China, Gilgit-Baltistan (Memorize it Now), and the Balance of Power in Asia

“Middle Kingdom.”

The Hudson Institute has an article this week that provides an excellent summary of disquieting events in Pakistan’s remote northern province of Gilgit-Baltistan. Why should we care? Chinese troops. Regional analysts fear Gilgit-Baltistan is becoming a gateway for China to exert military and political influence in Central Asia. Exhibit A in their assessment is the presence of up to 11,000 Chinese troops in the province. (This MEMRI summary has additional details.)

The Chinese military deployment is of concern for two principal reasons: its potential relevance to the coalition effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan (AfPak), and its importance to Beijing’s project of bisecting Asia with a Chinese-built, Chinese-controlled transport corridor. Such a corridor would benefit commerce and travel, but would also be of unique significance to the Asian balance of power.

China is very unlikely to take any overt military action against coalition forces in Afghanistan. But China and Pakistan could well make common cause there, backing or opposing local factions to induce an outcome they regard as favorable. The visit of a high-level Chinese military delegation to the AfPak border in October – sponsored by Pakistan – got little coverage in Western media, but raised hackles in the Asian press (see the MEMRI summary). Notably, NATO was kept well away from the event.

It would hardly be unprecedented for China to arm factions that are fighting the US or other foreign powers. The relative political concord between NATO and Russia in Central Asia is no doubt a motivating factor for the Chinese, who don’t want to see their Asian rival profiting from a NATO-guaranteed settlement. But Chinese objectives in Central Asia go beyond the disposition of Afghanistan. The troops in Gilgit-Baltistan have been engaged in tunneling projects and road- and rail-building. These efforts will certainly affect the opportunities for commerce through Central Asia, but they will also help China achieve the strategic advantage of spanning Asia’s temperate zone and major waterways, which neither Russia nor India does.

This advantage is useful beyond commerce, and even beyond the race for oil and mineral resources. Improved roads and rail into northern Pakistan, along with a series of mountain tunnels, constitute military assets, forged through a region sensitive for both India and Russia. Given China’s improvements to the Pakistani port of Gwadar, a project launched in 2007, this infrastructure, when completed, would give China a strategic land link with the Indian Ocean – on the other side of India. With a Pakistani alliance and an advantageous outcome in Afghanistan, China would be in a position to bypass and flank both her continental Asian rivals, trumping them or holding them at risk in multiple ways.

China’s Central Asian gambit is in an early stage at present. The mere idea of road and rail improvements is not something to be resisted, but the US must still take note that China, whose intentions may come into conflict with ours, has moved troops into Pakistan’s territory at a time when our relations with Islamabad are worsening. Failing to reckon with such interrelated developments was one of our chief vulnerabilities during the Johnson years of the Vietnam War.

Regarding China and strategic advantage in Asia, we might take a cue from the old strategy of Great Britain. It would be as problematic for the US to see one nation achieve ascendancy over Asia as it would have been for Britain to see one nation achieve it over Europe. Britain addressed that problem by two methods: promoting a balance of power on the continent and being a friend (if a selective one) to nationalist movements and the establishment of smaller nations. America has no wish for a career of conquest or occupation in Asia, but discouraging the consolidation of an empire there is both central to our security and consonant with the promotion of democracy.

J.E. Dyer blogs at Hot Air’s Green Room and Commentary’s “contentions.”  She writes a weekly column for Patheos.

20 thoughts on “China, Gilgit-Baltistan (Memorize it Now), and the Balance of Power in Asia”

  1. Gilget baltistan is fighting for freedom since 1947 after Pakistan occupied their terriroty, but the world is not hearing. It may be either, the freedom fighters are not strong enough or the Pakistani media is not allowing such news to be out of Pakistan. The case is still in UN. The international media has to do more to make the world listen the voice of poor Baltistan Liberation Front.

    It the US will not tackle the situation, then china will overtake and there will be a threat to the asia and america.

  2. When I read the same Hudson article, I welcomed China into Gilgit-Baltistan.
    To be blunt, let China have at the Pashtuns, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. No one else has ever had any success except the Mongols and a few of their descendants.

    If China can deploy that many Chinese in the most unforgiving terrain in the world, they deserve whatever benefit they can reap. Being pork-loving idolators is not going to make it easy for the Chinese. The greatest risk will be for India to bear, if any of her watershed is in that area.

    When the news of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth came out, my first thought was that China should annex the eastern finger of Afghanistan (Wakhan north to Hoshan on the 1897 Constable map 1), added during the 19th century as a compromise “where the three empires meet”. Only China could build infrastructure there 🙂

    1. China has no need to annex for that. They can buy any minerals they want from there cheaply enough.

      1. If there is one thing history teaches, it’s that the pesky natives will get possessive of the never exploited minerals on their land the moment someone has invested enough to open the mine.

