Article Review 803 on Rudra Chaudhuri. “The Making of an ‘All Weather Friendship’ Pakistan, China and the History of a Border Agreement: 1949-1963.”

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Article Review

No. 803

25 October 2018




Article Review Editors: Thomas Maddux and Diane Labrosse

Web and Production Editor: George Fujii


Rudra Chaudhuri.  “The Making of an ‘All Weather Friendship’ Pakistan, China and the History of a Border Agreement: 1949-1963.”  The International History Review 40:1 (January 2018):  41-64.  DOI:




Review by Paul McGarr, University of Nottingham


Of late, Pakistan’s ‘special’ relationship, or ‘all weather friendship’ with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), has come under increasing scrutiny from contemporary policymakers in Washington and New Delhi. Beijing has proved instrumental in facilitating an expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities and broader military-industrial infrastructure. With Chinese assistance, Pakistan has frustrated India’s attempt to become a full member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. At the United Nations, China’s veto has defeated New Delhi’s efforts to impose sanctions on organisations operating from Pakistani soil that India alleges are responsible for acts of cross-border terrorism. Outside the security arena, billions of dollars of Chinese investment in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) promises to position Islamabad at the centre of the PRC’s ambitious plans to further expand its economic influence. In short, Sino-Pakistan relations matter, not only in terms of South Asian’s regional framework, but in the context of global economic development and international security.


Casting a welcome critical eye on the evolution of Sino-Pakistan relations, Rudra Chaudhuri has produced a timely, important, and illuminating reappraisal of the origins of Islamabad’s association with Beijing and, in particular, how events preceding the conclusion of a border agreement between the two countries in 1963 proved instrumental in laying the groundwork for an increasingly important de facto alliance. Chaudhuri contends that the history of Pakistan’s attempts to engage with Communist China after 1949 has been largely elided, and constituted a crucial mechanism through which Pakistan’s leadership sought reinsurance against a more powerful Indian regional rival in the face of concerns surrounding British and American constancy.

Chaudhuri divides his analysis into three principal sections. The first provides a short note on the methodological challenges occasioned by the limited availability of Pakistani source material. The second examines developments in Sino-Pakistan relations between 1949 and 1960. A final section focuses on the period 1960 -1963, and places emphasis on the Sino-Indian border war of 1962 and its impact on bi-lateral ties between Islamabad and Beijing.


Inevitably, the severe restrictions that researchers continue to confront in securing access to state records inside Pakistan, mean that some of the conclusions reached by Chaudhuri, while invariably persuasive, must remain conditional until the government of Pakistan sees fit to adopt a more enlightened freedom of information policy. Nevertheless, Chaudhuri has done a very creditable job in exhaustively mining American, British, and Indian archives to supplement and enrich material garnered from the more partisan and self-serving memoirs published by Pakistani and Indian policymakers.[1]


Notably, Chaudhuri succeeds in constructing a finely grained and compelling case for reinterpreting the existing (and overwhelmingly Western) literature that has sought to address Pakistan’s rationale for tilting towards China, as limited and unsatisfactory.[2] Above all, established accounts of the Sino-Pakistan border agreement of 1963, that have tended to characterise the settlement as motivated primarily by a desire to humiliate and isolate India, are shown to be wide of the mark. As Chaudhuri demonstrates, Pakistan’s approach to its relationship with China was a good deal more strategic, and significantly less opportunistic, than some orthodox historical accounts would have us believe. Indeed, by reperiodizing Sino-Pakistan relations, Chaudhuri evidences that the Sino-Pakistan border deal can hardly be accounted for as simply Pakistan’s response to American military assistance that flowed into India in the wake of the previous year’s Sino-Indian conflict. Rather, almost as soon as the PRC came into being, in October 1949, a succession of Pakistani statesman sought to balance their state’s reliance on the Western largesse by actively courting Chinese favour. In other words, Pakistan proved adept at working both sides of the Cold War street throughout the 1950s, even after entering into a formal security assistance pact with Washington, in 1954.

