Comprehensive infrastructural development and industrialization over the last thirty years has prompted China to seek energy sources to fuel development goals. The thirst for energy has propelled China to the Persian Gulf to build trade relationships to maintain robust economic development at home. Consequently, a tremendously important acquisition of the Gwadar Port in Pakistan was just made by the Chinese owned China Overseas Ports Holding Company Limited. This acquisition comes at a pivotal time when Pakistan’s incoming administration is at a crossroads in relations with the United States regarding the war on terror. Nawaz Sharif’s inflammatory statements about withdrawing from cooperation with the United States in the war on terror have made the recent Chinese presence particularly intriguing. Sharif may usher a pivot to Asia and the Gwadar Port may be on the front lines.
The Gwadar Port is located on Pakistan’s southern coast in the Arabian Sea near the Strait of Hormuz. China’s energy demands are dependent on a steady flow of natural resources from Gulf States. For example, Iran sells more petroleum to China than any other trade partner, a resource which must pass through the Strait of Hormuz to get to China. Hence, the economic importance of the Strait of Hormuz to Chinese foreign political and development goals is palpable. The important role that Middle-Eastern oil plays in China’s energy demand means that China will likely assume a more powerful role in the region. Pakistan’s Gwadar Port is a major piece of this puzzle.
The intriguing element to the Gwadar Port is the fact that Pakistan’s political arena is currently at an intersection with the transition of power to Nawaz Sharif. May 25, 2013 is the date Sharif is set to take office. It is interesting to note that the Gwadar acquisition took place on May 24, 2013. Sharif made controversial headlines in the election campaign by pledging to withdraw Pakistani support in the war on terror.
One could brush these comments aside as campaign rhetoric, or such comments can be situated in a context of strengthened relations with China and the picture is very different. It is true that Pakistan relies heavily on the United States for economic and military support. From 2002 to 2011 the United States has given nearly 18 billion US dollars in military and economic aid to Pakistan and the number is still climbing.
Presumably, much of the United States’ aid given to Pakistan is awarded for the support Pakistan currently gives to the American war effort against the Taliban, Al Qaeda and their affiliates. Therefore, if Sharif plans to heavily reduce Pakistan’s role in the war on terror, than Pakistan is also likely to see a decline in the quantity of American aid. However, big questions remain unanswered: What will Pakistan do without the United States generous aid packages?
The recent Chinese acquisition of the Gwadar Port is a likely intimation of expanding Chinese-Pakistan relations. The impact of the ever building relations between China and Pakistan will have reverberating consequences for Pakistan domestically, China’s increasing global influence and the American-led war on terror. Increasing political and economic linkages with China is Pakistan’s only way out of the war on terror. If Pakistan, under a Sharif administration, turns its back on the United States and the war on terror a vast quantity of support will likely be withdrawn. A scenario that presents Pakistan with few alternatives. Strengthening partnerships with powerful and wealthy states like China, will become a policy of necessity for Pakistan.
China’s growing influence in the Middle-East stems from their economic thirst for resources and has the potential to reconfigure the geopolitical landscape in the war on terror. Particularly, if Sharif makes good on his pledge to abandon the United States in the war on terror, Pakistan has little options beyond reproducing relations with China as demonstrated in the Gwadar acquisition. The Gwadar Port is the intersection between China’s economic goals, Sharif’s domestic goals and America’s global war on terror. The result of this interrelation is yet to be seen. The future is in Sharif’s hands.