While it is the common interests that make friends or foes in international relations, Pakistan-China relations are pure and much beyond materialistic interests. China and Pakistan both trace their past to old civilizations and have passed many ups and downs in history. Both are Asian countries and considered traditional Eastern cultures, where values stand first and material gains or losses are considered secondary. The foundation of our relations is moral values, traditions, and not materialistic gains or interests. In this type of pure relationship, gains or losses are immaterial. The fundamental importance is the pure relationship, much above profit or loss.
Although formal diplomatic relations were established on May 21, 1951 the first high-level official delegation visited China just three months after its liberation on January 4, 1950. Imagine the critical significance of this visit, where most of the world, especially the U.S. and Europe, recognized "The Republic of China" (Taiwan) as China's legitimate Government and did not recognize the People's Republic of China. Even the UN Security Council membership was not granted to the newly established "People's Republic of China" (Beijing). Pakistan has the honor of recognizing the People's Republic of China in the early days and can be counted among the first few countries. Over the years, the relationship has blossomed into an "All-Weather Strategic Cooperative Partnership." Pakistan considers China one of its closest friends and partners, and China believes Pakistan to be the same in reciprocity.
In the Chinese society, the degree of relations is described in many ways. Formal diplomatic relations, friendly countries, brotherly nations, partner countries, strategic relationships, etc., all are different degrees of relations and are considered more robust and closer in the same order, respectively. However, as the relationship between China and Pakistan is unique in nature, Chinese use particular terminology to describe Pakistan-China relations. In Chinese, it is "Tie Ge Men Er" or simply "Ba Tie," which can be translated as "Iron Brothers" in English.
However, the history of interaction between two civilizations goes back to a few thousand years. The ancient Chinese traders used to travel to Europe and the Middle-East or Central Asia through the areas that belong to Pakistan now. Pakistan is one of the crucial countries on the ancient Silk Route. Around two thousand years ago, the famous Chinese Monks Mr. Fa Xian and Xuan Zang traveled to areas which make Pakistan, like Peshawar, Swat, Taxila, etc., in search of knowledge on Buddhism. As a matter of fact, Pakistan has exported two significant religions to China in ancient times: Buddhism and, later on, Islam.
Since the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between China and Pakistan, there existed an eternal warmth that only kept on growing further with the passage of time. Both countries have never ever suffered any differences or disputes. Both countries were passing through many changes in leadership or political fronts, like Pakistan was ruled sometimes by civilians, and some times military. Even the civilian government of various political parties was diversified in nature, but our relations with China kept on growing. Similarly, China was passing many transformations on the political front like Cultural Revolution, Economic Reforms, Opening Up policy, etc., and the top leadership kept on changing several times, but the relations between the two countries were solid enough to keep on growing continually.
Although Pakistan was in Western Bloc during the Cold War era, but always kept Chinese interests intact. Especially during its economic blockade in 1955, it was Pakistan that served as a window for China to access the Western world. Pakistani missions in the Western capitals were protecting Chinese interests and representing the Government of the People's Republic of China.
The bilateral relationship between the two countries is based on feelings of mutual trust, respect, and goodwill towards each other. There is a regular exchange of visits at the highest level between the two countries. The strategic cooperation between Pakistan and China has grown over the past several decades. Pakistan and China have several consultation mechanisms, including strategic dialogue at foreign ministers' level, political consultations at the foreign secretary/vice-minister level; consultations on South Asia, arms control, counter-terrorism; human rights; peacekeeping; maritime dialogue; border management consultations, and consular affairs. There are regular exchange visits between the senior officials of both countries.
Pakistan played a vital role in Sino-U.S. relations, especially in bridging the two powers. Pakistan's contribution in securing UNSC permanent membership was always admired. Pakistan also brokered in connecting the Muslim world with China.
Both countries supplement each other and reinforce each other's strengths, besides assisting each other to overcome the shortfalls. In the early days, Pakistan was strong economically as well as politically and was helping China, but recently, China has emerged as a geopolitical power and is in a position to help Pakistan and is extending all possible assistance to Pakistan. Both countries stood side by side during each critical moment. Especially during the launch of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Chinese economic package in the form of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Since 2011, when the U.S. took a strategic turn, sidelined Pakistan and got close to India, the visible shift was a significant setback for Pakistan. The whole Western world showed cold shoulder to Pakistan. Even international organizations like the IMF, Paris Club, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and some Muslim countries also withdrew their support. Under this scenario, China extended all possible assistance under CPEC.
