New era of Pakistan-China relations

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Prof. Zamir Ahmed Awan

OUR formal diplomatic relationship with China was established on the 21st of May 1951 but the history of our relationship goes back to thousands of years when the ancient Chinese traders went to Europe via present-day Pakistan for trading purposes. Pakistan was an important station on the ancient Silk Route. More than 2000 years ago, famous Chinese monks like Fa Xian and Xuan Zang travelled to Pakistan to study Buddhism. Although it is mentioned in the famous book “Journey to West” that Fa Xian and Xuan Zang travelled to India for acquiring Buddhist knowledge, but as most of the names in the book (only mentioning a few) like Peshawar, Swat, Taxila, and Kashmir, all of which are in current day Pakistan. The first official delegation of Government of Pakistan visited China on the 4th of January 1950, just 3 months after the liberation of China. 

In the first 6 decades, the relations between Pakistan and China were mostly limited to political in nature. There was a frequent exchange of visits of leadership of the two countries to each other. The two countries supported each other on domestic issues, as well as on regional and international issues. The Foreign Offices of the two countries kept close coordination which resulted in complete harmony on the world affairs. We made big progress on bilateral ties and many MoUs/Agreements were signed between the two countries; like: January 1963: Signed 1st Formal Trade Agreement between China and Pakistan, March 1963: China and Pakistan reached border agreement. The boundary agreement provisionally demarcated the frontier between the two neighbours. The final agreement was signed by Foreign Ministers Chen Yi for the Chinese side and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for the Pakistani side,             August1963: An air transport agreement was signed authorizing each other’s airlines to land and operate along with other services. Airlines were directed to fly on the route of Karachi and Dhaka to Canton and Shanghai and onwards to Tokyo,           March1965: Chinese and Pakistani Governments signed a cultural exchange agreement in Rawalpindi. Both sides agreed to draw up plans for annual cultural exchanges, July 1971: Pakistan assisted the United States in making contacts with China that resulted in the visit to China by the then US National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger,       May 1976: China and Pakistan signed an agreement to cooperate in the fields of science and technology and 1978: Karakoram Highway linking mountainous northern Pakistan with western China was officially inaugurated, August 1982: The two countries signed the protocol on opening Khunjrab Pass on the Pakistani-China border, October 1982: President General Zia-ul-Haq paid an official visit to China. During the visit both sides agreed to set-up ‘China-Pakistan Joint Committee of Economy, Trade and Technology’,          September 1986: China and Pakistan signed a comprehensive nuclear cooperation agreement, March 2002: Vice Premier Wu Banggu visited Pakistan to attend the groundbreaking ceremony of Gwadar deep-sea port. China provided $198 million for the project,            November 2006: China and Pakistan inked China and Pakistan Free Trade Agreement (FTA), July 2010: Pakistan and China conducted a joint anti-terrorism drill,            2011: Pakistan and China celebrated “Pak-China Friendship Year” on the occasion of 60th anniversary of establishment of bilateral Pak-China relations, On May 21, 2011, governments of two sides and common people sent messages to each others on 60th anniversary.  In this year, there was remarkable progress in the field of economic, trade, energy, defence, culture, sports and education.  The Head of Chinese State Council of Information Wang Chen visited Pakistan and attended the anniversary celebrations, July 2013: Pakistan and China inked the historical framework agreement for the $46 billion Pak-China Economic Corridor which will link Pakistan’s Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea and Kashghar in Xinjiang in northwest China, April 2015: President Xi Jinping arrived in Pakistan on a state visit. During the visit 51 agreements and Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) including the plan of “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor” were signed. President Mamnoon Hussain conferred Pakistan’s highest civil award Nishan-i-Pakistan on his Chinese counterpart on April 21, 2015,    August 2017: A high-level delegation led by Vice-Premier of the State Council of People’s Republic of China, Mr.  Wang Yang, visited Pakistan to attend the 70th Independence Day Celebrations.

With the launch of “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) Initiative and signing of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the relations between Pakistan and China have ushered into a new era. In addition to the already strong political and military relationship economic relations have improved exponentially. Chinese investment is pouring into Pakistan and several mega projects were launched in Power Generation and Transmission. Basic Infrastructure like Motorways, Railways, Airports, Sea-Ports, Oil & Gas Pipelines, Optical Fibre linkages are being upgraded and strengthened. Chinese nationals are coming to Pakistan to help build a stronger and viable Pakistan. The number of visitors from China exceeded the accumulated number of visitors from the rest of the world. People- to-people contact has since increased tremendously. The number of flights between the two countries has increased by 3 to 4 times. Cultural exchanges are increasing by means of students learning Chinese and cultural troupes visiting each other’s countries. The strength of Pakistani students has increased up to 28000. China nowadays is one of the most desirable destinations of higher education for Pakistani students. Our friendship has expanded in all dimensions and has been forged into a strategic partnership. In fact, we have entered into the new era of relationship with China.

Till date, CPEC progress is satisfactory and as desired. The early harvest projects meet the timelines in most of the cases. However, CPEC in entering into the next phase, where Pakistan will launch Special Economic Zone (SEZs) and China will shift its industry into Pakistan. Pakistani private sector is gearing up for Joint Ventures with Chinese counterparts. Industrialization will generate an abundance of job opportunities and increase national productivity. The industrial output will meet the requirements of the domestic market eventually reducing our import bill as well as excess products will be exported reducing our trade gap and become a major source of foreign exchange.  Agriculture is our economic backbone and will remain a key feature in CPEC’s next phase. Mineral sector is another area which needs attention and will see a surge in the next phase. The real potential of growth of economic ties between China and Pakistan is huge. These two niche areas may be exploited immediately to fulfil our dream of the 21st Century. China and Pakistan will join shoulders and work hand in hand to achieve a prosperous future.

 Long Live Pakistan-China Friendship.  Zhong-Ba You Yi Wan Sui.