China-Pakistan military ties set to get even closer as ‘iron brothers’ eye new alliance

From jointly developed jets to high-level talks on regional security issues, Beijing and Islamabad are fighting side by side to keep the peace

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 January, 2018, 11:16am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 January, 2018, 11:16am

With reports that China is planning to build its second offshore naval base near a strategically important Pakistani port it appears that the relationship between Beijing and Islamabad is as strong as ever.

Once dubbed “iron brothers” by the now retired vice-chairman of China’s Central Military Commission Fan Changlong, the two countries have steadily increased cooperation on military and defence matters in recent years as they seek to counter the perceived threat from rivals India and the United States.

Here are the five major areas in which they have worked together:

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JF-17 fighter jet

Designed in China and assembled in Pakistan, the JF-17 Thunder combat aircraft was introduced in 2011 with the aim of providing the Pakistani air force with a low-cost alternative to its ageing fleet of Dassault Mirage III/5 fighter jets by 2020.

In the years since, however, the jet – produced by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and Chengdu Aerospace Corporation – has experienced its fair share of turbulence, having crashed in both 2011 and 2016.

Despite its dubious safety record Islamabad has pitched the JF17 as an affordable jet fighter for developing countries, and in 2015 secured its first export deal with an undisclosed Asian country.

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Secret submarines

In 2016, Beijing agreed to sell Pakistan eight modified diesel-electric attack submarines by 2028 in a deal valued at between US$4 billion and US$5 billion.

While there have been no official reports of exactly what vessels will be involved, analysts have said they are likely to be lighter versions of the People Liberation Army’s Type 039 and Type 041 Yuan-class conventional attack submarines.

The vessels will be supplied by China Shipbuilding Trading Company, and Beijing is expected to extend a long-term low-interest rate loan to Pakistan to cover their cost.

Naval exercises

Last month, the navies of China and Pakistan held their fifth bilateral exercise in waters off the coast of Shanghai.

Intended to develop interoperability between the two forces, the joint manoeuvres involved China’s Jinzhou frigate and Pakistan’s Saif frigate.

Beijing also dispatched J-11 fighters, JH-7 fighter-bombers, KJ-200 early warning aircraft and various ground forces, while Pakistan sent its JF-17 Thunder jets and early warning aircraft.

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Fighting terrorism

During their first ever trilateral foreign ministers meeting in December, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed to enhance cooperation to improve regional stability and boost their economies.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the three countries had reached complete consensus on fighting terrorism, and that China would “fully leverage” Xinjiang – its westernmost and most restive region – as a base for economic cooperation.

Beijing hopes that increased stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan will allow it to better control Xinjiang’s borders, and also provide more security along the route of its massive intercontinental trade and infrastructure development plan known as the “Belt and Road Initiative”.

High-level defence talks

In August, Chinese General Fang Fenghui, a former chief of the Joint Staff Department under the Central Military Commission, held high-level talks with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif.

The meeting took place after the establishment of a “quadrilateral mechanism” for such dialogue between China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

At the meeting, Fang said China was willing to deepen cooperation with Pakistan in all relevant areas, including capability building and enhancing regional security.

Raheel said Pakistan would crack down on known terrorist groups like the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and protect the security of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.