Trade corridor to boost Sino-Pak ties
Prior to his departure from Islamabad, Chinese Prime Minister Kegiang said, “To be friends forever is the cherished desire of both nations.” The Sino-Pak relationship has a long history of mutual trust, unflinching support, and all-weather friendship. Their ties are unique in that they have stood the test of over six decades under a myriad of circumstances and have always emerged steadfast and steady.
With the regional scenario in Asia evolving over the past several years, particularly in the wake of global fight against terrorism, a new set of regional dynamics have emerged which not only have their impact but are also impacted by close ties between China and Pakistan.
These ramifications are not limited to the core states involved but also have implications for the broader Asian region. Since the Sino-Pak relationship has gone beyond bilateral dimensions and acquired broader regional and international ramifications, therefore, the rivals absorb this relation with a measure of trepidation.
With the new Chinese leadership taking over the responsibilities in Beijing, in March 2013, there have been lot of conjectures about the future trends in the Chinese foreign policy. Though, Sino-Pak relationship is time tested, yet, the new leadership at Beijing reaffirmed this relationship and Chinese Prime Minister Li Kegiang visited Pakistan from May 22 to May 23, 2013. During the recently concluded two days visit of Chinese Prime Minister it was noted with satisfaction by China and Pakistan that “their bilateral relationship had acquired strategic importance in the context of the changing regional and international scenario.”Premier Li said that, “China will give you every support and assistance and by helping you, we have help ourselves.”
With this satisfaction, both Asian partners agreed to carry their strategic ties to the next level of cooperation. Indeed, in the next level of cooperation, both historical Asian friends are eager to take forward their time-tested relations to garner its fruit. As agreed during the visit of Prime Minister Li Kegiang, under the changing geo-strategic environment, both sides are looking at further “strengthening strategic communication.”
Besides, both sides have also agreed to further negotiate on the salient aspects of the ‘free trade agreement’ that would give a good lead for the further promotion of trade and commerce between two countries. The bilateral trade between both countries though remained very low and its volume has been in the favour of China, yet, both sides showed their strong will to enhance the bilateral trade and commerce to the satisfaction of both sides. Currently, the bilateral trade between Pakistan and China is worth $12.4 billion annually. It is expected that, by 2015, this trade volume would rise to $15 billion. For exploitation of available opportunities in the field of trade and commerce, it was agreed that experts of both countries would work on the possibilities of economic corridor. Twelve agreements and MoUs, between Pakistan and China were signed during the current visit of Premier Li.
At the strategic and economic level, this proposed ‘economic corridor’ between Pakistan and China remained under discussion in both countries during the first decade of 21st century. It is indeed, the shortest possible route connecting Pakistan and China through Karakorum mountain range. The Karakorum Highway (KKH) is a joint venture, constructed by the engineers from both sides, in 1970s and 1980s. Today, both sides have a feeling that, this strategic linkage has not been used to its true potentials. Thus, there is a growing realization that this overland shortest transportation network should be upgraded and used strategically for the benefit of both countries. Besides boosting the trade and commerce, the corridor will economically upgrade the otherwise poor bordering regions of both countries; Xinjiang autonomous region of China and Gilgit-Baltistan of Pakistan.
The corridor would be a great success for promotion of commerce and trade between China and Pakistan. Indeed, the proposed economic and trade corridor speak of a long-term set of relationship between both countries. For China, this corridor would become the shortest possible route for overland transportation of its energy from the energy rich regions of West and Central Asia. The Chinese energy transportation routes through sea are rapidly getting under threat by its regional and international rivals, along Malacca Strait and South China Sea. This overland corridor would be the best alternative for the Chinese energy transportation and economic uplift of its western under developed region ignored so far by this Asia giant owing to its ethnic makeup and growing insurgent trends.
With regard to energy shortages, Pakistan is facing the worst crisis of its history for the last few years. The growing gap between the need and production of the energy has seriously affected everyone in the country alike. Apart from domestic consumers, the energy shortages have paralyzed the Pakistani industrial sector. In the past, China has been assisting Pakistan in the field of energy, especially, the nuclear energy. China has provided Pakistan of two nuclear power plants of 300 MW each at Chashma. While continuing this cooperation, China is in the process of installing another three nuclear plants, which are likely to be connected with the “national grid and generate 300MW in 2016, 300MW in 2017 and 1,000MW in 2020.”
