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South Asia

Pakistan-China Relations in the 21st Century

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Authors: Areeja Syed and Ahmed Bux Jamali*

Pakistan recognized the People’s Republic of China in 1950 and started diplomatic relations on 21st May 1951. Pakistan from the very beginning has kept its foreign policy approach very friendly as both are immediate neighbors as well. Historically, four major events reshaped the smoothness of relationship towards more cooperation which are the boundary agreement in March 1963, support in 1965 war, the Kissinger secret visit arranged by Pakistan to China and rare veto option adapted by China in United Nations Security Council. The essence of relationship is termed by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto “I should like to make it clear beyond all doubt that we have friendly relations with the People’s Republic of China and that nothing will be permitted in any way to endanger those relations. Our relations with China are an independent factor in our foreign policy and not contingent on any other. In the best interests of Pakistan, we shall maintain the spirit of goodwill, friendship and cordiality with the great People’s Republic of China. I declare that our friendship with China is not tainted by any form of bargain or barter. It is steadfast amity between two neighboring Asian States.”  and one of the famous statement of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang “If you love China, Love Pakistan too.” These statements are not only the building blocks but the proven realities of the glories of time between the two countries. Over 60 years of cordial relations, the depth has escalated more and more keeping in view changing international stages from global war on terror to other major international events onwards . China proved her all seasoned friendship based on equality and mutual respect and harmony. The high level talks and invitations to dignitaries creates a conducive atmosphere for the bilateral relationship. Pakistan and china need each other in the field of economy, strategic alliances, military joint ventures as both are nuclear power countries and student’s exchanges programs to further strengthen the ties in the advancement of science and technology and many more aspects of life.

Economic Relationship

The economy is the soul of foreign policy so is the case here in Pak-China relations. Pakistan and China signed a preferential trade agreement in 2003 where goods and services started revolving around the two countries. With the passage of time, China signed The free trade agreement (FTA) which was adapted in 2006. It was estimated that the bilateral trade was estimated to hit $15 billion by 2011. One basic advantage of signing of FTA was economic enhancement and its operationalization in October 2009 proved to be very economic-oriented outlook for Pakistan’s exports with China.  On the other hand, Pakistani and Chinese banking sectors are cooperating for a long time. Earlier, Bank of China was opened with two branches in 1951 but couldn’t succeeded. Pakistani governmental banks such as National Bank of Pakistan prepared to open branches in China in April 2008 which was later on negotiated between the officials. It was during the previous Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s visit to Pakistan in December 2010 that the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) was invited to open branches in Pakistan and the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) was offered to commence activities in China.

There must be a series of visit of businessman and tycoons of both countries to expand the volume of trade of different items of the two countries. The economic strength must be revolutionized to keep this zone well established and free from any trade barriers. The business communities must create a platform to encourage the new products to China and then at the global market. The two sides expressed satisfaction over the growing volume of their bilateral trade, which has crossed US$ 15 billion and agreed to make efforts to raise it to US$ 20 billion in next three years. The growth rate must be positive and new avenues must be created for investors of both countries.

Strategic Partnership

Pakistan being a highly strategic country, is very much advantageous and pivotal to China keeping in view her strategic interests in this region. The enhancement in the cooperation of defense production regarding aircrafts, fighter bombs, tanks, and heavy artillery is remarkable for the changing regional dynamics.  The main reason of such a huge cooperation of China is to secure the region and achieving the desired goals such as access to Indian and Arabian sea, surveillance to US and Indian Naval activities and access to the markets of Middle East particularly in the field of energy. Their joint ventures and joint production have led to manufacture the MBT 2000 Al-Khalid Tank and JF-17 Thunder, a fighter aircraft, which has the strategic significance and is a unique example of Sino-Pak deep rooted friendship. The unprecedented level of friendship can be evaluated in the views of the Advisor to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz that; “The relations between the two countries are growing very fast, particularly for development of communication and energy sectors, Pak-China cooperative partnership has ushered in a new era in line with the ideas and vision, conceived by the leadership of the two countries”

This idea has been inherited from generations to generations among the nations of two countries, that Pakistan is always their first and foremost priority in the foreign policy and China is the cornerstone for Pakistan’s foreign policy as well. The strategic relationship of China with Pakistan is very important for both because it enables China to limit the regional ambitions of India towards its hegemonic designs and further strengthening the Pakistan as a major strategic partner in this region.

