Pak-China-Russia Nexus Implications for South Asian Region

Pakistan Observer


Munazza Khalid[i] and Hafsa Andleeb[ii]


South Asia has become a hot cake for international players like Russia, China and US. China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and growing difference in the world order has changed the perception of the world community and has drawn its attention towards south Asia. Recent Indo-US economic and military cooperation has compelled Pak-China-Russia to stay on board. States are pursuing their national interests in existing global strategic environment. These states are following the policy of realignment that is based on these shared interests. Hence, Paradigm shift in the global strategic world order is noticed and strategic significance of Asia has moulded South Asian politics.

Russia with its new technological development of nuclear capability, Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and its connectivity with China’s new project of One Belt One Road (OBOR), along with Chinese as emerging economic power and Pakistan being central to combat war against terrorism and its geo-strategic position creates Pak-China-Russia Nexus considering their mutual interest for achieving their goal i.e. economic and security concerns.[iii] “The primary cause for the emerging triple axis including China, Russia, and Pakistan in South Asia has been to curtail the Indo-US extended political, economic, and military connections. India in the post-Cold War era tilted significantly toward the West, the move which has been equally ostracized by the triumvirate”[iv]

Pakistan is located in the locus of South Asia and it has a great geo-strategic importance with regards to its geographical proximity with two powerful states like China and India. The two arch rivals India and Pakistan had fought four wars since its independence, so there was a need for Pakistan to remain associated with any of the major power, who can provide military and economic assistance to Pakistan when there is war time. Moscow was not in a position to back Pakistan economically at that time so Pakistan preferred to join a Western bloc in order to achieve its national objectives. In short, Pakistan has to maintain its balance of power by joining bloc during the cold war era.[v]



Recent development of CPEC and global strategic change in the world order has left Russia with no choice other than shifting its focus to South Asia, and this shift was determined by “winds coming from US and China.” This change in the foreign policy of Russia is because of three main factors which are access to Arabian Sea through CPEC routes, Security concerns related to terrorism, energy route, and access to oil rich countries. The role of Russia in South Asia was less after the invasion in Afghanistan (1979-89) but US crucial role in South Asia had drawn the attention of major player like Russia to perform its role in the region. After 9/11 specifically, US led war on terror in Afghanistan and close defense ties with India has changed the perception of Russian Federation. Russia has the ambition to create a multipolar world, Russia’s nuclear warheads are approximately 7000 and US has around 6800. Russia denying US hegemony in the global politics, which takes us back to cold war era where two blocs were struggling to become a sole superpower and it ended with the collapse of Soviet Union. But it would not be wrong if we say that the world order has evolved with the passage of time and now there is less role of US because more competing powers are playing their key role in the global politics. For instance, Russia’s growing arms and China as an emerging economic power has changed the world order and world has become a multi polar world.[vi]

Pakistan-Russia Relation

The bilateral relations between Pakistan and Russia are at embryonic stage. Recent development of Russia’s Joint military exercise “friendship 2016” with Pakistan has opened a new chapter for both the countries, now there is a possibility that two countries indulge themselves into new strategic partnership. These two countries were rivals in the cold war, and becoming allies in the new cold war era. Despite the fact that Indian defense exports has been depended on Russia since cold war and by 2025 it will reach up to 30 billion dollars, its economic ties may develop with India but due to India’s growing political ties with US compels Russia to think about realignment.[vii] In order to bring regional peace and stability, both Pakistan and Russia need to cooperate and take advantage of its geo-strategic location. Russia should engage itself in trade agreements with Pakistan. To enhance the bilateral relations between the two countries mutual collaboration and investment in different developmental sectors are important and opportunities to strengthen their relationship.[viii]

 United States

Asia has become the center for major powers interactions, and its interplay in order to maintain its influence in the region. US being a nuclear power state and its role is in the region is becoming crucial, which is creating global strategic imbalance and other nuclear power states like Russia, China, India, Pakistan are trying to pursue their national interests and to keep the strategic balance and stability in the region. As Indo-US nuclear deal, and India being net security provider has raised the security concerns of Russia-Pakistan and China. US tilt towards India and Trump aggressive policy towards Pakistan has created trust deficit between the two countries. In order to counter-balance, the US-India hegemonic rule, Pakistan-Russia and China[ix]

