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China, Pakistan respond with defence deal to counter US-India pact

US India pact

Rattled by a recent satellite surveillance agreement between India and the United States, China has signed a defence agreement with its “all-weather” friend. According to a report in Nikkei Asia website, Gen. Wei Fenghe, China's defence minister and state councillor, during his three-day visit to Islamabad last week, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to enhance defence cooperation between the Pakistan Army and the People's Liberation Army (PLA). states.

However, unlike the U.S.-India defence arrangement, details of the China-Pakistan pact have not been made public. Analysts believe it contains new commitments to intelligence-sharing that will help Pakistan track the movements of Indian forces across the border. Chinese news agency Xinhua also gave some indication on the issue, saying defence minister Wei during his visit to Islamabad assured Pakistani leadership that Beijing is willing to improve strategic communication and enhance strategic coordination with Pakistan to lift the relationship between the “two militaries to a higher level.”

The minister held a separate meeting with Pakistan's chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee Nadeem Raza and chief of army staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, exchanging opinions on the international and regional situation, and military relations and cooperation in defence equipment and technology, the Xinhua report stated.

China’s military diplomacy comes close on the heels of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for Geo-Spatial Cooperation by New Delhi and Washington inked in October, which gave India's armed forces access to data from U.S. military satellites. "The U.S.-India agreement will strengthen New Delhi's military capacities to monitor Pakistan-based threats," Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center, told Nikkei Asia.

"The China-Pakistan agreement can be viewed as an effort to reduce some of the imbalance in strategic stability in the region prompted by the U.S.-India deal." But that might not be enough to put India and Pakistan on an even footing. "America's sophisticated, high-quality surveillance and intelligence-related technologies may be of greater quality than China's," Kugelman added.

The website quoted Senator Anwar ul Haq Kakar, a Pakistan government ally as saying, “the MOU with China will counter the onslaught of India backed by the U.S. and it will give more confidence to Pakistan that in its hour of need Beijing will stand with Pakistan." In an attempt to demonstate Sino-Pak muscle flexing, China’s defence ministry announced after Wei’s visit that its air force troops left for Pakistani Air Force's air base at Bholari near Karachi, to participate on Monday to take part in "Shaheen (Eagle)-IX" joint exercises.

The joint air force exercise, which will conclude in late December, will promote the development of China-Pakistan military-to-military relationships, deepen practical cooperation between the two air forces, and improve the actual-combat training level of the two sides, China’s defence ministry statement added.

The Shaheen IX exercise is expected to be bigger than its predecessor, Shaheen VIII, which lasted a fortnight and involved some 50 warplanes, including fighter jets and early warning aircraft, which participated in battle simulations. With the Pakistani economy on the verge of collapse and arms supplies from the US having dried up, Pakistan is desperate to source more military hardware from China as it fears that it is increasingly falling behind India’s defence capability. But as reported earlier by IndiaNarrative.com earlier, a frantic Pakistan is ready to lap up even shoddy military equipment that China can spare.

Analysts are also of the view that Wei’s military diplomacy is part of a futile attempt by China and Pakistan to build pressure on India amid the military stand-off in Ladakh. Notwithstanding the rhetoric, Indian officials say that so far, there are no signs that India will face a two-front confrontation at its borders.