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

This is one of the best mega project in the history of the two states and indeed a great symbol of the deep rooted friendship of Sino-Pak relationship from 1951 to 2015. The agreement was signed between the leaders of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping on his visit to Pakistan in April 2015 respectively. The historic words of Xi are remarkable for the glory as he described that “This will be my first trip to Pakistan, but I feel as if I am going to visit the home of my own brother.” The main aims of such a project is to connect Gwadar Port in southwestern Pakistan to China’s northwestern autonomous region of Xinjiang through a network of highways, railways and pipelines to transport oil and gas and will operationalize from Gwadar to Kashgar. Overall construction costs are estimated over $46 billion with the entire project. The Corridor is an extension of China’s proposed 21st century Silk Road initiative and indeed a fate changer of billions of people. It will open new avenues for employments and trade pathway from China and the Middle East and Africa at large . Moreover, CPEC is not bound on One Belt One Road policy, its maximize the opportunities between two countries which has various initiatives for the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiatives globally. China has a lot to gain from its economic corridor arrangement with Pakistan; its centuries ‘old vision of reaching the warm waters through the shortest route is coming to fruition through peaceful ways. This will represent a new model of regional and South Asia cooperation which will offer new opportunities for Asia’s rejuvenation and the common prosperity of all countries of the globe led by China and its vision of connectivity.

Challenges And Opportunities

The world has entered into a new era of Globalization and interdependence and the nations have opted mutually beneficial foreign policy behaviors. Those behaviors are based on economic integration and security cooperation, strategic partnership and making peaceful alliances. Pakistan and China are the well-wishers of peace and prosperity not only in South Asia but the world at large. With the changing geopolitical, geostrategic and geo-economic realities, it is necessary for Pakistan to keep on testing the loyalty, limits and trust of China relationship. Ostensibly, the dynamics of the world have changed as the world has fast traversed the era of economic war and has also has entered the new era of economic cooperation simultaneously. Resultantly, the neighboring countries collaborate with one another economically so that the whole region reaps dividends. The changing dynamics can be seen on10th July,2015 at the 15th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at Ufa, Russia where the status of both Pakistan and India was raised from observer to full member. This will reshape the strategic dynamics and pose new challenges between Pakistan and China relations. Just a few years ago, no one could have imagined that Russia, China, India and Pakistan would opt to join hands for shared economic interests, regardless of their long-standing disputes. This will ultimately lead towards new horizon of changing scenarios within South Asian states. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Iranian Nuclear agreement with P5+1, Kashmir issue with India, revival of the old silk route and Afghan peace process will reshape the regional paradigm in Pakistan’s foreign policy. During Cold war era,US-Russian relations were always based on aggressive posture. They both were ready for every single competition in international arena. US will prefer China as a counter-weight against Russian designs.  This will create favorable conditions for China and Pakistan.

Conclusion

After touching all the dimensions of Pakistan China relationship, one thing that comes to mind is that; its high time for Pakistan to be more focused one Self-reliance policies ratherthan focusing on assistance of China and other international players. China being an immediate neighbor is historic and all seasoned friend but we must establish our potential and increase our international outlook. This will prove to be Pakistan’s less dependency on China and other international players. Economically speaking, Pakistan must settle down its economic issues so that it can enhance its economy smoothly. Resultantly, it will be less dictated in the matters of Political and Economic issues of the foreign policy of Pakistan. Pakistan must keep amicable relations with its neighboring countries especially with India which is historic rival to avoid further notorious actions via Afghanistan and Baluch separatist movement. The four wars never came with any results for both India and Pakistan. The solution of Kashmir issue and other major issues must be settled without using force or inviting other players to deteriorate the relationship. It is our mutual issue and we have to settle it with win-win goals. We need to compromise our designs and ambitions so that South Asian region can be made more peaceful. Pakistan must learn lessons from history of China as she could not get its parts as Hong Kong, Macao form Britain until it became politically strong and economically sound player. Summing up, China and Pakistan are great nations and close neighbors bound by common destiny and goals. No matters how scenarios are changing, both of the countries have to overcome all challenges and carry forward the traditional friendship more deeply. The Chinese-Pakistani government must strengthen people to people contact for further strengthening Sino-Pak partnership for building a harmonious world of enduring peace and common prosperity.

*Ahmed Bux Jamali holds a Masters in International Relations from Jilin University China Presently, he is serving as Research Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies Islamabad. He is available at ab_ir92[at]yahoo.com

Author is pursuing MPhil in International Relations from COMSATS University Islamabad. Her area of research focuses on International Security, Strategic issues and Public Diplomacy.