Pak-US Relation

Since independence there was a dire need for Pakistan to engage itself with some countries for economic assistance. Pakistan joined SEATO, CENTO and US Mutual Assistance Pact, throughout the time Pak-US relations has gone through ups and downs. In 1980s Relations between US and China were supported by Pakistan and participated as an allay to US war against USSR in Afghanistan and later in 2001 Pakistan contributed as a major ally to US in combating terrorism in Afghanistan especially after 9/11. But at the end of these wars, was left all alone to bear the consequences. So, Pakistan trust deficit has increased with time. War against terrorism brought major security concerns to Pakistan, The drone attacks by US on Pakistani soil is one of the unacceptable thing in which number of children and women died, The US showed absolutely no sensitivity towards Pakistan this act also breached the laws and brought major security concerns to Pakistan. This distrust is leading towards a Pak-China-Russia nexus. At the same time, China has shown a deep understanding of the issues involved in Pak-U.S. relations and given the amount of distrust between the two, does not consider that Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. would have any serious repercussions for Pakistan-China strategic relations.[x]

Pakistan-China Relations

Pakistan and China are having exemplary relation since the independence of China. China is providing economic and defense assistance to Pakistan. Pakistan started its diplomatic relation with china in 1951 after formally recognizing China. Chinese president Hu Jintao illustrated / prescribed Sino-Pak relations “higher than the Himalayas, deeper than the Indian Ocean and sweeter than honey.[xi]  However, China is pinnacle for Pakistani strategic and economic objectives. Chinese mushroom growth compels it to establish bilateral and multilateral economic and strategic ties with regional and other extra-regional states. Chinese OBOR, CPEC and New Silk route initiative are evident of Chinese endeavor and manifestation of global interests. Joseph Nye describe this Chinese development as most significant and transformative objective to bring regional development.[xii] Chinese South Asian policy has been based on pursuing “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence” since 1950s,[xiii] but now it has transformed in line with realism and pragmatism. Chinese 2006 concept of harmonious world was materialized in 2007 CCP’s 17 meeting. This goal was properly adopted as policy perspective in aftermath of above meeting. China is Pakistan’s time-tested ally.[xiv] China is cooperating with Pakistan in many fields such as; Anti-terrorism, Afghanistan’s stability, energy sector, nuclear sector, infrastructure development, fiber optics etc.

Pakistan-Russia-China Nexus

Pakistan, China and Russia are building a new triangular nexus. Polina Tikhonov termed this troika as new super power triangle. This unofficial alliance is basically elucidating the approaching doomsday or there might be circumstance of world war 3 prevailed in near future. This alliance aimed to counter American global hegemony and dominance. There is a possibility that central Asian states might be part of this alliance in future to construct of new block. On the other hand, America is also having many allies in South Asia and Asia pacific region to counter this new emerging nexus. Japan, South Korea, allies from European Union is on American side and creating a balancing situation to this new emerging nexus.  Recent Indian tilt towards America is the new endeavor to counter Russian, Chinese and Pakistani trio. This trio is working on the back end, for quite some time but the American South Asian policy supplement is providing a way forward to have this new super power nexus. If war happen amid these two blocks then there is a possibility of use of nuclear weapons from either or both sides. Likeliness of war cannot be evaded in the aftermath of recent Trump’s nuclear review posture of 2018. This offensive policy of trump administration illustrates in provocative interests regionally and globally. While comparing the number of nuclear warheads, combined Russian, Chinese and Pakistani warheads amounted as7,620. So, the new nexus hopefully would be in a winning position.

At the same time a new bipolarity is emerging in the world. During the time of Cold War there was a stable bipolarity. One bloc was Capitalist block and other was Communist bloc.  In new bipolar world; on one hand there is China, Russia and Pakistan and on other hand is USA and its allies. There are many reasons for emergence of this bipolar world such as;

  1. Firstly, Russia is actively engaging in global front, Russia is having good military ties with Pakistan and China at the same time. China is supporting Russia on many issues including Syrian crisis. Russian and Chinese growing ties with Pakistan and making a nexus provides an advantage to them in future nuclear war with America.
  2. Secondly, Chinese are not only supportive to Russia but also supporting Pakistan against Indian aggression.
  3. Thirdly this nexus aimed to counter USA’s hegemony in the region.

