That may be about to change. A combination of Islamic fundamentalist violence aimed at Chinese interests in Pakistan (see Larry Catá Backer, Pakistan and Its Prostitutes Part II: The Ghazi Brothers, the Red Mosque, Globalization and Power, Law at the End of the Day, July 20, 2007), and the constant irritation of Tibet, has appeared to move China closer to the Republic of India. The Timesof India reported that
India and China are stepping up the pace of their bilateral confidence building measures, with joint exercises and regular exchanges on the anvil. On Monday, even as Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta hosted his Chinese counterpart Admiral Wu Shengli here, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal F H Major was in Beijing holding talks with his People's Liberation Army air force chief General Xu Qiliang to promote bilateral defence cooperation. "The aim is to steadily expand bilateral military-to-military ties and strengthen mutual confidence between the two armed forces," said a top official. In keeping with this policy to "constructively engage" China in the military arena, the first-ever Sino-Indian military combat exercise on Indian soil — with counter-terrorism as its primary thrust area — will be held at Belgium in December, as was earlier reported by TOI.India, China to Hold Regular Joint Exercises, The Times of India, Nov. 4, 2008. The aim of cooperation was as clear in the exercises between China and India as it had been in the context of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. "The Indian and Chinese armed forces have been incrementally building up their military ties, which in December 2007 led to the first-ever joint counter-terrorism exercise between the two armies at Kunming, with the return exercise to be held in India in December." Id.
What might this mean for Pakistan? Chinese-Pakistani relations had been better under former strongman Pervez Musharraf. China and Pakistan have seen in India a mutual enemy and each has used the other to distract India. Since 2001, Pakistan has also been playing China against the United States and India, especially as the United States began cooperating with India on a broad front, from nuclear development to trade and had participated in Shanghai Cooperation Organization events. See Pak, China to Enter into Nuclear Deal, The Times of India, Aug. 12, 2006. India, Pakistan and Iran were admitted to observer status in the SCO in 2005. Shanghai Cooperation Organization, History of SCO. Since then Chinese interests have been subject to pressure within Pakistan. Still, "Western diplomats say China is interested in maintaining a stable relationship with Pakistan for a number of reasons: China sees its relationship with Pakistan as a way to counter-balance growing U.S. ties with India. In the long term, China also considers Pakistan as a conduit to expand trade with the oil rich Middle East to improve its economic and energy-related interests." Farhan Bohkari, China Aiding Pakistan's Nuclear Ambitions, CBS News, Nov. 3, 2008.
Still, China is being careful to club its relations with India and Pakistan. See After China, It's E. Asia's Turn, The Times of India, April 13, 2005. And the military cooperation with India may be an effort to diffuse the growing steps toward pulling India into alliance with the United States and Japan.
A hundred years later, another Great Game appears to be unfolding in Asia, and it’s sending a chill through the continent. Ranged on one side are China and , and on the other, US and Japan. If the ongoing military exercise in the Bay of Bengal — dubbed Malabar 07 — is any indication, India by virtue of its participation alongside the US, Japan, Australia and Singapore, is being drawn into an alliance aimed at containing China. Or, so say those who see Malabar and the nuclear deal as proof of Delhi’s growing proximity to Washington. Malabar 07, a six-day joint naval exercise (September 4-9) involving 25 warships, is at least for the record aimed at countering piracy and terrorism. But just as the US formed Nato (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) post World War II by drawing western European nations into an anti-Soviet Union alliance, Beijing views Malabar as a step towards the creation of an Asian Nato to counter China’s growing economic, military and strategic influence.As Big Powers Play in Asia, Where Does India Stand, The Times of India, Sept. 7, 2007. India's foot in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and its joint military exercises with China suggest a bit of necessary hedging, as well as a move aimed at avoiding an alignment between China and Pakistan. China is unlikely to relish a Pakistani connection, both because of its ultimate fragility given the likelihood of Pakistani covert aid to the Uighurs and internal inability to control anti Chinese sentiment. On the other hand, a Chinese hand in Pakistan might keep those moves from growing. But without an Indian counterweight, Chinese involvement in Pakistan becomes more fragile. From India's perspective, a move toward the United States is still something of an experiment, in light of the traditionally strong ties between the United States and Pakistan (now strained), and the notorious fickleness of American foreign policy with respect to India. On the other hand, India's economic development tilts it toward the United States and toward competition with China for overseas markets and inbound investment. Increasing military cooperation all around might well prove to be a necessary insurance policy against uncontrolled politically excessive activity on all their parts. The complexity of this three way relationship is nicely explored in Esther Pan, China and Pakistan: A Deepening Bond, Council on Foreign Relations, March 8, 2006. Its current turns could spell changes for the relationships among these three Asian powers.