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South Asia

COVID-19 May Become ‘Pandemic Plus’ for Certain Countries and People

Irfan Shahzad Takalvi

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As the world grapples with COVID-19 and ponders over its ultimate toll, it may actually turn out to be a pandemic plus kind of a scenario for some people, countries and regions.

Lingering conflicts, already prevalent diseases and natural disasters – on top of a host of political and governance issues – may actually render novel coronavirus an exacerbated threat for people in certain parts of the world.  

Think about countries such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Libya. Years and decades of unending armed conflict means inadequate, if at all, healthcare apparatus in most parts of these countries. Even a very low rate of COVID-infections would simply be beyond the capacity of the system to handle, leaving countless people to die haplessly.

Take Afghanistan, for instance. While the number of infections right now is low at around 400 with around a dozen deaths reported, it is emerging that some 2,00,000 refugees and migrant workers returning from Iran are not being tested – raising fears that a wave of large scale infections may just be around the corner. In case of Yemen, the grave extent of hunger amongst a large chunk of population also means dangerously weak levels of resistance against any illness. The situation is by no means any better in war zones of Syria and Libya.

Refugees and Temporarily Displaced Persons (TDPs) face added vulnerabilities. Millions of Syrians in Turkey and Afghans in Iran and Pakistan live in crowded, ill-equipped camps. So, perhaps worse, is the case for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in Bangladesh. Poor living conditions and little-to-no access to quality healthcare may translate into much higher risk, even with a small-scale outbreak of this hard to contain virus. Social distancing and isolation are unthinkable in such unfortunate settings.

In Pakistan, this is also the start of time when the cases of Dengue fever begin. For past several years, every year the country loses dozens of lives with thousands of infections crippling the services at Out-Patient Departments (OPDs) of public hospitals at their peak in summer. Right now, OPDs of public hospitals are already closed to safeguard spread of COVID-19. It is a nightmare to imagine the peak of the two difficult-to-deal-with diseases striking together, or even one following the other, in a short span of time.

Over past few months, countries from East Africa to Middle East to South-West Asia have faced devastating locusts’ attacks on their standing crops – worst ever since 1993. Food crops of millions of hectares across these three regions have either been devastated already, or on verge of being lost to these little flying creatures. Unhindered supply of food items can hardly be overemphasized in times of a pandemic. Unless taken proper care of, locusts remain a serious threat to food security of tens of millions of people.

More importantly, experts are warning that millions of eggs have already been laid by locusts in countries such as Pakistan, and new mating / reproductive seasons also loom. This tells us that coming cotton and maize crops would also be in danger, mostly so in the poorest parts of affected countries where farming is the lone livelihood.

Oppressed populations are another group facing added danger. The world is well aware of the virtual curfew in India Held Kashmir (IHK) for over eight months now, since August 5, 2019. Situation in occupied Palestinian Territories is hardly any different either. Strict controls over medical supplies and essential items, and sources of information, are all set to multiply the impact of a pandemic once it outbreaks in such environments.

And it sadly is not the case only for occupied territories of Kashmir and Palestine. Ruling Bhartia Janta Party’s (BJP) attitude towards 200 million plus Indian Muslims – especially recent laws aimed at their exclusion – make the Muslim population of India all the more threatened when a pandemic breaks out in such a vast, overly populous but ill-equipped country. Reports of Muslims truckers transporting essential supplies in this hard time have already starting to emerge, and public statements of politicians are fanning the fire of anti-Muslim communalism.

And last but not the least, crippling sanctions on certain countries. It has widely been reported internationally that US sanctions are severely limiting Iran’s response – amongst one of the worst affected countries – towards COVID-19. Tehran is not able to easily import essential supplies for its fight against the virus that has already killed some 4000 Iranians.

Now it is coming to the fore that US sanctions are also hampering supply of medical and humanitarian aid not only to Iran but also to Cuba and Venezuela – particularly the aid being sent by China and its corporate. This indeed is a serious humanitarian dilemma for the countries subjected to sanction. Good to note however that voices, international as well as from within the US, are starting to be raised on inhumane impact of these restrictions.

Upended risks call for special attention, on part of governments and international institutions. Let us hope the world can realize this, coming up with timely and targeted response.

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South Asia

Pakistan’s Corona Fight: Through Faith or Foolishness?

