China Losing Pakistan, Calls America and India 'Enemies' | Opinion

As China makes gains in Afghanistan, the regime is suffering severe setbacks in neighboring Pakistan, where resentment against Chinese interests is widespread.

Two suicide bombings in Pakistan—last week and last month—have taken the lives of 11 Chinese nationals and cast doubt about the viability of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. CPEC, as the $62 billion plan is known, is the centerpiece of Xi Jinping's Belt and Road (BRI), his global infrastructure initiative.

China has blamed both the U.S. and India for complicity in the deadly bombings. Beijing could take action against them, thereby engulfing the world's major powers in conflict.

On Friday, a boy suicide bomber killed two Chinese children traveling in the last car of a convoy on the Gwadar East Bay Expressway, a CPEC project. China is caught in the middle of long-running disputes in Pakistan, especially between the oppressed Balochs and Islamabad, and there is little Beijing can do to ensure the security of its workers and dependents in-country. The Balochistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attack.

Gwadar, a Chinese-built port on the Arabian Sea, has been hit by weeks-long protests that shut down the city. Those disturbances have been directed in part against illegal Chinese fishing in nearby waters.

The Gwadar disturbances follow a suicide bombing, on the 14th of last month, targeting the Dasu dam, another CPEC project. The explosion forced a bus into a ravine, killing nine Chinese nationals. The attack is believed to be the most deadly incident against Chinese interests in Pakistan.

"Recently, the security situation in Pakistan has been severe," declared a statement from the Chinese embassy in Islamabad on Friday.

These two incidents, which have followed a series of attacks, have especially alarmed Beijing. "If you've seen the recent developments with CPEC and the Chinese investments in Pakistan, there's been far more anxiety about the security situation there in the last few months than in the last few years," said Andrew Small of the German Marshall Fund to the Hindu, the Chennai-based newspaper. "They're concerned that effectively, Afghanistan could be used as strategic depth for the Pakistani Taliban, and that would have implications for their investments and security interests in the country."

China should be worried. As Kamran Bokhari of the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy tells Newsweek, the fall of the Afghan government has energized the Tehreek-e-Taliban, more commonly known as the Pakistani Taliban. The group "will want to take advantage of what they see as a historic opportunity to replicate in Pakistan the emiratic regime," Bokhari says. To do that, the Pakistani Taliban has been targeting Chinese interests to get Beijing to abandon CPEC projects. As Bokhari points out, China's leaving will weaken Islamabad, and that will help the Pakistani Taliban either topple the current government or grab control of territory along the Afghan border.

Pakistani authorities blamed the July 14 suicide bombing on the Pakistani Taliban, but they say the attacker was "trained in Afghanistan" and "received support from Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies."

Chinese President Xi Jinping waves as he
Chinese President Xi Jinping waves as he attends the art performance celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Founding of the Communist Party of China on June 28, 2021 in Beijing, China. Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

New Delhi calls the Pakistani allegation "absurd," but Chinese officials share Islamabad's assessment. "The terror attack that targeted Chinese engineers who worked for the Dasu hydropower project is said to be fueled by the Indian intelligence agency," Beijing stated in a Saturday editorial in Global Times, a tabloid controlled by the Communist Party's People's Daily. Beijing uses the tabloid's editorials to test narratives that, although not technically official, represent Party thinking.

Beijing, through the Global Times, has also issued a warning to America: "Some U.S. and Indian intelligence forces keen to infiltrate into Pakistan have held a hostile attitude toward China's BRI."

"China will not only support Pakistan to strike a heavy blow to these terror forces, but also warn all the external forces to stay away from those terror forces," the Times wrote. "Once China obtains evidence that they support terrorist forces in Pakistan, China will punish them."

Perhaps most chilling of all is the title of the editorial: "Terrorists and Their Supporters Are Enemies of China."

China's determination of responsibility is almost certainly politically driven. Beijing is blaming the U.S. because it always does and, in this case, China's leaders feel especially vulnerable. As Bokhari says, "now they need to do what they have never done before—manage security beyond their borders."

Moreover, Bokhari thinks that with regard to India, China is "now adopting Pakistan's position because Beijing needs Islamabad to manage a post-American Afghanistan."

Just because Chinese officials do not believe what they are saying does not mean they are unserious about holding Washington and New Delhi responsible. Once taking a public position, Beijing understands it has to carry through because it has put its credibility on the line.

So something is up with the use of the "enemy" label. "One reason for making such a public statement is to set up a justification for Beijing to do whatever it was already planning to do—or wants to do in the future—against India," Cleo Paskal of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told Newsweek after the issuance of the Global Times editorial. "It's a sort of preemptive victim-blaming: 'We had no choice but to invade/attack/punish you because of what (we said) you did to us.' "

There are many places China could strike. There has been, in the last week, great concern that Beijing, as another Global Times editorial suggested, would take advantage of the disarray in Kabul and Washington and invade Taiwan.

The Chinese are already invaders. China's troops in May 2020 moved into Indian-controlled territory in Ladakh, in the Himalayas, and there have been further Chinese encroachments in India's Sikkim. Reports of additional troop buildups suggest Beijing could soon open new fronts on the long border between the two giants. Perhaps the Global Times piece is intended to establish the justification for these anticipated troop movements.

In any event, Saturday's Global Times editorial suggests how the crisis in Afghanistan can spread from Central Asia and ensnare big powers such as China, India and the U.S., in addition to Pakistan. Jim Lilley, the late U.S. ambassador to Beijing, said that China always telegraphed its punches.

Beijing just telegraphed a punch—to the world's most populous democracy, and its most powerful one.

Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China. Follow him on Twitter: @GordonGChang.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.