Russian Pakistan collaboration is evident of their joint military exercises of 2017. Putin ensured that the reasons behind these exercises are to protect Pakistan from Indian threat, which was emerged at the time of post Uri (Kashmir) military camp attack. Mushahid Hussain Syed declared “USA as a declining power and is no more a superpower”. So, according to him it’s better to break relation with it and connect ties with Russia and China. Syed suggest to “make a deal with China and Russia if the U.S. stays neutral on the Pak-India conflict in Kashmir”. China provides most of the weapons to Pakistan and constructing nuclear reactors in Pakistan. This Chinese endeavor aims to provide self-reliance to Pakistan and preparing Pakistan to fight and win a war in future. Indian- Pakistani confrontation is growing day by day and conventional arm race forced them to build up their nuclear capability. Pakistan first use option can be operationalized if security is at stake and Russian and Chinese are also providing military support to Pakistan to counter any aggression against it.[xv],[xvi] India is having good relations with Russia since its inception but Indo-US deal and its closer ties with USA hinders Indo-Russo close ties. Russian amity with Pakistan was negatively perceived by India. But India as a nuclear state will play decisive role in forthcoming bipolar world. India rejected USA, Australia and Japan option to be part of naval patrolling in South-China-Sea region. India want to have diplomatic relations with China. India is having lots of military cooperative agreements with Russia but former don’t want later to have same collaborative relations with Pakistan. India role in imminent bilateral world but will be tilted toward USA, that is evident in post US South Asian policy perceptive. However, Pakistan’s tilt would be surely toward China and Russia. Because of aggressive stance of Trump administration towards Pakistan and the building of Russian-Pakistan-China nexus. Russian interest to join CPEC and Pakistan’s geostrategic location forced former to bury all of its enmity that existed between them at the time of cold war.

Implication of the Russia-China-Pakistan Nexus for the Region

World order is changing in the existing epoch. In post-world war II period, bipolarity is the existed scenario for cold war. But USSR invasion in Afghanistan leads to disintegration of USSR and led to unipolar world. Due to the rise of economic hubs and economic powers, world order has transformed into multipolarity.  But the recent formation of Russia-China-Pakistan nexus is a paradigm shift and the world is moving towards new bipolar world order. History repeats its self. There is still an arm race and power struggle to achieve the sole super power status. This struggle will continue in future and the forthcoming bipolar world would lead to new cold war era. There is a strategic and economic imbalance of power. Russia is having more nuclear and military arsenals then USA and China is advance in economic term. So, both joined and make a nexus with Pakistan to get benefit from its geostrategic location and transform the international politics of South Asia.

Realignment policy of Russia and China towards South Asia is due to their shifting interests in this region. South Asian region has geo-political, geo-strategic and geo-economic significance. States want to maintain their hold in this region. History is evident of the presence of the major power in this region. American presence in Afghanistan, Indian involvement in Afghanistan and Indo-pacific region along with power struggle in South Asia and Indo-pacific region forced states to be part of this power struggle in the region. These shifting interests and geostrategic location forced China and Russia to formulate a trio nexus to maintain Balance of Power in the region, to counter American hegemony and ensure a new bipolar world order.

Russian trade and cooperation in military, defense and energy sector helped in developing this trio relation to enhance its role and involvement in the region and increase its economic and military ties with Pakistan and China for its national and regional development. This nexus will bring stability, prosperity in the region. Many new projects would be initiated like linking Eurasian EU project to OBOR project. This Russian effort to amalgamate Eurasian EU with CPEC enhance the prospects of trade and bring development and access of natural resources to the region. Military trade and exercises will ensure security and stability in the region.

Trust deficit of Pakistan in post Trump South Asian policy and harsh terms and conditions forced it to join and explore more multifaceted relations for pursuing its national (economic and strategic) interests. However, American tilt towards India and US-Indo deal are evident of having economic and military ties with China and Russia. China is providing nuclear reactors to Pakistan (along with other projects for developing infrastructure and energy sector and fiber optics) and Russia is also providing military arsenals and energy supply (i.e. LNG) to Pakistan and have join military exercises to increase trust in the Pakistani public. This cooperation was institutionalized officially after creating a troika nexus. American nuclear posture review of 2018 forced both China and Russia to develop effective ties with the regional states to balance American aggressive posture and offensive doctrine. So, in aftermath of this posture review this nexus will be a good option for enhancing cooperation, power deterrence and stability. This posture seriously challenges Chinese and Russian global and South Asian regional endeavor. China is building its economic capabilities through CPEC and Russia wanted to join this project. USA and India are threatening form the emerging independency and economic and military power they can get from their cooperation and nexus. Both of them sought to undo their cooperation. America is building its good ties with India and other allies such as Australia and Japan to counter Chinese influence in the region. China is not only involved through CPEC in this region but is cooperating with Afghanistan to check Indian involvement in Afghanistan because India is also developing good ties with Afghanistan to encircle Pakistan (Chahbhar project is evident of Indian intention). South Asia is like a hot cake so no state wants to lose power in this region so, it is natural to have a nexus here. But this nexus will create a bipolar world order that are based on cooperative interests that forced them to stay in the region and collaborate. In the end it is concluded that this nexus will be help for stability and security of the South Asian region. Because bipolar system is better than unipolar system, Chinese economic and strategic position is growing in the region and Russia is perceived as partner and USA is consider as opponent in the current scenario that is why it is best time to have Russia-China-Pakistan nexus. Russian economy weak but it is politically and militarily a strong country with China, which is also economically and military strong. Hence both China and Russia can benefit from one another.


