Pakistan ‘most exposed’ to Chinese influence, new research shows

Pakistan ‘most exposed’ to Chinese influence, new research shows

Washington – A new study on China’s global influence puts Pakistan at the top of the list.

Cambodia and Singapore are ranked second and third respectively as the “most exposed” to Beijing’s influence. Among the ten countries most exposed to influence from China, eight are in Asia. Paraguay, North Macedonia and Albania were ranked as “least affected.”

The China Index 2022 explores China’s influence in 82 countries by asking experts to answer questions about China’s activities in their countries. The study was conducted and published by the China in the World (CITW) network, an initiative of the Taiwan-based anti-disinformation group Doublethink Lab.

The report asked questions across nine domains to assess each country’s exposure to Chinese influence.

Domains included media, academia, economics, society, military, law enforcement, technology, domestic policy, and foreign policy. Some of Beijing’s activities abroad included paid travel for government officials, scholarships for students, journalism training, research funding, trade, investment, and military cooperation.

Puma Shen, president of the Doublethink Lab told VOA that this research allows people around the world to see how China is approaching their country.

“By comparing all these rankings and comparing all the different strategies, all these countries can learn [about] each other, like how to counter Chinese influence operations,” he said.

Measuring China’s influence

The report measures impact through three indicators, ‘exposure’, ‘pressure’ and ‘effect.’

Exposure to China’s initiatives abroad makes a country vulnerable to China’s influence, such as economic dependence or receiving other benefits.

Negative perceptions of China have risen sharply in many of the world's advanced economies, particularly in Australia and Britain, a new Pew Research Center survey showed Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan) Negative perceptions of China have risen sharply in many of the world’s advanced economies, particularly in Australia and Britain, a new Pew Research Center survey showed Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

How much “pressure” China puts on a specific country includes either direct or indirect actions by Beijing aimed at changing people’s behavior.

The actual impact or the extent to which a country meets China’s demands is described as “impact” in the study.

Pakistan is ranked #1

Pakistan, the county most exposed to China’s influence in the index, scored 70% on exposure, 10% on pressure and 75% on impact. But the report says these percentages “do not imply any degree of a ‘fully impacted’ level of 100%. The percentages express the country’s score of the total amount achievable based on the indicators for each domain.”

According to the report, China’s influence in Pakistan is most active in the fields of technology, foreign policy and military.

Pakistan-China ties

Experts said it is not surprising to see Pakistan at the top of the China Index in 2022 as both share a nearly 600 km long border with each other and a historic rivalry with India.

Decades-old strategic ties between the two have deepened since the US stepped up efforts to bolster India to counter China’s growing ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region.

“We can’t decouple and just look at Pakistan and China because to be fair you also have to look at how the US and India are also working on it because there is also this kind of strategic quadrilateral relationship,” said Syed Muhammad Ali, non-resident. researcher at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.

Others point out that Pakistan’s closeness to China is also a result of the cooling of Islamabad’s ties with the West, especially over the past decade.

FILE - Foreign Minister Antony Blinken, right, meets with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari at UN headquarters in New York on May 18, 2022. FILE – Foreign Minister Antony Blinken, right, meets with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari at UN headquarters in New York on May 18, 2022.

Arif Rafiq, CEO of Vizier Consulting, a political risk advisory firm, told VOA Pakistan that China is filling a void left by the West.

“China provides Pakistan with goods and materials and funds that it cannot get from anywhere else, …which includes military hardware, …advanced technology related to satellite remote sensing, and also includes financing for electric power plants and infrastructure.” Rafiq said.

In recent years, the two countries have entered into agreements to jointly build submarines and fighter aircraft. Between 2017 and 2021, Pakistan imported 72% of its major weapons from China, according to the Sweden-based Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

While the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) launched in 2015 is considered the crown jewel of Beijing’s global Belt and Road Initiative with around $60 billion in infrastructure and energy projects, local media reported in October that Beijing and Islamabad also agreed to officially launch three new corridors in the areas of agriculture, health and technology.

Pakistan’s top ranking in the 2022 China Index also shows Beijing’s dependence on Islamabad, said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at Washington’s Wilson Center.

“These results highlight the fact that China’s strategic interests require a significant level of engagement and leverage to build with Pakistan,” Kugelman said.

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He pointed to the CPEC, which not only brought much-needed investment to Pakistan but also gives China access to Central Asian markets through the deep-water port of Gwadar in southern Pakistan.

China’s soft power in Pakistan

Beijing also exercises soft power through initiatives that include Confucius Institutes, which teach Chinese language and culture, and provide funding for think tanks and scholarships to court the Pakistani people, the research finds.

“China historically has had to make quite a bit of effort to, not to say infiltrate, to really expand its influence over Pakistani society, to try to gain Pakistani trust,” Kugelman said.

Opinions critical of China being kept out of mainstream Pakistani media, military officials pushing for cooperation with China and Pakistan buying Chinese-made surveillance cameras were some of the effects of the exposure to Beijing, the report found.

China, Pakistan, USA

Analysts VOA spoke to differ, however, on the long-term societal effects of China’s inroads into Pakistan.

While Kugelman expressed concern that anti-democratic practices such as surveillance could increase, Rafiq said Pakistan’s military and intelligence services already engage in authoritarian practices and do not need inspiration from China.

“The US, because of its Hollywood and everything else, still exerts a much greater cultural, socio-economic influence on the country,” said Ali of the Middle East Institute.

Despite bilateral efforts to build on the “all-weather friendship,” Madiha Afzal of the Brookings Institution told VOA by email that “there are signs that [Pakistani] The state has realized some of the disadvantages of an excessive dependence on China and has tried to diversify its options – for example, made arrangements for the United States.

Pakistani military and political leaders say their country would not want to choose between the US and China.

Pakistan owes the largest share of its foreign debt to China, roughly 30%. While Beijing helped provide a slice of much-needed funds, Islamabad sought a bailout from the International Monetary Fund this summer to avoid repaying loans.

The largest donor to the IMF is the United States


Some experts have raised questions about the methodology used to compile the China Index 2022.

Berlin-based Tim Ruhlig of the German Council on Foreign Relations, who helped collect data from Sweden for the index, said it was unclear when an “exposure” would be considered strong or weak.

Shen said that to standardize the results, the researchers were asked to provide supplementary notes and evidence of exposure which Doublethink reviewed against its own criteria to accurately assess the level of exposure.


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