Forging a Stronger Bond: The Pakistan Army’s Vital Role in Strengthening Pakistan-China Relations

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Pakistan Army has played a vital role in strengthening Pakistan-China relations through military diplomacy. It serves as the linchpin of the close friendship between the two countries, often referred to as the iron brotherhood. The army has facilitated defense cooperation, technology transfer, and training programs, enhancing Pakistan’s military capabilities. Joint counterterrorism efforts and shared security concerns have further deepened bilateral ties, contributing to regional stability. Overall, Pakistan Army’s contribution has solidified the strategic partnership with China and fostered a broader environment of peace and stability in South Asia.
Provision of Security to CPEC
Since the inception of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, Pakistan Army has undertaken the responsibility of ensuring a secure environment for its smooth implementation. Recognizing the importance of safeguarding CPEC, a Special Security Division (SSD) comprising 15,000 soldiers was established. Their primary task is to provide security to the various projects and personnel associated with CPEC. 

In addition to their role in providing security,Pakistan Army has also played a vital role in coordinating and facilitating security measures for Chinese personnel employed in different capacities within the CPEC projects. Through close collaboration with relevant authorities and stakeholders, the army has ensured a safe and protected working environment. This comprehensive approach to security has fostered confidence among the Chinese government and investors, reinforcing their commitment to the success of CPEC. 
The professionalism and effectiveness of Pakistan Army in combating terrorism has been widely acknowledged and appreciated, including the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Chief, General Han Weiguo.1 In 2018, General Weiguo expressed his admiration for Pakistan Army’s capabilities in countering terrorism and their commitment to providing a high degree of security to the CPEC project. Such recognition from the PLA Chief highlights the significant role played by Pakistan Army in ensuring the safety and progress of CPEC. 

Pakistan Army’s dedication to providing security for CPEC has instilled confidence among the Chinese investors. Their unwavering efforts demonstrate the seriousness with which they approach the successful implementation of the project. The high professional standing of Pakistan Army and the secure environment they have created have been crucial factors in attracting Chinese investment and strengthening the partnership between Pakistan and China. 
The continuous efforts of Pakistan Army in maintaining security and stability have given China the assurance to invest in the CPEC project. The army’s commitment to providing a safe environment for the execution of CPEC initiatives has not only strengthened bilateral ties, but also paved the way for socioeconomic development, infrastructure advancement, and regional connectivity between Pakistan and China.
The Significance of Military-to-Military Diplomacy in Pakistan-China Relations
Military-to-military diplomacy and cooperation between Pakistan and China have been the cornerstone of their enduring and valuable relationship. Over the past five years, the two nations have actively engaged in various levels of military cooperation and diplomacy. 

During this period, more than 70 bilateral and multilateral visits have taken place, involving high-level meetings between foreign and defense ministers, ambassadors, and senior military officials from China. These visits have underscored China’s confidence in Pakistan’s military leadership and have focused on areas such as bilateral cooperation, strategic partnership, defense diplomacy, joint efforts against COVID-19, security for CPEC and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects, counterterrorism, and a review of the security situation in Afghanistan. Visiting Chinese dignitaries have consistently acknowledged and appreciated the role of Pakistan army in promoting regional peace and stability. 
One notable event was the address given by the former Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) on July 12, 2017, at the CPEC logistics international forum. COAS expressed immense pride in Pakistan-China relationship, referring to it as an ascending trajectory that encompasses various aspects of both countries’ lives. This sentiment highlights the deep bond between the two nations, often referred to as ‘Iron Brothers.’
Another significant meeting occurred on October 19, 2018, when the former COAS was invited for a special meeting with President Xi Jinping. This interaction between the military commander and the President of China held great value as they discussed the regional security environment, challenges, and the way forward. President Xi emphasized Pakistan’s status as China’s ‘time-tested iron friend’ and praised the pivotal role of Pakistan Army in nurturing this enduring relationship. 
In August 2019, General Xu Qiliang, Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), visited Pakistan and held discussions with the then COAS at General Headquarters (GHQ). The leaders explored matters of mutual interest, regional security, avenues for enhancing bilateral defense collaboration, and the situation in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK). 
Furthermore, in November 2020, the Chinese Ambassador, H.E. Mr. Nong Rong, met with General Nadeem Raza, the former Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC), at Joint Staff Headquarters in Rawalpindi. The discussions focused on the geostrategic environment and further strengthening security and defense cooperation between the two countries. 
Most recently, a tri-service military delegation led by the former COAS visited China from June 9 to 12, 2022. The apex meeting held on June 12 covered international and regional security situations, defense cooperation, exchange of perspectives on mutual interests, training, technology, and counterterrorism cooperation. This landmark visit of Pakistan’s military leadership to China demonstrates the strength and unity in pursuing mutual interests, and it serves as a testament to the strong and harmonious relations between the two peace-loving nations. 
The military-to-military diplomacy and cooperation between Pakistan and China have served as a vital pillar in their enduring relationship, reinforcing their commitment to regional stability and shared interests.

