Pakistan has been ranked at the top of the list of the countries, which are the most exposed to China’s influence in the domains of military, foreign policy and technology in China Index 2022, according to a new study that measures Beijing’s expanding global sway.
Behind Pakistan, Southeast Asia features prominently in the rankings, with Cambodia and Singapore listed in second and third, followed by Thailand. The Philippines is seventh and Malaysia is 10th.
The China Index — a database relaunched by DoubleThink Labs, a Taiwan-based research organization — ranks Pakistan atop a list of 82 other countries around the world, saying that its links to and dependency on Beijing in terms of foreign and domestic policy, technology and the economy make it particularly susceptible to Chinese influence
The indicators of these domains are based on factual evidence provided by local experts, which were reviewed, quantified and normalized to understand whether the phenomenon is observed or not for the country profile and domain rankings.
Given the diverse factors shaping the ranking system, Pakistan‘s leading position is no surprise to long-time observers of the country’s relationship with Beijing, which was forged in the early days of the Cold War.
Islamabad is home to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a centrepiece of Beijing’s globe-spanning Belt and Road Initiative in which Chinese entities have funded and built hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure projects in the last decade.
Shahzeb Jillani, a veteran journalist who helped compile research on Pakistan used for the database, says that many Pakistanis may be surprised to see their country ranking so high, but he hopes the findings will lead to greater debate and reflection about Islamabad’s deepening ties with Beijing.
According to the China Index 2022, Beijing has 97.7 per cent influence in the domain of technology in Pakistan while it has 80 per cent influence in the domain of army in Pakistan, and its foreign policy is 81 per cent influenced by China.
China’s influence on Pakistan’s education sector is measured at 62 per cent, which is based on, and is substantiated by Beijing’s generosity towards students’ exchange programmes and other investment in Pakistan’s education system with around 25,000 Pakistanis learning Chinese at home and another 22,000 Pakistani students in China.
China has influence over 52 per cent of Pakistan’s media, which is usually sugarcoated in the name of Pakistan-China long-lasting brotherhood and all-weather friendship. The China Index 2022 highlights this influence on the basis of the coverage of China’s projects and activities besides advertisements worth millions of rupees. The financial pressures facing Pakistan’s private media houses have contributed to increasing domestic buy-in for news sharing agreements with Chinese media organizations.
China’s influence in the domain of economy on Pakistan is 54.5 per cent, and it is mainly due the fact that Beijing is the biggest loan provider to Islamabad. Further, China has deepened its economic engagement with Pakistan through elite-centered negotiations over the routes and projects of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It has intensified its economic engagement with Pakistan by cultivating influential political elites.
China’s influence in the domain of society is 43.2 per cent on Pakistan because of the adaptive Chinese strategies that accommodate and work within local realities are mostly ignored by policymakers in particular. At the same time, Chinese government policies are serving as push factor to incentivize Chinese actors to expand their interactions in different segments of Pakistani society.
In the domain of law enforcement, China has 47.60 per cent influence over Pakistan while it has 52.8 per cent influence in the domain politics over Pakistan. China is increasing its outreach across Pakistani political spectrum by developing ties with various political parties. Through programs like the CPEC’s Joint Consultative Mechanism, China seeks to build a political consensus across Pakistan’s fractious political divide to galvanize support for the CPEC and broader Chinese interests in the country.
Experts say China has been ramping up attempts to win the hearts and minds of citizens of various countries through language, traditional media and social media campaigns, echoing the cultural firepower.
“We have learnt from the experience of the US, the UK and other Western countries – but now, it’s time for the world to understand China,” said Chen Xiang, a correspondent coordinating state-run China Radio International’s wide-ranging presence in Pakistan.
“We want to tell the people the truth about China, what real China is … through radio programs, through TV and through other cultural activities we can do this.”
“China is interested in improving its soft power all across the world,” says Dr Kiran Hassan, Research Associate Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, adding Pakistanis were responding with enthusiasm.
The US and the UK are ranked 21 and 27 respectively in the domains of academia, domestic politics and media influence of China. While India is ranked 55 in the China’s influence in the domains of military, foreign policy and law enforcement.
South Africa is the first African country at No. 5, where it is tied with Peru, the highest-ranked South American country.
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which border China’s western Xinjiang province, are the Central Asian countries most influenced by Beijing, coming in at eighth and ninth place on the index.
In compiling the China Index, the research team focused on nine categories to track influence around the world that include higher education, domestic politics, economic ties, foreign policy, law enforcement, media, military cooperation, cultural links, and technology.