Navigating the Great-Power Competition: Pakistan and Its Relationship with the United States and China
Essay in Asia Policy 17.4

Navigating the Great-Power Competition
Pakistan and Its Relationship with the United States and China

by Yaqoob Ul Hassan
October 26, 2022

This essay draws on insights from hedging theory to examine how Pakistan, as a middle power, can navigate key strategic and domestic factors in its policies in response to the growing great-power competition between the U.S. and China.




Until recently, Pakistan had deftly taken advantage of its position in the U.S.-China-Pakistan strategic triangle to improve its security vis-à-vis India. Intensification of U.S.-China great-power competition, with the U.S. embracing India as a bulwark against China and the closer alignment of Pakistan-China strategic interests, puts Pakistan in a security dilemma. Islamabad faces challenges in navigating this great-power competition as the role of middle powers increases. Hedging theory shows how Islamabad could gain from a working relationship with Washington on strategic interests, despite Pakistan’s aligned interests with China. Pakistan’s new national policy, with an emphasis on geoeconomics over geopolitics, will be important for work with both powers.

  • Pakistan can count on China’s consistent friendship, given Chinese economic and security investments, irrespective of Beijing’s own strategic interests in fostering this relationship.
  • Even if broad-based, nontransactional relations seem unlikely in the near future, areas of mutual interest remain between the U.S. and Pakistan. Through engagement and frank conversation, the U.S. can improve nuclear facilities and safeguard nuclear assets, which would also address Islamabad’s suspicion that Washington aims to defang its nuclear capabilities and sabotage Chinese investment in Pakistan.
  • The U.S. can aid Pakistan in its policy paradigm shift from security to geoeconomics, which would help address Washington’s own long-pending demands that Islamabad ease security paranoia about India. By aiding economic reforms and reducing India-Pakistan tensions, the U.S. can foster internal stability and external peace for Pakistan, preventing Islamabad from completely embracing Beijing.

Yaqoob Ul Hassan is an Assistant Professor at the Central University of Kashmir (India). Prior to this, he was a researcher at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses from 2013 to 2020, and a South Asian Voices Visiting Fellow at the Stimson Center in Washington, D.C., in 2018.

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