By Lisa Curtis
Testimony Before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission
March 10, 2016
My name is Lisa Curtis. I am Senior Research Fellow at The Heritage Foundation. The views I express in this testimony are my own and should not be construed as representing any official position of The Heritage Foundation.
China’s major interests in South Asia include promoting stability in both Afghanistan and Pakistan in order to curb the influence of Islamist extremists, and to facilitate trade and energy corridors throughout the region that China can access. China also is focused on enhancing its influence with other South Asian states, including Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives, to further help it secure energy and trade flows from the Middle East and Europe, and as part of a global effort to extend its diplomatic and economic influence. Furthermore, China seeks to contain Indian power by building close ties with Pakistan and bolstering Islamabad’s strategic and military strength. China likely assesses that, by tilting toward Pakistan, it can keep India tied down in South Asia and divert its military force and strategic capabilities away from China.
China has recently demonstrated willingness to play a more active economic and diplomatic role in efforts aimed at stabilizing Afghanistan. Washington welcomes Beijing’s increased involvement in Afghanistan and views efforts such as the establishment of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (made up of U.S., Afghan, Chinese, and Pakistani officials) as a rare opportunity for Washington and Beijing to work together toward a common security goal.
Still, it is unclear how China will square its desire for greater stability in Afghanistan with its goal of building Pakistan’s military capabilities, part of which are directed toward supporting Taliban insurgents that are fighting Afghan security forces. I testified before this commission in May 2009 that China’s security concerns about Pakistan could eventually move the Chinese in the direction of working more closely with the international community to press Pakistan to crack down on terrorist groups operating from its soil. I had cited as one example Beijing’s refusal in 2008 to offer Islamabad a large-scale bailout from its economic crisis, thus forcing Islamabad to accept an IMF program with stringent conditions. I also noted that in December 2008 Beijing agreed to support efforts within the UN Security Council to ban a Pakistan-based terrorist organization associated with the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Seven years later, however, China continues to focus more attention on shoring up Pakistan’s military and strategic position in the region than it does on convincing Pakistan to crack down on terrorist groups that stoke regional conflict. Last June, for example, China blocked action at the UN Security Council to question the circumstances of Pakistan’s release from jail of Mumbai attack mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi. China also has stepped up the scope and pace of its civilian nuclear cooperation with Pakistan, despite questions about the legality of such assistance, given Pakistan’s status as a non-signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). In short, China remains unwilling to directly pressure Pakistan to crack down on terrorists that contribute to regional instability, even as Beijing has suggested that future economic investments will hinge on the level of overall stability and security within the country.