Since Pakistan first recognized the communist regime ruling China in 1950, the leaders of the two states have had a close relationship.
As an example, when the People’s Liberation Army killed thousands of Chinese students and pro-democracy activists in 1989, Pakistan was one of the few countries that voiced their support for the crackdown.
It is the type of diplomatic support that has worked both ways.
“In diplomatic terms, China has provided almost unwavering support for Pakistan at the United Nations and within other international forums,” wrote Jonah Blank for Foreign Affairs.
See this humorous yet informative China Uncensored report about how the Sino-Pakistani relationship can block international action against terrorism:
Pakistan was also often seen as a middleman between China and others.
On top of offering diplomatic support, the countries have a history of close military and economic ties. Pakistan is China’s biggest arms buyer, and Beijing also helped the Muslim-majority nation’s nuclear program.
The US in the past has also supplied Pakistan with weapon technology, much of it was expected to be passed onto China, wrote Blank.
The nations share virtually no history and have signed no formal alliance so what is the glue of their relationship?
Both Pakistan and China see each other as a counter weight to the power of India and the US in the region.
Plus, as are the ways of the world, there is also the factor of large amounts of money changing hands.
The biggest Sino-Pakistani economic project underway is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which will connect Pakistan’s southern Gwadar deep-sea port on the Arabian Sea with China’s western Xinjiang region.
The port itself is controlled by a Chinese company.
The 3,000 km trade route is part of China’s $46 billion worth of investments in Pakistan announced last year.
It is expected that CPEC will cut down the time, from 12 days to 36 hours, that products (i.e., oil) from the Middle East will take to reach China.
Development analyst Maqsood Ahmad Jan believes that CPEC would turn Pakistan into “China’s economic colony,” reported Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster.
Jan said that Pakistan has sold out to China.
“I think the Chinese aid is not for free. Pakistan’s economy is not that big, so Beijing will now take over most of our income-generating sectors,” Jan said.
But there are also challenges for CPEC. The Gwadar port is in the restive region of Balochistan that has ongoing insurgencies by separatist and Jihadists groups.
CPEC has likewise considerable opposition among local communities in the area. Activists and local politicians in the region are concerned that the CPEC could spur on rights violations of any local groups that oppose the project.
Meanwhile there are likewise concerns for India and the U.S. that strategically-important Gwadar will be used as a naval base by the Chinese navy.
See this news Bloomberg report from 2015 about a sale of eight submarines from China to Pakistan.