurrence of another border war is unlikely, border incursions, allegedly from both sides, have continued with the recent Doklam stand-off.[xix] China and Pakistan have traditionally valued one another as a strategic hedge against India and India has fought three wars and a number of low-level conflicts. Tensions remain high over the disputed territory of Kashmir with periodic military posturing on both sides of the border. A turning point in China’s position on Kashmir came during the 1999 Kargil crisis when Beijing helped convince Pakistan to withdraw forces from the Indian side of the Line of Control following its incursion into the Kargil region of Jammu and Kashmir. Beijing made clear its position that the two sides should resolve the Kashmir conflict through bilateral negotiations, not military force. India was pleased with China’s stance on the Kargil crisis, which allowed Beijing and New Delhi to overcome tensions in their relations that had developed over India’s 1998 nuclear tests.[xx]

Despite the evolution in the Chinese position on Kashmir, China continues to maintain a robust defense relationship with Pakistan, and to view a strong partnership with Pakistan as a useful way to contain Indian power. China’s attempt to scuttle the US-India civil nuclear agreement at the September 2008 Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meeting was evidence for many Indians that China does not willingly accept India’s rise on the world stage. China’s continues opposition to India’s membership of the Nuclear Supplier’s Group (NSG) is not the New Delhi’s persistent failure to make headway on one of the current government’s central foreign policy priorities, but the extent and durability of China’s uneasiness at allowing India a seat at the table.[xxi]


China-Pakistan defence co-operation serves China the purpose of a high-value guarantor against India.[xxii]China has not only modernized the Pak military but it also established joint projects in Pakistan.China blocking India from NSG membership clearly reveals that China is worried how India may be achieving a particular kind of nuclear parity with China, that of legitimate nuclear status in Asia.  India should try to counter the nexus between Pakistan and China as the military and nuclear ties between both the countries are being strengthened.


[i]Behind Pakistan’s military confidence is China’s growing shadow:

[ii]China’s Military and Security Relationship with Pakistan:

[iii]Chinese Military Assistance To Pakistan And Implications For India:


[v]Supranote 3

[vi] Supranote4

[vii]Supranote 3

[viii]China Confirms Pakistan Nuclear Projects:

[ix]PM inaugurates 340MW Chashma-III Nuclear Power Plant:

[x]Pakistan’s fourth nuclear power plant, built with China’s assistance, goes online:

[xi]PM Abbasi inaugurates 340MW C-4 nuclear power plant at Chashma:

[xii]China to build $10 billion N-plants in Pakistan:

[xiii]China likely to set up military base in Pakistan – Pentagon:

[xiv] Id

[xv]China’s Military and Security Relationship with Pakistan:

[xvi]China-Pakistan Relations Enter New Phase:

[xvii] Supranote1

[xviii] Id

[xix] Conflict and Cooperation in India–China Relations:

[xx] Supranote15

[xxi]China’s Stance on NSG Membership Shows the Extent of India’s Challenge in the Global Nuclear Order: