National and International Issues

Pakistan-China Relationship Will Weather All Storms

Pakistan-China friendship is all weather and time-tested. The international system has seen upheavals, ups and downs but Pak-China relations have grown steadily over the decades. It has taken strong political will, a popular ethos, and strong defence and economic ties that have made Pakistan-China partnership singular. 



The organic bond between Pakistan and China is determined by the geo-strategic dynamics of our region. It is said that relations of nations change because of their changing interests and changing realities. This is by and large true but not in the case of Pakistan and China. Since Pakistan and China established their diplomatic relations in 1951, the world order has changed drastically. The Cold War was replaced by post-Cold War and a bipolar system by a multipolar order. China rose as an economic giant and a political heavyweight and there were radical changes in its political outlook. Pakistan too saw many internal and external transformations. Despite profound changes in their respective national systems and the international environment, the strong ties between Pakistan and China have remained constant. In fact, with each passing year, they have become stronger and more resilient. 
The Sino-Pakistan friendship is envy of other nations who have not been not been able to fathom its full depth or understand its rationale. But there is no mystery in it because the multi-dimensional relations between the two nations are anchored in principles.


The Pakistan-China All Weather Strategic Cooperative Partnership aims at building a Community of Shared Future. This is not an empty rhetoric; it embodies a strong commitment of the two states to promote peace, stability and development in the region and safeguard each other’s core interests. China supports Pakistan’s security, independence and territorial sovereignty, whereas Pakistan fully endorses the One China Policy. 


The Pakistan-China All Weather Strategic Cooperative Partnership aims at building a Community of Shared Future. This is not an empty rhetoric; it embodies a strong commitment of the two states to promote peace, stability and development in the region and safeguard each other’s core interests. China supports Pakistan’s security, independence and territorial sovereignty, whereas Pakistan fully endorses the One China Policy. Moreover, China pays close attention to the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and has reiterated its position several times that the Kashmir dispute should be properly and peacefully resolved based on the UN Charter, relevant UN Security Council Resolutions and bilateral agreements. The two countries target no nation, invest in economic development and promote connectivity.
Should Pakistan choose between China and other nations? As of now Sino-Pak equation is a sui generis and it is not a competitor with any other sets of bilateral relationships. Despite its unique character, the Sino-Pak ties are a catalyst for mutuality of interests, stability and shared prosperity. They threaten no other nations; they do not want to be threatened by other nations. 
At the height of Cold War, in the 1960s, Pakistan realised that it has to diversify its relationships because its staunchest ally at that time – the USA – was balancing its relations with both India and Pakistan, with an emerging tilt towards India though it was practically in the Soviet camp. Pakistan forayed into what it called a triangular approach in its foreign policy by introducing equilibrium in its relations with the U.S., China and Soviet Union. The experiment did not go well because the U.S. was not comfortable with that stance, though it later used Pakistan as a conduit for mending its relations with China; and USSR’s response was tepid. But the 1960s became a watershed in Pak-China relations. 
Now it is not a question of choosing. Pakistan is a big country in its own right and has a legitimate right to develop relations with all nations – big or small. It has done precisely that. But its partnership with China has become special. The defence trade between the two countries, their joint military exercises, collaboration in jointly manufacturing aircraft and frigates, cooperation in the civil nuclear energy, China’s help to Pakistan in developing its critical industrial infrastructure, and in the recent past a massive shift to economic development in the form of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – all these multiple platforms entwine the two nations.
CPEC is a megaproject and part of the much bigger transcontinental Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is unprecedented in its scale in the history of mankind. In Pakistan, under the framework of CPEC, ports, roads, airports, dams, industrial hubs and communication networks are being built. The entire process is creating jobs, livelihoods and business; agriculture will be modernised; tourism will be systematised. This is good for Pakistan as it would wean it off its chronic debts and a vicious cycle of low development. This is also beneficial for China as the Corridor connects China with South West Asia and Africa and opens an alternate route to the Strait of Malacca. Over the years, Pakistan has also steadfastly defended China’s vital sovereign interests that relate to Taiwan, Tibet and South China Sea.
We in Pakistan are grateful to China for giving real time help by providing to us consignments of vaccines to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. 
Big business leaders take huge risks when they start an enterprise, especially big ventures. Heavy risks are involved in the conceptualisation and continuing implementation of the BRI and CPEC because they are game changers as they disrupt the entrenched system of wars, strife, confrontation and exploitation and promote regional connectivity. Profits would be used for prosperity not for dominance and destruction. This is indeed a new paradigm whereby borders become connective tissues, not dividers.