  3. The Chinese are on the move. Their objective is to secure access to the resources their economy will need if it is to maintain growth and keep the lid on its restless millions. Unfortunately, we may need access to these resources too.

    The Chinese are now going about securing their position in Central Asia at the expense of Russia and the West. And their is nothing we can do about it. We have no leverage or useful cards to play. A disasterous and shortsighted foreign policy has cost us our ability to influence.

    This region is Moslem, and in the Moslem world the US is a toxic brand. We have for generations subverted their governments. We have installed and maintained vicious and hated, US-compliant, dictators (Saddam, the Shah, etc etc). We have cobbled-up a ‘war of choice’ to casually deliver indiscriminate death and mutilation from the air to tens to thousands of Moslem men women and children (We may like to see it differently, but the average Moslem sees no moral equivalence between what happened in 9/11 and the completely different scale of human catastrophy visited on the people of Iraq by “shock and awe”*). We have preached endlessly at the Moslem world while at the same time repudiating our own self-declared values in our dealings with it. We have armed those who steal their lands. We had forgotton that Moslems feel pain, grief, bereavement, dispossession, and humiliation, just as we do. We have forgotton that Inflicting these things on others seldom generates goodwill or increases the security of Americans.
    There is a sea-change taking place in the Moslem world at the moment. Our satraps are falling like dominos. It is no longer feasible for US-friendly autocrats to censor our dirty dealings from Moslem populations. Al Jazeera and the web have outed us.

    We are now reaping the harvest sown by the neo-con manufactured “war between civilizations”. Nowdays any Moslem with a computer can go online and access “centreforsecuritypolicy” and a hundred other obsessive Islamophobic web-sites for ample evidence that the US is a seething cauldron of hatred towards Moslems (Not the way many of us would see it, but, frankly, the average Moslem no longer gives a damn how we see it). They prefer to deal with the Chinese.

    So the Chinese are now supplanting us in the Moslem world. Ironic, given their treatment of their own Moslem minorities, that we are seen as even worse. We have, to no good purpose or vital US interest, managed to alienate a large chunk of the human race and the inhabitants of entire strategically vital regions. We have even seen democratic NATO ally, Turkey, turn away from us in frustration and disgust. Pakistan is slipping out of our grasp and possibly into disintegration. About our only remaining ally in west and central Asia is the monster who rules Uzbekistan. We can’t bomb the Chinese. Perhaps we should bomb Al Jezeera and the internet?

    We have no influence in the Moslem world and the Chinese are laughing. We have forfeited our ability to secure and determine our interests in a vital and real way. There is little doubt that when the dust settles in North Africa the Chinese will be in and we (payback time for backing the wrong horse and our gratuitous islamaphobia) will be out.

    Those of us who love our country can only weep.

    What a mess our islamaphobic foreign-policy has landed us in!

    *Sure, Saddam was a monster. But when he was gassing the Khurds in the 80s he was OUR monster, and we were supplying him in his megadeath war of aggression on Iran.

    1. Of course, Islam spread from the seventh century onward via missionaries on bicycles and internet chat groups. The reality is that Islam was born and grew through violence and coercion that permeates it to this day. The areas of temporary peace in Dar es Salaam are those areas where despotism completely subjugates the populace through the use of Islam, the meaning of which is submission. Other religions have used similar tactics, Catholics and Puritans both attempted to regulate the lives of their followers by conflict with the opposition. Changes in the world economy, communication and transportation have pushed the Islamic umma into a reluctant confrontation that they cannot win on their own terms. Even the demographics of an increasingly Islamic Europe do not bode well. Newer generations of deracinated Arabs, hunting in packs through the banelieus, feel no obligation to the state that attempts to control them or the faith of their fathers that is increasingly irrelevant to their daily lives. Modernity itself (whatever that may be) is a greater threat to Islam than any US military or economic policy.

      1. cm, the reality is that the people today are not the people of the seventh century and that today’s Christians would not like to be held up as the same people who carried the Cross and the sword to the New World or who burned the unbelievers in Europe.

        there not the same people who burned crosses on peoples lawns and lynched Negroes for disrespecting white women.

    2. China is an export based economy. The US is by far their greatest customer. If they cut us off from the resources we need to maintain our economic health, how are we going to be able to continue to be the customer… they need?

      In prior generations, given that they faced an expansionist Communism, what would have an ‘enlightened foreign policy’ have consisted? Once the Iran/Iraq war started, if we had stayed out of it, Iraq wouldn’t exist and a greater Iran would with all of Iraq’s oil to fund its Jihadist ambitions. How would you have avoided that outcome?

