Although Barack Obama and Xi Jinping sported wide grins and open collars at a June summit in California, the forced collegial atmosphere didn’t pass the smell test. “There is enormous scope for future cooperation between China and the U.S.” President Xi told skeptical reporters at a press conference following the bilateral meeting.
The cordial rhetoric proved unconvincing to the assembled press corps, which eagerly peppered the two presidents with questions over their burgeoning naval rivalry in the Pacific, conflicts over North Korea’s nuclear aspirations and cyber security.
Still, despite their competition in most areas of foreign policy, with NATO troops scheduled to begin phased withdrawals from Afghanistan early next year, the U.S. and China have an unlikely area for potential cooperation: Pakistan.
“China wants, above all, to see Pakistan play an effective balancing role against India, and U.S. military and financial support can contribute to that,” Andrew Small, a transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund’s Asia Program, told The Diplomat in an interview, pointing to enduring concerns over regional stability. Meanwhile, Washington “wants a stable Pakistan, and Chinese investments can contribute to that.”
That’s good news for Washington. Relations with Islamabad remain at a nadir following an accidental NATO attack in November 2011 that killed 24 Pakistani troops at border checkpoints in Salala. The incident drew U.S. officials into an ugly spat with their Pakistani counterparts, who responded by closing coalition supply routes into Afghanistan.
Distaste for America is shared by the Pakistani people, almost 75 percent of whom view America as an enemy, according to a Pew Global Attitudes poll released last year. Although U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides’ apologized for the border attack and transferred US$1.1 billion in delayed military aid last July, ending the protracted supply route debacle, presently “it looks like nothing will turn public opinion of the U.S. around from its extraordinarily low level of approval,” Professor Philip Oldenburg, a leading scholar of South Asian history at Columbia University, noted in an interview with The Diplomat.
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