Despite its unique character, the Sino-Pak ties are a catalyst for mutuality of interests, stability and shared prosperity. They threaten no other nations; they do not want to be threatened by other nations. 


The challenge is how to manage risks. Pakistan and China did very well in the past. The first question was of providing security to Chinese personnel, projects, enterprises and installations. The Armed Forces of Pakistan raised two divisions to provide a security blanket to all CPEC related activities. Together, we also worked to forge consensus amongst all provinces on the usefulness of CPEC for all. A barrage of criticism was unleashed by our neighbour – India – and many Western countries to distort the purpose of the project but we sent out a message that BRI and CPEC were a common good for humanity, a unifier. Our outreach has blunted the hostile propaganda but not fully. Ironically, when CPEC was launched in April 2015, the U.S. State Department welcomed it but later on revised that position. Worldwide, different quarters spread all sorts of rumours that China was out to colonise the world, that it was practicing debt-trap diplomacy and that it was using the BRI to establish its strategic and economic hegemony. Pakistan played a major role in effectively quashing some of these rumours. 


The challenge continues. The George W. Bush Administration’s binary choice – you are with us or against us – has been revived in a different form. This time it is ‘you are either with us or with China’. But this would be a false choice. After all, U.S. and China are the biggest trading and economic partners in the world. That is why, it makes sense that Pakistan can once again become the bridge between the U.S. and China, as it did in 1971. We do not want a new Cold War; rather we need a New Communion, a new united global family. 


The challenge continues. The George W. Bush Administration’s binary choice – you are with us or against us – has been revived in a different form. This time it is ‘you are either with us or with China’. But this would be a false choice. After all, U.S. and China are the biggest trading and economic partners in the world. That is why, it makes sense that Pakistan can once again become the bridge between the U.S. and China, as it did in 1971. We do not want a new Cold War; rather we need a New Communion, a new united global family. 
As we implement the BRI and CPEC, there would be bumps, barriers and accidents along the road. When the Karakoram Highway was built in the 1970s, hundreds of Chinese and Pakistani workers gave their lives to complete the project. The epitaphs of the Chinese workers and engineers in the China Memorial cemetery in Gilgit are a testimony to the sacrifices that were made to link up China and Pakistan. Today we are completing the mission of the martyrs. 
The biggest problem today is to combat externally sponsored terrorism that aims to derail CPEC or create misgivings between Pakistan and China. Pakistan and China are vigilant and prepared to respond to combat separatism, terrorism and extremism. While we fight these three evils, Pakistan will give full security to Chinese citizens working in Pakistan.


As we implement the BRI and CPEC, there would be bumps, barriers and accidents along the road. When the Karakoram Highway was built in the 1970s, hundreds of Chinese and Pakistani workers gave their lives to complete the project. The epitaphs of the Chinese workers and engineers in the China Memorial cemetery in Gilgit are a testimony to the sacrifices that were made to link up China and Pakistan. Today we are completing the mission of the martyrs. 


In the years to come, Pakistan-China relations will continue to grow and deepen. This year the two countries marked the 70th anniversary of their diplomatic relations and Pakistani leaders also congratulated the Chinese Communist Party on its centenary celebrations. The two nations have different faiths, cultures, and political and economic systems, and yet generations of leaders have been able to craft a prototype of a long-lasting friendship and sustainable interdependence. Hyperbolically referred to as a relationship that is “higher than mountains” and “deeper than oceans”, today it spans diplomacy, defence and economy, and close cooperation in the international forums. China is the biggest trading and defence partner of Pakistan, with high stakes on both sides. 
Pakistan and China have vowed to remain strong in the face of the perils created to block the noble mission they have undertaken. Both are beneficiaries of CPEC because it is essentially a win-win project. Pakistan knows that by supporting the BRI it has become an enabler for a world social order that would be just and equitable.


The writer is President of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and a former Ambassador to the United Nations (in both New York and Geneva) and China. E-mail: [email protected]
 

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