From the above discussion it is concluded that world order is transforming, global trends are changing day by day. Bipolar world has transformed into unipolar then again into multipolar. But the recent alliances and nexus is bringing back bipolarity. USA sided with Pakistan but in Trump administration region it is tilted toward India. However, USSR was rival to Pakistan at the time of cold war but now both are becoming friends. China-Pakistan-Russian troika has two sorts of implication for South Asian region. On positive side it is a balancer to contain Indian and American hegemony in the region, it would also bring stability and prosperity, infrastructure and economic progress would be ahead, military modernization would likely emerge and there is a possibility of balance of power either through alliance with China and Russia or both states will help out to be self-sufficient in future. It is hoped that in future both states will support Pakistan on international forum especially on Kashmir issue and other matters.




[i] Munazza Khalid did her M.Phil and MSc in International Relations from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. She had previously worked as a researcher in IRD, International Islamic University, Islamabad. Now, she is working as a researcher in ISSRA, NDU

[ii] Hafsa Andleeb did her MSc in Defense and Strategic Studies, Quaid-I-Azam University Islamabad. She previously had been working in Institute of Peace and Development and now working as a researcher in ISSRA, NDU, Islamabad.

[iii]Asia Maqsood, “Strategic Chain-Pakistan, and Russia in South Asia,” Pakistan Observer, June 22, 2018.

[iv]Parvaiz Ahmad Thoker and Bawa Singh, “The Emerging China, Pakistan, and Russia Strategic Triangle: India’s New Gordian Knot,” Jadavpur Journal of International Relations 21, no. 1 (June 1, 2017): 61–83,

[v]Thoker and Singh.

[vi]Michael Krepon says, “Russia in South Asia: Balancing United States and China,” South Asian Voices, March 14, 2017,

[vii]Muhammad Ali, and BeenashAltaf. “Pakistan Russia Rapprochement and Current Geopolitics.” IPRI Journal XIII, no. 01 (2013): 125-34.

[viii]Robert, Einharn , and Waheguru Pal Singh Sindhu. Strategic Chain linking Pakistan, India, China And United States . Report. Arms Control &Non proliferation , BROOKINGS. March 02, 2017.

[ix] Maqsood, “Strategic Chain-Pakistan, and Russia in South Asia.”

[x]Fazal – ur – Rahman, “Traditional and emerging areas of strategic cooperation between Pakistan and China.” ISSRA Journal : 41-63. file:///C:/Users/H071117/Desktop/ISSRA/Pak-China-Russia%20Nexsus/3.%20Traditional%20and%20emerging.pdf.

[xi] President Hu Jintao’s “Address at Islamabad Convention Center: 24 November 2006”.  available at

[xii]“Pakistan-China Relations in the Evolving Strategic Milieu Brigadier General WaseemIshaque – Google Search,” accessed March 9, 2018,…….0…1..64.psy-ab..0.0.0….0.grqfm6csNpQ.

[xiii]Fazal – ur – Rahman, “Traditional and emerging areas of strategic cooperation between Pakistan and China.” ISSRA Journal : 41-63. file:///C:/Users/H071117/Desktop/ISSRA/Pak-China-Russia%20Nexsus/3.%20Traditional%20and%20emerging.pdf

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv]Polina Tikhonova, "China, Russia And Pakistan: New Superpower Triangle", Value walk, 2016, pakistan-superpower/.

[xvi]Mian Saifur Rehman, & quot;China-Pakistan- Russia Troika Stands On Goodwill", THE NEWS International, 2017, Pakistan-Russia- troika-stands- on-goodwill.

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