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Thank You for Being a Friend

Pakistan and China's Almost Alliance

A staff member raises Pakistan's flag in front of the Great Hall of the People ahead of a welcome ceremony for Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Beijing, July 5, 2013. Jason Lee / Reuters

“Sweeter than the sweetest honey in this world, deeper than the deepest sea in the world . . . ,” the suitor crooned, “higher than the highest peak . . .” Soul singer Barry White?  No, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, remarking on Pakistan's relationship with China in 2014, using words that had been repeated many times before over the past 40 years. Leaders of each nation routinely describe the other as its closest partner on earth, as its “all-weather friend.” But does the substance match the rhetoric? The two nations have virtually no shared culture, history, or economic ties. The glue sticking them together would appear to be military ties and an interest in keeping their common rival, India, off balance. But there is a great deal more to the Sino-Pakistani relationship than this. Policymakers in the United States and throughout Asia should take note of why this odd couple has endured for so long, what each partner

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