Strengthening Defense Cooperation: Pakistan-China Defense Production, Procurement, and Joint Exercises
Pakistan and China have forged a robust partnership in defense production and procurement, thanks to the concerted military diplomacy efforts by the leadership of Pakistan Army. This cooperation has resulted in significant advancements in various defense sectors, contributing to both countries’ security and self-sufficiency. The key aspects of this collaboration are highlighted below:
PAC JF-17 Thunder. The joint development of the PAC JF-17 Thunder, a multirole combat aircraft, exemplifies the successful indigenization of fighter aircraft production in Pakistan. This achievement has enabled Pakistan not only to meet its own defense requirements, but also to export the JF-17 Thunder. An agreement worth USD 552 million was signed with Nigeria, bolstering Pakistan’s military exports and contributing to its national exchequer.
J-10C Fighter Aircraft. In June 2021, China and Pakistan signed a bilateral agreement to acquire 25 J-10C fighter aircraft. This state-of-the-art 4.5 generation fighter jet is designed for air-to-air combat and strike missions, further enhancing Pakistan’s defense capabilities.
VT-4 Battle Tanks. The induction of Chinese-made VT-4 battle tanks into the Pakistan Army has significantly strengthened defensive responses and protective measures. These advanced tanks, supplied by China’s Norinco (defense company), provide all-weather, all-terrain, and comprehensive night fighting capabilities. Pakistan becomes the third country, after Thailand and Nigeria, to procure the VT-4 tanks.
Z-10ME Attack Helicopters. Pakistan is likely to become the first country to purchase Z-10ME attack helicopters from China. This procurement will bolster Pakistan’s aerial firepower and combat capabilities.

Type-054 Class Frigate (Naval Warships). Pakistan has acquired two Type-054 Class Frigates from China. These modern warships equipped with medium-range air defense systems, high-tech radar systems, and surface-to-air missile systems have enhanced Pakistan’s naval defense capabilities.
Azmat-class Stealth Fast Attack Craft (Missile). The defense cooperation between Pakistan and China has resulted in the joint production of four Azmat-class fast attack craft (missiles). These state-of-the-art ships, built for Pakistan Navy (PN), possess capabilities for anti-surface and anti-air warfare, search-and-rescue missions, and anti-piracy operations.
Maritime Patrol Vessel. In collaboration with China, Pakistan built a Maritime Patrol Vessel (MPV) in 2019. The ship is fully equipped for maritime security enforcement and search-and-rescue missions within Pakistan’s exclusive maritime economic zone.
Joint Military Exercises. Pakistan and China have actively engaged in joint military exercises, which have contributed to an increased military interoperability and mutual learning. These exercises serve as platforms for sharing real war experiences and strengthening the relationship between the two countries. The notable exercises include:
PN-PLA(N) Bilateral Exercise. Pakistan Navy Ship (PNS) Saif participated in the 5th PN-PLA(N) Bilateral Exercise held in Shanghai, China, in December 2017.
Warrior-VI 2018. Special Forces contingents from both armies participated in the Pak-China joint military exercise Warrior-VI 2018. The exercise focused on counterterrorism operations.
Warrior-VII. The joint military exercise was held in Cherat in December 2019. The month-long training covered various areas such as counterterrorism operations, target defense, close combat skills, and reconnaissance.
Shaheen-IX. In December 2020, the Pak-China Joint Air Exercise Shaheen-IX took place at Kamra Air Base. This exercise aimed to enhance the interoperability of both air forces and facilitate learning from each other’s experiences.
Joint Anti-Terrorist Exercise. From September to October 2021, Pakistan and China conducted the Joint Anti-Terrorist Exercise (JATE) in Pabbi, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, focusing on enhancing cooperation and cohesiveness in combating international terrorism.
The strong bond between Pakistan and China has been fortified through extensive military cooperation, including defense production, procurement, and joint exercises. These collaborative efforts have not only bolstered Pakistan’s defense capabilities, but also strengthened bilateral ties. The Pakistan military’s crucial role in providing security to CPEC projects, coupled with advancements in defense technology and joint training exercises, remains fundamental to the lasting friendship between the two nations.

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A researcher with a passion for history and a keen interest in international relations, particularly the dynamics of the Pakistan-China connection

Aiza Fatima Dogar

A researcher with a passion for history and a keen interest in international relations, particularly the dynamics of the Pakistan-China connection