Chinese and Pakistan leaders had, after all, reason enough to pursue a relationship that held out the prospect of clear mutual benefit. Sino-Indian relations had turned progressively rancorous during the 1950s, following territorial spats between Beijing and New Delhi, and the Indian government’s willingness to offer sanctuary to the Dalai Lama and fellow Tibetan exiles. Meanwhile, lack of progress in the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan, which saw Washington reluctant to press for a settlement, and the Soviets openly fighting India’s corner, led Islamabad look to the Chinese for support.


Viewed from this perspective, the Sino-Pakistan treaty of 1963 was less of a bolt-from-the-blue occasioned by a heaven-sent opportunity presented to Pakistan and China to embarrass India following the Sino-Indian border war, and more the result of an extended period of courtship in which both parties identified long-term advantages. It is true that the Sino-Pakistan border agreement laid the basis for an increasingly close and productive association between Beijing and Islamabad. The genesis of that association, however, as Chaudhuri illustrates, took root in the early 1950s and, while it has not always delivered the outcomes that Pakistan would have liked, continues to function as a guarantee against both India and the capricious regional policies of the United States and its allies.


To be sure, the benefits that have accrued to Pakistan as a consequence of its ‘all weather friendship’ with the PRC have been decidedly mixed. In 1965, when Pakistan and India went to war over Kashmir, Beijing left India with little doubt that it would contest any move to compromise its friend’s territorial integrity, a posture that encouraged the United States to cajole both parties into a ceasefire. In contrast, in 1971, during the events that resulted in the succession of East Pakistan and the inauguration of the nation state of Bangladesh, Beijing declined to intervene decisively in a crisis that the Chinese leadership interpreted as chiefly of Pakistan’s own making, and that pitted Islamabad against a well-armed and strategically well-positioned Indian adversary. The lesson that reckless adventurism on Pakistan’s part would be frowned upon in Beijing was underscored in 1999, during the Kargil episode. The Musharraf government’s ill-fated attempt to reignite the Kashmir imbroglio was badly received by a Chinese partner. Accordingly, Beijing made it abundantly clear that its military and political support was out of the question.


Yet, as Chaudhuri makes plain, in spite of its limitations, the benefits of the Sino-Pakistan relationship continue to remain compelling from Islamabad’s perspective. The PRC has assisted Pakistan in building up its nuclear capabilities. Beijing has provided financial support when Washington and London have been unwilling or unable to do so. And, perhaps, just as significantly, the Chinese dimension of Pakistan’s foreign policy has given India considerable pause for thought when framing approaches to its regional neighbour.


In sum, as Chaudhuri’s deeply researched, cogently argued, and path-breaking article contends, the all-weather friendship between Pakistan and the PRC matters, and will continue to be important in the years ahead, not only in terms of South Asian regional stability but, as China, India, and the United States jostle for global power and influence, in a wider Asian context and beyond.


Paul McGarr is Associate Professor in American Foreign Policy at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom and author of The Cold War in South Asia, 1945-1965 (Cambridge University Press, 2013). He is currently writing a book on the history of Anglo-American secret intelligence and security interventions in India and Pakistan.


© 2018 The Authors | Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License



[1] Notably, Mohammad Ayub Khan, Friends not Masters: A Political Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967); Mohammad H.R. Talukdar, Memoirs of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy (Dhaka: University Press Limited, 1987); Altaf Gauhar, Ayub Khan: Pakistan’s First Military Ruler (Lahore: Sang-e-Meel Publications, 1998); and Y.D. Gundevia, Outside the Archives (Hyderabad: Sangam Books, 1984).

[2] For example, little can be gleaned on the development of Sino–Pakistani relationship from works such as, Dennis Kux, The United States and Pakistan 1947-2000 (Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Centre Press, 2001); Bruce Riedel, JFKs Forgotten Crisis: Tibet, The CIA, and the Sino-Indian War (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2015); and Christophe Jaffrelot, The Pakistan Paradox: Instability and Resilience (New Delhi: Random House, 2015).