      Who ‘stole’ Moslem lands? Whom have “we have armed those who steal their lands”?

      ‘Shock and Awe’ freed Iraqi’s from a monster who killed over 300k Iraqi during his rein of terror. Where does that little tidbit of information factor into the equation?

      ‘Preaching at’ is something apologists practice, certainly apologizing for fighting Islamic extremism encourages Muslims to feel victimized. Have you ever considered responding to Muslim anger with a forthright and unapologetic attitude?

      To what “dirty dealings” with Moslem populations do you refer?

      When you characterize as ‘Islamophobic’ those who speak of Islam itself, as the problem, do you honestly believe that with over 13,000 plus attacks all over the world, just since 9/11… Islam is a ‘religion of peace’? Where are the protests by moderate Muslims against those who have hijacked their ‘religion of peace’? How do you account for the fact that 2/3 of the Qu’ran is an incitement to violence against non-believers? That given the Islamic dogma that the Quran is the direct word of God, incitements to violence are endemic to the ‘religion’?

      How would you have avoided “alienate(ing) a large chunk of the human race and the inhabitants of entire strategically vital regions”? How would you have done that while dealing with the far greater threats of Nazism and then expansionist communism? How would you do that now, with the need to combat Islamic extremism?

      So, we’re culpable in Turkey embracing Islamism? That wouldn’t have happened had we adhered to the European model of appeasement?

      You state, “There is little doubt that when the dust settles in North Africa the Chinese will be in and we (payback time for backing the wrong horse and our gratuitous islamaphobia) will be out” please identify the ‘right horse’ and explain had we supported ‘the people’ how that would have changed the outcome? You’re suggesting there was an alternative, what and who was it?

      That ‘megadeath’ war of Saddam to which you refer, who was responsible for sending children to clear land mines? Again, had we stayed out of it, Iran would have won and, would today have far more resources to fund its Islamic aggression, how would you have avoided that outcome?

      Criticism is easy and hindsight is always 20/20> In specifics, what should we have done differently?

      Finally, if you refuse to answer or refuse to acknowledge the predictable outcomes of a suggested strategy… you reveal yourself to be less than serious and simply a complainer. That can’t be the case, right?

    3. Joe, there’s not much to be said for our support for dictatorial regimes, just as there’s not much to be said fro your notion that we’re responsible for their installation in the Middle East.
      Responsibility for the fact that nearly every one of those countries are dictatorial doesn’t attack to the US.

  4. This is what happens when we betray our friends in North Africa. The governments of central Asia have seen that the Obama mis-led US is an unreliable ally and have turned to the Chinese as a more reliable alternative. You can be sure that once the so-called Islamic “democrats” we are enabling in North Africa are firmly in power they will have us out and the Chinese in. Next in line will be Nigeria – one of our biggest oil-suppliers – which now has a moslem majority and where the Chinese are already major infrastructural players.
    We need to stiop the rot before we find ourselves exclused or replaced by the resource-hungry Chinese in every area where there is a Moslem majority.
    We have ceded the field to the Islamisists. We need to move quickly. Our first move should be to stop the poison spreading by closing down Al Jazeera and the other Arab and Islamic propaganda media which are spreading insurgency and hatred against the US and its only real and vital ally in the region. After that we need to move major US amphipious forces into the Med and central Asia to show the Chinese and other meddlers that we mean business and fully intend protecting our interests by all means available.
    Unfortunately, while our usurper Moslem president remains in power we will do nothing until we wake up some morning with no oil.

      1. you would do just as well to shut down the Jerusalem Post as Al Jezeera if you object to propaganda.

    1. The ‘friends’ in N.Africa to whom you refer must be Egypt. I take it you were speaking in generalities rather than specifics. But of course, the devil is in the details.

      “Our first move should be to stop the poison spreading by closing down Al Jazeera and the other Arab and Islamic propaganda media”

      Those are not US based media, how do you propose to ‘shut them down’?

      “After that we need to move major US amphipious forces into the Med and central Asia to show the Chinese and other meddlers that we mean business”

      Amphibious forces function is to secure beachheads or conduct a brief coastal operation. How will that protect our interests? Or do you propose that we invade whomever pisses us off? If so, how will we pay for that? What’s the tactical goal? What’s your exit strategy?

      “while our usurper Moslem president remains in power we will do nothing until we wake up some morning with no oi”

      You’re right, while the democrats hold the WH we will do nothing. That is a criminally stupid policy but it will backfire upon the democrats. Nothing can expose the flaws in their thinking better than the predictable consequences of that policy. The ‘religion’ of environmentalism is about to meet the reality of supply and demand. Once the public awakens to the consequences of our short-sighted energy policy, the tide shall turn toward development of our resources, of which we have plenty.

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