China's policy towards Pakistan is driven primarily by its interest in countering India in the region and diverting its military and strategic attention away from Beijing, an influential South Asian expert has said.
"Chinese officials view certain degree of Indo-Pakistan tension as advancing their own strategic interests, as such friction bogs India down in South Asia and interferes with New Delhi's ability to assert its global ambitions and compete with China at the international level," said Lisa Curtis.
Curtis, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said this in her testimony before the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission last week, the copy of which was released to the press on Tuesday.
Curtis, who is regularly invited to the Congress for giving her expert opinion on South Asian issues, said in recent years Beijing has demonstrated that it favours bilateral Indo-Pakistan negotiations to resolve differences. It has played a helpful role in preventing the outbreak of full-scale war between the two countries, especially during the 1999 Kargil conflict, she noted.
"Despite the evolution in Chinese position on Kashmir, it continues to maintain a robust defence relationship with Pakistan, and to view a strong partnership with Pakistan as a useful way to contain Indian power," she said.
On China's attempt to scuttle the Indo-United States civil nuclear agreement at the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting in September 2008, Curtis said this was evidence for many Indians that Beijing will not willingly accept New Delhi's rise on the world stage.
"The Chinese, buoyed by the unexpected opposition from NSG nations like New Zealand, Austria, and Ireland, threatened the agreement with delaying tactics and last-minute concerns signaled through an article in the Chinese Communist Party's English-language paper, The People's Daily."
"The public rebuke of the deal followed several earlier assurances from Chinese leaders that Beijing would not block consensus at the NSG," she pointed out.
Given that China, Pakistan and India are nuclear-armed states and that border disputes continue to affect Indo-Pak and Indo-China relations, Curtis said the US must pay close attention to the security dynamics of the region and seek ways to reduce military tensions and discourage nuclear proliferation.
"China's apparent growing concern over Islamist extremism in Pakistan may provide opportunities for Washington to work more closely with Beijing in encouraging more effective Pakistani counter-terrorism policies," she said.
Pakistan's reliance on both the US and China for aid and diplomatic support means coordinated approaches from Beijing and Washington provide best chance for impacting Pakistani policies to encourage regional stability, Curtis said.
The more Pakistan believes it can play US and China off one another, the less likely it will be to take economic and political reforms and to rein in extremists, she said.