During the current visit of Premier Li, both countries have agreed to convene the next round of meetings of ‘Pak-China Joint Working Energy Group’ for cooperation on conventional, renewable and civil nuclear energy.Depending upon the future Pakistani persuasion, seriousness and use of diplomatic tools, the Chinese side seems willing to improve Pakistan’s energy production. Pakistan seriously needs an enhanced Chinese cooperation in the field of energy. As emphasized by Prime Minister Li, “Our two sides should focus on carrying out priority projects in connectivity, energy development and power generation, and promoting the building of a China-Pakistan economic corridor.”
China is among the few countries that supported the Pakistani contribution during the war against terror. Like former Chinese Premier, Mr Wen Jiabao, Prime Minister Li has also lauded the Pakistan’s counter terrorism strategy. As revealed in the joint statement, China “reiterates that it respects the anti-terrorism strategy developed and implemented by the Pakistani side in light of its own conditions. …China expresses its appreciation and continued willingness to help Pakistan build up counter-terrorism capacity.” Earlier Premier Wen Jiabao said, while addressing the joint session of Pakistani Parliament in 2010, “Pakistan has paid a heavy price in combating terrorism and the fight against terrorism should not be linked with any religion or ethnic group and there should be no double standards.”
He emphasized upon the international community for a greater support for Pakistan’s role while making a firm commitment to further enhance and bolster the strategic and economic cooperation between Pakistan and China. Indeed, in conformity to the national interests of the peoples of both countries, this strategic cooperation would promote “peace, stability and prosperity of the region.” It is particularly important for Islamabad that new leadership in Beijing appreciate its counter-terrorism strategy.
While the NATO and U.S are planning to pull out their forces from Afghanistan, China and Pakistan, being the immediate neighbours, have major role towards the stability of Afghanistan. As obvious from the joint statement, “The evolving situation in Afghanistan has great implications for the regional security and stability. Political reconciliation is a key step towards peace and stability in Afghanistan. The two sides reaffirmed their support for the ‘Afghan-owned and Afghan-led’ peace and reconciliation process, and will work with the regional countries and the international community to help Afghanistan achieve peace, stability and security.”
The wordings of the Chinese Premier that, “China would consolidate its friendship with Pakistan no matter how the international situation developed” has a very clear message for the rivals of Pakistan. Surely, the relationship between the states cannot be measured in term of gold, yet, Mr Li said that the all weather friendship between Pakistan and China ‘is precious than the gold.’During his meeting with Prime Minister-in-waiting, Mian Nawaz Sharif, Primier Li, disclosed that China is all set to extend cooperation to Pakistan in the field of ‘civil nuclear technology, mass transit projects like the bullet train in Pakistan, a metro bus service for big cities and reinvigoration of economic activities through investment in Pakistan.
‘ The issues of the operationalization of the Gwadar port on priority and boosting of trade activities between both countries were also discussed in the meeting. Realizing the need of creating better understanding between people of the two countries, Premier Li promised to enhance the scholarships for Pakistani students in Chinese higher education institutions. He also promised to send 1,000 Chinese language teachers to teach in various institutions of Pakistan.
Sino-Pak relationship is a true example of friendship and mutuality between countries of varying ideologies. Indeed, this bilateral relationship has helped both sides in their history. Despite its smaller size and poor economy, Pakistan has been a key Chinese ally. It helped China and United States closer in 1970s, thus introducing the close Chinese economy and solitary society to the West and US. In the process, both US and China got closer to each other and made subsequent gains. In a way, Pakistan has been promoting global peace and cooperation between global powers. Apart from recognizing this magnificent Pakistani role, these major powers should now physically help Pakistan in overcoming its current crises; notably an unequivocal support in combating terrorism and in overcoming the energy shortages.
For Pakistan, friendship with China is the cornerstone of its foreign policy. Pakistan shares Chinese regional and global concerns and help in promoting the core Chinese interests. Contrary to India and other major powers, Pakistan always respected Chinese integrity and sovereignty, a fact China has always appreciated. Indeed, under the changing international and regional security environment, Pakistan is a very important regional country. It has played a very significant role for “peace, stability and development of the region and the world at large.”
Indeed, under the changing geo-strategic and security environment, there are lot of challenges and issues to be resolved by the new Pakistani leadership under Prime Minister-in-waiting Nawaz Sharif and new Chinese leadership. Both will have to work in close collaboration for further cementing the traditional Sino-Pak relationship.(Dr Raja Muhammad Khan)