China has emerged as the largest single trading partner with Pakistan currently, while Pakistan is China's second-largest trading partner in South Asia. Major imports from China are machinery and mechanical appliances, metals, chemical products, mineral ores, plastic scrap, and transport equipment. Primary exports include cotton yarn, cotton fabric, rice, leather, and fish products. Pakistani products enjoy a good reputation in China and receive a warm welcome from the public.
In recent years, the bilateral trade volume between China and Pakistan has increased rapidly with a stable commodity structure. However, despite robust investment from China, bilateral trade remains anemic. China's imports from Pakistan reflect a downward trend, whereas China's exports to Pakistan are upward. Bilateral trade, which stood at US$ 1.3 billion in 2002, reached US$ 19.08 billion in 2018. Imports from China stood at US$ 12.7 billion, and exports from Pakistan to China at US$ 1.85 billion in 2019.
In order to enhance bilateral trade, both countries concluded the second Phase of China Pakistan Free Trade Agreement (CPFTA) during the Prime Minister's visit in April 2019. CPFTA-II became effective from January 1, 2020. It would guarantee providing a level-playing field in terms of concessions vis-à-vis other competitors; strong safeguard measures for the protection of domestic industry; improved tariff reduction modality; higher liberalized import value from China and lesser import value for Pakistan, and attracting FDI into SEZs.
According to a Pew survey of Pakistani public opinion in 2010, 84 percent of respondents said they had a favorable view of China. Similarly, the Chinese state-run media has portrayed Pakistan in a favorable light in regional issues. In 2013, this figure increased to 90% of Pakistanis having an optimistic view of China.
China-Pakistan friendship is quoted as, "A friendship higher than the Himalayas and deeper than the oceans, sweeter than honey and stronger than steel."
Nations with Shared Destiny
Both China and Pakistan are eastern countries and have rich traditions but have been victimized by the West during the colonialization period. Both countries are facing identical challenges and threats. Although China has gained miraculous economic development, yet it is facing opposition from the Western World. The U.S. and its allies are openly threatening China and taking practical steps to contain and counter China, and resist the Chinese rise. Pakistan is also facing the cold shoulder of the U.S. and its allies since 2011, when they took a strategic turn from Pakistan and focused on India. Western media is also over-engaged in spreading fake news and propaganda to defame China and Pakistan. As a matter of fact, both countries are facing a hybrid war.
In this scenario, there is a dire need to further strengthen our strategic relations in all fields of life. Unitedly, we can win our joint struggle to survive and rise.
The Road Map
Our elders had the vision and built these relations on solid footings. Today, we need to train our youth to carry our friendship and grow further. We need to educate our youth and create awareness of the worth of our relationship.
The best way to achieve this goal is to learn each other's language. Pakistan is promoting the Chinese language, and many universities are offering Chinese language course. In the private sector, many institutions are teaching the Chinese language. The Chinese government has opened five Confucious Institutes in Pakistan to teach the Chinese language and culture. Whereas in China, Urdu is taught in many universities, Radio China International is offering programs in Urdu. Chinese proficient in Urdu language are very active in China and are promoting the friendship among the two countries through formal media, social media, and other means of communications. Similarly, Pakistanis who have graduated from China are also contributing tremendously in promoting cordial relations between the two nations.
However, further steps are required to optimize the results, and I would recommend the following measures:
▪ Enhancing the student exchange programs; more students should be encouraged to study in China.
▪ The visa regime needs to be further relaxed and made convenient.
▪ Promoting tourism.
▪ The exchange of scholars, intellectuals, media persons, and policymakers needs to be enhanced.
▪ All ministries, institutions, and departments interacting with China need to set up a China cell and deploy China experts. The most suitable people to work with China are China graduates, knowing the Chinese language, have lived in China for not less than five years, knowing Chinese society, history, culture, traditions, political system, governance, and economic systems, etc.
The writer is a Sinologist (ex-Diplomat), Editor, Analyst, Non-Resident Fellow of CCG (Center for China and Globalization), National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Islamabad, Pakistan.
E-mail: [email protected]
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