Is Pakistan Becoming China’s “Red Line” for the Trump Administration?

“In fact, China has already stationed parts of their naval fleet in Gwadar in order to “provide escort” for commercial ships in the area.”

As President Trump continues to pursue his campaign promise of eliminating global terrorist threats such as ISIS, there appears to be possible growing tension over this campaign between the U.S. and China. The pain point causing the friction is Pakistan and their alleged role in providing a sanctuary for the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and relative terror newcomer ISIS-K.

Since Trump took office in January, the diplomatic relations between the United States and Pakistan have seen rising tensions. While Pakistan is not a member of NATO, they have been an ally with the United States in the Afghan war (at least on the surface). Pakistan has previously condemned the United States for actions such as the raid that led to the death of Osama Bin Laden, simultaneously claiming that they didn’t know the world’s most wanted man was in their country and that the U.S. should have let them handle the raid.

The latest increase in tensions comes on the heels of the Trump administration’s renewed commitment to increasing military campaigns designed to counter the expansion of Taliban controlled areas in Afghanistan. Sources inside the Pentagon have stated that the prevailing idea is that the United States must utilize political pressure and possible punitive actions to force Pakistan to cease its policy of providing a safe haven for Islamic terror organizations in tribal areas.

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas in northwestern Pakistan have long been known to the United States military as a staging area for terror missions into Afghanistan, as well as a refuge for senior Taliban leadership and their fighters.

While the Pakistani government claims that they conduct military operations to pursue terrorists in the Tribal Areas, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, stated on June 20th that Afghan terrorist groups “retain freedom of action inside Pakistan territory and benefit from the support of elements of the Pakistani government.”

However, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Lu Kang, has countered this claim and said on Wednesday that “Pakistan stands at the front lines of the international counterterrorism fight,” and that the international community must “give full recognition and affirmation of Pakistan’s efforts.”

The reason behind China’s opposition to U.S. plans to expand the war effort in Afghanistan becomes apparent when one factors in the enormous investments that China is putting into making a new Silk Road a reality. The Belt and Road Plan has led to China investing billions of dollars along the route, with President Xi announcing in May that an additional $14.5 billion USD (100 billion yuan) is going into the Silk Road Fund.

An additional 380 billion yuan will be lent by Chinese banks to support infrastructure projects. Beijing is promising to import $2 trillion USD of products from countries involved with the project over the next five years.

What concerns China most about the U.S. plan to pressure, pursue, and punish terrorists inside their former Pakistani safe spaces is the increased operations of U.S. drones in Balochistan Province, Pakistan. This province is both one of the main operational hubs for the Taliban and the center of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. In this province alone, China has an estimated $57 billion USD invested; the China Overseas Port Holding Company operates Balochistan’s Gwadar Port, Pakistan’s major deep-sea port on the Arabian Sea.

If tensions continue to rise between the U.S. and Pakistan over American drones operating in Pakistani airspace, China stands ready to lose a massive amount of money invested in the area. To avoid this, the Chinese government has been trying to bring the Taliban back to the negotiating table with the Afghan government headquartered in Kabul. To this end, both China and the U.S. have a vested interest in seeing Pakistan’s end of state sponsored/enabled terrorism.

However, President Trump’s willingness to conduct cross-border counterterrorism operations may bring China into conflict with the United States if quick diplomatic solutions cannot be found. In fact, China has already stationed parts of their naval fleet in Gwadar in order to “provide escort” for commercial ships in the area.

Unconfirmed reports also allege that China is building military bases in Pakistan for the Chinese military. It remains to see how overt pressure from China against the American war effort may become if China’s bank accounts start becoming affected by all of this.

Chris Erickson

Chris Erickson is an OpsLens Contributor and former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier. He spent over 10 years in the Army and performed multiple combat deployments, as well as various global training missions throughout the world. He is still active in the veteran community and currently works in the communications industry. Follow him @EricksonPrime on Twitter.

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