The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics by Andrew Small (Hurst & Co., £30)
“Pakistan is China’s Israel.” With these words, a Chinese general explained why China would never publicly criticise Islamabad. This fascinating book disentangles the relationship between one of the oddest couples in geopolitics: an unpredictable Islamic republic and a communist state that has turned to a mixture of consumerism and authoritarianism.
Andrew Small takes us through the Cold War origins of the relationship between Pakistan and China, reminding us that Pakistan was the broker of Henry Kissinger’s secret pathfinder trips to Beijing ahead of Richard Nixon’s momentous 1972 visit. The bulk of the book, however, deals with the post-9/11 era, which saw a revival of the United States’s interest in the region as it launched the war on terror. Small’s remarkably frank interviews with Beijing policymakers illustrate that China has been caught between the desire to draw on US power to control the growth of Islamism that might stretch into China’s western Xinjiang province, and reluctance to allow Washington further influence in Asia. Unfortunately for China, the alternative solution—a massive deployment of Chinese military power in south Asia to combat Taliban insurgency—is impossible diplomatically and probably domestically.
A close examination of the relationship with Pakistan shows the fundamental problem with China’s aspirations to be a global power: Beijing wants the kudos of international influence but is too reluctant to create the alliances or long-term strategy that will achieve its aims. This lucid book illustrates that China’s power remains more limited than its rhetoric might suggest.