By Dr. Chuck Missler
On Saturday, a cross-border NATO air strike on Afghani targets left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead and another 13 injured. On Monday, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, "China will consistently support Pakistan's efforts in safeguarding national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity."
Coming as it does on the heels of an event that threatens to further strain already tenuous U.S.-Pakistani relations, Jiechi might have said, "Bishop to E5, check."
The mistake immediately cost the U.S. vital Pakistani support in the "war on terror." In response to Saturday's air strike, Pakistan has decided to close its borders to NATO supply routes into Afghanistan, overland routes that account for almost half of the logistical supply lines for NATO troops there. There is as yet no word when these routes might be reopened, but there is little doubt that the war effort in Afghanistan will be hampered. The U.S. and NATO will also have to do some diplomatic "backpedaling" to save face and keep Pakistan from not only severing NATO ties, but mandating retaliatory strikes of its own.
In the meantime, China is ready to offer Pakistan its support. A Foreign Ministry spokesman stated that China was deeply shocked by these events and expressed strong concern for the victims and profound condolences to Pakistan. This supportive stance on China's part is indicative of savvy strategic planning.
This is not to say that Chinese foreign policy makers do not wholeheartedly feel for the plight of Pakistan, or that Chinese support of Pakistani sovereignty is simply a political maneuver in severing U.S. influence in Asia. There is little doubt, however, that jockeying for political and diplomatic influence in Asia has become a sort of "chess match" between the U.S. and China – and China has just advanced to a strategic place on the board.
This is a serious cause for concern for the U.S. because it undermines American influence in other Asian countries as well – something that the U.S. has spent a great deal of time and diplomatic effort to establish of late.
For instance, in addition to an earlier tour of Southeast Asia this summer, President Obama recently finished a 10-day tour that included economic summit meetings with India, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea. Upon his return from these meetings, the President was forced to announce that he had failed to finalize a long awaited bilateral trade deal with South Korea.
The problem is that in an economic "sputtering" of Asian trade markets, countries like Japan and South Korea count on China to "offset slowing demand from the United States and Europe," as The New York Times reports. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, "Obama noted his concerns about China's rise and hinted that the two governments [US and Japan] would develop an agenda over the coming months to strengthen …cooperation."
The U.S. is not only in danger of losing economic ground in its dealings with Asia. Having recently finished diplomatic meetings in Burma, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was at the forefront of attempts to gain diplomatic influence with the Burmese government in its reform attempts. Burma has been working toward democratic reforms, and the U.S. is ready to support those efforts. However, China has also made advances in Burma. While not supporting Burma's reforms ideologically (China is still a Communist nation after all) China has made overtures toward what it has called "military cooperation." This could include a mutual defense pact and/or military materials trade. China's economic strength is in its export trade based on its vast industrial complex. It relies on trade with neighboring countries for its raw materials – countries like Burma.
The United States is on tenuous ground with Pakistan, and the rest of Asia is watching to see how the situation will be handled. Meanwhile, China is consolidating a strategic position of influence in that region. Before the United States loses any more influence in Asia, it may have to swallow pride and apologize, making amends to Pakistan; sacrifice a pawn to counter China's bishop.
Clinton says Pakistan and US must learn lessons from NATO assault, keep working together - Washington Post
China Says No Worries over Historic US Visit to Burma - Voice of America
Pakistan Rejects Afghan Plea to Attend Conference After Deadly Airstrike - FOX News
U.S. Declares Cold War with China - BPB (Bob Maginnis)
Pakistan army says NATO attack was blatant aggression - Reuters