A day after the U.S. leader slammed Islamabad for harboring terrorists in a New Year’s Day tweet, Pakistan’s central bank announced that it will be replacing the dollar with the yuan for bilateral trade and investment with Beijing.
The same day, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang defended Islamabad’s counter-terrorism track record, saying the country “made great efforts and sacrifices for combating terrorism” and urged the international community to “fully recognize this.”
China has been watching closely as U.S.-Pakistan relations become increasingly strained. Trump has long demanded the frontier economy to do more on counter-terrorism while he simultaneously grew closer to its arch-rival, India.
“Pakistan and the U.S. have had a fraught relationship for years, but the big change recently has been China,” said Simon Baptist, Asia regional director at the Economist Intelligence Unit. “China has really gone hard in cementing its existing relationship with Pakistan, it’s really the only place that’s seen significant investment under the Belt and Road initiative and China has been pushing for geopolitical advantage there.”
Islamabad is home to one of Beijing’s central infrastructure schemes, a near $60 billion collection of land and sea projects known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor — a centerpiece of Belt and Road.
And with a steady stream of Chinese capital under its belt, Pakistan may no longer be receptive to American threats, the most recent of which involves Washington cutting off security assistance.
“Pakistan balks far less at reductions in American aid, which, as the former points out, has dwindled in recent years anyway. China, on the other hand, has promised Pakistan $57 billion in investments on infrastructure and energy under its Belt and Road Initiative,” Madiha Afzal, a nonresident fellow at Brookings, said in a recent note. “All this means that America has far less leverage over Pakistan.”
“The history of Pakistan’s relationships with China and the United States also shows that Pakistan’s policy does not respond to strong-handedness, but to loyalty, and to being treated with dignity,” she continued.
For Beijing’s part, a Monday editorial published by Chinese state-run news outlet Global Times said that “China and Pakistan enjoy an all-weather strategic partnership of cooperation, Beijing will without doubt not give up on Islamabad.”
Regardless of hardened rhetoric between the White House and Islamabad — Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif recently dismissed Trump’s outburst as a political stunt — the two nations are expected to continue cooperating this year.
Ultimately, Washington needs Pakistani cooperation to address its concerns about Afghanistan and Iran, Baptist said, adding that it remains to be seen if Trump’s social media tirade will translate into real policy change.