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China-Pakistan Deal Highlights Waning U.S. Influence In Region


Game-changer is the term being used to describe the state visit by China's President Xi Jinping to Pakistan. President Xi left today after signing off on investment projects worth tens of billions of dollars. NPR's Philip Reeves reports on what this means for Pakistan's other historic ally and funder, the United States. He sent this report from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Xi Jinping today became the first Chinese president to address a joint session of Pakistan's parliament.


PRESIDENT XI JINPING: (Through interpreter) Ministers, members of the parliament, ladies and gentlemen.

REEVES: He received a standing ovation. You'd expect nothing less for a man promising $45 billion. China's an old friend of Pakistan, a supplier of nuclear know-how and most of its conventional weapons. But this is new. The scale of the commitments made by President Xi in his two-day visit to Islamabad dwarfs the sums poured into Pakistan by the U.S. over the last few years. You could argue this means that after drawing down forces from neighboring Afghanistan, the U.S. is now being edged out of this part of the world by China. You'd be wrong, says Sherry Rehman, a former Pakistan ambassador to the U.S.

SHERRY REHMAN: Looking at Pakistan and the United States and China in some kind of zero-sum equation is very last-century. It's a view that really was prevalent during the Cold War.

REEVES: Andrew Small, author of the book "The China-Pakistan Axis," says the U.S. has actually been encouraging China to ramp up its investment in Pakistan, hoping this will help stabilize the region, Afghanistan included.

ANDREW SMALL: So in broad terms, I think this is a development that the United States is actually pretty supportive of.

REEVES: There are certainly plenty of reasons for the U.S. to stay engaged in the neighborhood. These include keeping an eye on Pakistan's growing arsenal of nuclear weapons, its potentially perilous relationship with its nuclear-armed foe India and the continuing threat posed by Islamist extremism. Sherry Rehman, again.

REHMAN: The region is still pivotal for the United States. So I think there are calculations to be made based on lessons learned from the past - where interventions work and where they don't. So I don't think the United States is going to repeat the mistakes of the past in terms of completely averting its gaze from the region.

REEVES: Many of the billions promised by President Xi are for the development of a corridor running from western China, down Pakistan to the port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea. This is part of a grand plan by China to create a network of routes linking it with the Middle East, Africa and Europe. China has announced multibillion investments in Pakistan before, only to hand over a fraction of the funds. It's hard to build things in a country blighted by corruption, bad governance, insurgents and regular political crises.

Andrew Small says there's good reason to be skeptical about President Xi's 45 billion, but adds that China's very deeply committed to its so-called Silk Road expansion plans. Small thinks this time there's a better chance Beijing will follow through.

SMALL: I wouldn't be surprised if a large chunk of these resources didn't eventually turn into projects, and that would still to add up to a significant sum of new investment for Pakistan, even if only a quarter of the final figure eventually came through.

REEVES: For China, key trade routes and big bucks are at stake. That's why it's now getting more involved in pushing for peace in a region wrecked by wars. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.