Pakistan-China relations

M.A. Malik

Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani’s four-day visit to China coming in the wake of an unprecedented nose-dive in the relations between Pakistan and US, consequent upon the unilateral action against Osama Bin Laden at Abbottabad by the latter, is of great significance from the perspective of bilateral relations between the two countries as well as matters pertaining to regional security environment. In this time of crisis the only country that Pakistan could look upon for support is our time-tested friend China who by expressing solidarity with Pakistan, supporting its counter-terrorism strategy, calling international community to support Pakistan and reiterating respect for national sovereignty at all times, has proved the strength and infallibility of the bonds between the two neighbours. The two countries have decided to observe 2011 as “year of friendship” jointly to celebrate 60th anniversary of relations between them. Throughout the year 69 events depicting bilateral relations in the political, economic, trade, military, cultural, sporting, education and health arenas will be organised. They have all the reasons to celebrate it as is evident from the enviable history of relations between the two. The longstanding diplomatic relations between Pakistan and China established on 21st May 1951 -in the wake of Mao Tse Tung’s take over — against the wishes of the western countries have withstood the test of time and grown into an enduring, multifaceted, deep-rooted friendship which would perhaps require a new diplomatic phrase to describe them. Though the diplomatic ties between the two countries were established in 1951 but it was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who as a foreign minister laid an enduring foundation for this special relationship between the two countries. This friendship is underpinned by mutual trust and confidence. Close identity of views and mutuality of interests remain the hallmark of bilateral ties. Notwithstanding the fact that Pakistan was a US ally, the development of relations with China has been the corner stone of its foreign policy. It was due to Pakistan’s alliance with US and strong ties with China that enabled it to facilitate the end of China’s isolation by orchestrating rapprochement between China and US. Pakistan has also been supporting China on all issues of importance to the latter, especially those related to the question of China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet and other sensitive matters such as human rights. The Chinese leaders do appreciate Pakistan’s steadfast and unqualified support on issues of concern to her. China over the years has supported the Kashmir cause and extended liberal economic and military assistance to Pakistan. When Pakistan was abandoned by its ally US during the 1965 war with India, China was there to help Pakistan as it did in each and every subsequent crisis. An assistance of well over US$ 42 million for the recent flood victims adequately reflects the depth of friendly sentiments. China has played a significant role in the economic progress of Pakistan. The construction of KKH Highway, Heavy Mechanical Complex at Taxila and Chashma Nuclear Plant are the monuments of the ever-spiking relationship. In the backdrop of US-India deal for transfer of civilian nuclear technology which Pakistan regards as discriminatory act, China has again exhibited the strength of the friendship between the two countries by agreeing to help Pakistan in this field. An agreement to this effect was signed on June 8, 2010 during President Zardari’s visit to China to set up two nuclear power plants at Chashma. The US raised objections on the cooperation in the nuclear field between Pakistan and China the latter brushed aside the apprehensions by informing the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) during its meeting at Christchurch, of its decision to build Chashma IV and V in Pakistan. An arrangement for soft Chinese loan to fund the construction has also been inked. China has made tremendous economic progress over the last two decades. Since China and Pakistan enjoy striking similarities in rich-poor/rural-urban composition it can help the latter in sharing and benefiting from the Chinese model of development. It was in recognition of the existence of this potential for expanding economic cooperation between the two countries that President Zardari visited China five times, including two official visits during the last two and a half years. The frequent interaction between the leaders of the two countries has added a new dimension to the economic relations. Through Pakistan-China Joint Economic Forum plans are also on the anvil for setting up of Chinese banks and relocating industries to special industrial zones in Pakistan. China will also help in up-gradation of KKH at an approximate cost of $500 million and in building 165 Km Jaglot-Skardu and 135 KM Thakot-Sazin roads in Gilgit Baltistan at a cost of Rs 45 billion. China would pay 85% of the cost while Pakistan will contribute 15%. A rail link between the two countries is also envisaged to be built. This renewed and vigorous engagement between the two countries covering wide range of areas is an encouraging development as it will greatly benefit Pakistan by re-invigorating commercial and industrial activities and creating new jobs. This might also restore the confidence of the international community in Pakistan as a safe place to invest. The trade between the two countries has also been expanding. China is the fifth largest source for Pakistani imports. The bilateral trade between the two countries touched US $7 billion mark in 2008. Under a five-year programme launched in 2006 this volume is proposed to be enhanced to $ 15 billion by 2012. In the past few years, the Chinese have made an investment of US$ 1.3 billion. A number of Chinese companies are working in the oil and gas, IT, Telecom, Engineering, power generation and mining sectors.The three-day visit to Pakistan by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao last December helped both the countries to further strengthen the processes for follow up on the already agreed areas of cooperation besides affording an excellent opportunity to explore further avenues of economic cooperation. The fact that around 150 business leaders accompanied Prime Minister Jiabao, indicated Chinese profound interest in expanding the vistas of economic engagement with Pakistan. It is an irrefutable reality that relations between Pakistan and China have been growing from strength to strength irrespective of who was in power in Pakistan. However the exponential expansion in these relations during the present regime reflects a marked departure from our perennial propensity to look up to the West, particularly US for our security and economic progress. Prime Minister Gilani’s visit to China at this critical juncture will not only enable the two sides to review and further expand bilateral cooperation in the economic and cultural fields but will also provide a chance to deliberate on intensifying strategic coordination in view of the geo-political and security situation in the region. The enhanced economic, political and strategic cooperation between China and Pakistan will contribute immensely to ward off the lurking dangers and consolidating the gains of the efforts made for changing the economic situations of the people of both the countries.

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