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Science has given lucid understanding of diseases and also provided medicament for it. In this 21st Century, science and technology has occupied almost all the areas of human life starting from medical to cosmos. The ongoing global pandemic of corona virus has put almost all the world into psycho-economic misery. People have shortage of food and medical supplies and governments are busy in controlling human loss. China’s Wuhan city which is said to be the birthplace of Novel Corona virus has returned to normal life because of the effective control of Chinese government and its policies. The Italy has been devastated because of the most-deaths caused by Covid-19 and Spain is also one of the badly affected countries. The US and UK have also announced their policies to combat N-corona virus and are also briefing their nations about the estimated death toll.

Pakistan is a starkly unique nation in that regard. It does not mean that Covid-19 has not hit Pakistan rather majority of the Pakistanis are taking this pandemic as mere insignificant disease. In response to WHO’s warning ,Pakistan’s government announced partial lockdown of cities and majority of the public and private institutions are shut down to avoid further spread of Covid-19.Apart from Urban centers people are determined to fight N-Corona virus through their faith and they believe N-Corona cannot kill them until the will of God. There is no doubt that almost all of the divine religions believe in it but this thinking seriously undermines scientific findings. By not abiding instructions of the government, its hard to avoid killer bug. People at large are terming it the wrath of God and advocate that everyone should seek His mercy. On the contrary under such a crisis hoarders are making large sums of money by creating artificial shortage of food and grocery items. Masks, sanitizers and other products have already disappeared from the market. This simply is the organized hypocrisy of so-called religious ones.

 In response to government’s appeal not to offer prayers at mosques there have been an outright reaction from people at large. Some radicals termed it as the conspiracy of Jews and Christians to halt prayers at Ka’aba(the holiest place for Muslims).In the meanwhile clergy in Pakistan did a press conference on national media and Ulema(from all school of thoughts) sat together and urged people to offer Juma(Friday) prayers in the mosques. This act was against governmental policy to fight N-Corona virus and seriously undermined the writ of the government. Even faith advocates that “follow your Emir(ruler)”This way Prime Minister Imran Khan is the democratic ruler(emir) but his instructions were openly violated. In Pakistan Tableeghi Jamaat(preachers party) was no less than others in flaunting disobedience to government orders. Majority of the Pakistanis wait response from religious clergy to act and government tried its best to telecast Ulema messages on national television to aware about the pandemic (Covid-19) and urged people to stay home. Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Shaikh of Al Azhar and Supreme Council also issued a Fatwa that Juma Prayers can be suspended during such a critical time. Pakistan’s most powerful constitutional body the council of Islamic ideology(CII) chairman Qibla Ayaz also issued a statement that masses should pray home instead of going mosques because there is a fear of pandemic spread to others. This crisis of Covid-19 had more cases in Pakistan found among pilgrims coming back from Iran and Saudi Arabia. The pilgrims coming from Taftan(Iran border) had to stay at quarantine centers which were not well equipped and the supplies of food and shelter were inadequate. That led pilgrims to (most of them affected) to break quarantine and escaped. It caused spread of Covid-19 to others too. National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) briefed the government and shared the details with people about the supplies (ventilators, masks, medical kits, testing kits) coming from China.

China being time tested friend stood by Pakistan otherwise medical staffers were reluctant to perform duties in some parts Sindh and they went on strike. Prime Minister Imran Khan has taken several measures to effectively control the spread of Covid-19 and avoid economic loss. Pakistan’s chief of Army staff General Qamar Bajwa also urged the entire nation to stay united in such a critical time. There are acts of kindness and charity all over to help the poor and needy to avert starvation. There are crackdowns on hoarders and price hikers. But if the people are fighting against covid-19 through their faith, then faith advocates humanity, honesty and generosity too which profit makers lack at this juncture. Ramadan (holy month of fasting) is imminent and this behavior is likely to prevail. There is a grim challenge of countering misinformation on social media where various religious figures incite people to oppose government orders of banning Friday prayers at mosques. Some so called Ulema are terming it a conspiracy against Islam and its followers. None of them is talking of its cure because they either lack scientific knowledge or do not believe science. Pakistani masses are fighting corona virus pandemic because of their lack of knowledge, it’s the same as a cancer patients survives a cancer until he/she comes to know about it. The moment a patient is diagnosed with the cancer, he/she no longer survives. Sometimes ignorance is a bliss but that bliss does not last longer in case of pandemic. I conclude my argument here that science has the power to cure diseases. It also provides remedies to most lethal diseases but Covid-19 vaccine is not made yet and if science fails, faith consoles the victims. But the faith guidelines should come from government instead of any random Ulema.

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Bajwa-Imran Visit to China and Rumours about CPEC

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It was a rumour for a long period that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) had been dying because of various reasons along with the negligence of the present government. In this regard, there are two popular narratives about the CPEC and Pak-China relations. One perspective which has been floating within Pakistani society since long is that because of American and Indian pressure regarding CPEC and Chinese involvement within the country, Islamabad has stopped the work on the projects that come under CPEC. Besides, Pakistan has been pressurized through International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to withdraw from Chinese investment within the country, therefore, it faces various difficulties in continuation of projects. While another perspective portrays an optimistic picture of the whole scenario where work on CPEC projects is in process and 13 projects worth $11 billion have completed. The projects such as M-5 (Multan to Sukkur Motorway), 2×660MW Port Qasim Coal-Fired Power Plant, 50MW Dawood Wind Farm, and 100MW Jhimpir Wind Farm have been completed which show the progress and success of CPEC. Also, the visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa and their talks about CPEC as well as point of view regarding CPEC show that both the Army and government are on the same page to continue the projects under CPEC.

Moreover, the formation of CPEC Authority which keeps the surveillance upon CPEC related works is also the evidence of the seriousness of government regarding CPEC. Furthermore, both the representative from Pakistan showed the intention of making relations between both nations namely China and Pakistan even stronger through engagement in multiple businesses and trade-related activities. Though American pressure creates many difficulties for Pakistan to continue the project still there is much progress in many projects related to CPEC. Moreover, America does not want China to rise at regional as well as global level. In this regard, the United States tries to counter Beijing actively on various grounds. Likewise, the American “Pivot to Asia” or “Rebalancing” policy aims to counter and restrict Chinese influence in the Asian continent including countering its engagement in the Asia-Pacific. However, Washington has been trying to contain Beijing but its economic growth shows the success. Therefore, it is considered the right time for Pakistan to shift its tilt towards China rather than an unbelievable, unpredictable, and weak alliance with America. Furthermore, Islamabad has been testing and observing the friendship of America which mostly remained seasonal and based on a specific issue after the fulfilment of objectives, Washington uses to ignore Islamabad even in its difficult times.

Pakistan through proper utilization of the CPEC initiative could boost its economy and get rid of American bloc which has a great share in the destruction, deaths, terrorism, underdevelopment and backwardness within the country. Many of the writers dub the CPEC and Chinese involvement in Pakistan as game changer which would take Islamabad towards the path of peace, prosperity, development, progress, and innovation within multiple fields. It is said that Pakistan could serve as the “Israel of China” because of various reasons it may be economic, political or financial which can be useful for the development of Beijing as well as Islamabad. As Israel keeps much importance for the US and it cannot compromise on its interests even at the cost of opposition and criticism from many states. Such as Washington’s “Deal of the Century” including support of it at every global forum. In the same manner, the South Asian region particularly Pakistan carries great importance for China which could connect Beijing with various natural rich resource nations of the Middle East and Central Asia. Moreover, it also paves the way for Beijing by connecting it with many other important countries of various continents of the world. Therefore, China has been struggling to create peace in the region. Furthermore, Afghanistan is the major nation which suffers from instability and security problems that also left effects on regional stability. Therefore, China wants to solve the Afghanistan problem for making it stable which will pave the way for the completion of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Concerning the Afghan issue, Beijing sees Islamabad as an important state which can play a decisive role in solving the Afghan problem as well as bringing peace in the region resultantly stopping the long-standing war at Afghanistan’s land. Peace and stability in Afghanistan could serve multiple interests of China because Kabul provides the land route for China to reach the Central Asian states that ultimately connects it with Europe. Therefore, China has been struggling hard to secure its national interest. That can easily be achieved if China will be successful in generating the dominance and influence over the South Asia region. Furthermore, this region is considered the testing grounds for the success of the Chinese initiated project namely BRI. As for American bloc and the other entities which are not happy with the rise of China are concerned, they also know the importance of this region for Beijing. It is mostly agreed that the success of BRI depends upon the successful completion of projects within this region. Therefore it is observed that if Beijing would be successful in the completion of projects all over South Asia than no one can beat and resist China on becoming the dominant or global power. In this regard, Washington will not allow Beijing to take its place easily. So it uses multiple strategies to contain China such as pressurizing Pakistan to withdraw from BRI, Strengthening relations with India and prolonging Afghan issue, and putting new sanctions on Iran.

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