Pak-China Relationship: Newer Horizons

The three days visit of Chinese Premier Mr. Wen Jiabao, has attained another milestone in the history of bi-lateral relationship of Pakistan and China.

Pak-China relations began in 1950 when Pakistan was among the first countries to recognise the People’s Republic of China. Following the 1962 Sino-Indian War, Pakistan’s relations with China became stronger; since then, the two countries have regularly exchanged high-level visits resulting in a variety of agreements. The PRC has provided economic, military and technical assistance to Pakistan.

The relationship has been described by Hu Jintao as “higher than the mountains and deeper than oceans”. Favourable relations with China have been a pillar of Pakistan’s foreign policy. China strongly supported Pakistan’s opposition to Soviet Union involvement in Afghanistan and was perceived by Pakistan as a regional counterweight to India. China and Pakistan also share a close military relation, with China supplying a range of modern armaments to the Pakistani defence forces. China supports Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir while Pakistan supports China on the issues of Xinjiang, Tibet, and Taiwan. Lately, military cooperation has deepened with joint projects producing armaments ranging from fighter jets to guided missile frigates. Chinese cooperation with Pakistan has reached high economic points with substantial investment from China in Pakistani infrastructural expansion, including the noted project in the Pakistani deep water port in Gwadar. Both countries have an ongoing free trade agreement. Pakistan has served as China’s main bridge between Muslim countries. Pakistan had earlier played a leading role in bridging the communication gap between China and the West, through Henry Kissinger’s secret visit, it also led to the epoch-making visit of President Nixon to China to meet the top brass of the Communist Party.

Following the establishment of Pak-China diplomatic relationship in May 1951, both countries have attained many milestones in their bi-lateral relationship. Pakistan, otherwise among the first few countries, which recognized this great communist state, proved its friendship by making strong lobby in getting the UN membership for China. The initial slow pace of mutual understanding got an impetus following the Sino-India war of 1962.

In the era of Field Martial Muhammad Ayub, then Foreign Minister (later Prime Minister), Zulfikar Ali Bhutto formalised this relationship on the strategic lines. Through his strategic vision, he made Pak-China relationship as an essential and never changing pillar of the Foreign Policy of Pakistan.
The same vision exists even today and Pakistan maintained it as an inalienable part of its diplomatic relationship.
Subsequently Bhutto visited Beijing which led to the signing of trade and military agreements with the Chinese Govt whereby the latter offered help to Pakistan in a number of military and industrial projects. He also signed the Sino-Pakistan Boundary Agreement on March 2, 1963 that transferred 750 square kms of territory from Pakistan-administered Kashmir to Chinese control.

In the aftermath of the 1971 secession of the Eastern wing abetted by Indian army, the PPP Govt kept relations with the Muslim countries and China as a priority. Mr. Bhutto had realized that Pakistan’ existence could be guaranteed only by acquisition of nuclear capability and also by building better relations with the Middle East etc. Shaheed Benazir Bhutto and others continued the policy of maintaining close ties with China. President Hu Jintao, as per China Daily of October 26, 2008, emphasized that “Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto made prominent contributions to the initiation and development of the China-Pakistan relationship, which the Chinese people will never forget”.

Since the installation of the PPP coalition in Pakistan in 2008, the relations have experienced further Closeness based upon the unwavering commitment of the parties to the cause. Accordingly, as per Xinhua, President Hu Jintao congratulated Pakistan’s president-elect Asif Ali Zardari and pledged to maintain an “all weather friendship” with Islamabad.

President Asif Ali Zardari has repeatedly confirmed that Pakistan would build a really robust relationship with China. He recently led a delegation to China in pursuit of substantive breakthroughs in various fields of cooperation between the two countries. The all-out stress was put on trade expansion, joint-ventures which can boost Chinese investment in Pakistan etc. Currently the annual trade between the two countries is over $ 7 billion. A Free Trade Agreement reached last year visualizes the trade to soar to $ 15 billion by 2011.
Pakistan was wary of the US for its civil-nuclear agreement with India, as it declined to sign similar agreement with Pakistan, especially when Pakistan was more energy-starved than India. America’s bid to make India permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and envisaging a role for India in Afghanistan to the detriment of Pakistan had pushed Pakistan against the wall. China has once again come forward to help Pakistan in the hour of need. China and Pakistan concluded nearly 15 billion dollars’ worth of deals on 18th December. Business leaders also formalised the paperwork – adding to the 20 billion dollars’ worth of deals signed a day earlier. The latest deals included 17 agreements, four memorandums of understanding (MoUs) and one joint venture.

The two countries reached agreement on enhancing bilateral ties during the one-to-one as well as delegation-level talks between Gilani and Wen Jiabao. China vowed to extend full support to Pakistan’s sovereignty, security and political integrity. It also extended strong support for enhancing Pakistan’s defence and economic cooperation as well as in space programme. During meeting between China’s premier Wen Jia Bao and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Chinese premier said that China would help Pakistan in increasing exports and improving its infrastructure. Earlier, Gilani said, ‘We would encourage Chinese companies to consider investments in the energy sector, which assures certain returns. Our energy requirements are expected to increase from 20,000MWs to more than 160,000MWs by the year 2030.’ Although no specific mention was made of nuclear power, talks are believed to be ongoing on China building a nuclear power plant to overcome acute energy shortages.

America had discouraged Pakistan from Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, and was also averse to Pak-China nuclear agreement. The day premier Wen Jia Bao was on Pakistani soil, a statement from US ambassador in Pakistan Cameron Munter said that America won’t object to Pak-Nuclear cooperation, knowing full well that China would not be deterred from taking independent decisions. Anyhow, Pakistan has to utilize 185 billion tonnes of coal reserves at Tharparker, which could be converted into energy to satisfy Pakistan’s growing demand. But Pakistan needs foreign investment and technical assistant to exploit those resources on war footing. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, while encouraging Chinese investors to explore opportunities in oil and gas sectors said: ‘The government has announced special economic incentives for Chinese investors including duty-free import of plant and machinery, exemption from sales tax and income tax. Addressing the participants he said that Pakistan was in the process of creating a National Trade Corridor to be connected to China through an upgraded Karakoram Highway.

Pakistan has indeed been lucky to have in China a trustworthy and reliable friend, as China has always helped Pakistan whenever the latter was in dire straits. It would not be wrong to say that China has more interest in Pakistan’s stability than any other country of the world.
If America helped Pakistan in the past and gave economic and military aid, it was because of Pakistan being an America ally.
China is, indeed, a peace-loving country and it has neither bullied its smaller neighbours nor has it ever tried to extend hegemony over other countries. It is more interested in improving its economy rather than engaging itself in any military entanglement because economic strength can help increase military strength. That is why it has hitherto opted to seek political and negotiated settlement of the Taiwan issue although it has left no doubt in any one’s mind that it will not hesitate to go to any extent to retrieve its territory that was separated by Chiang Kai Shek through a conspiracy. Anyhow, China’s policy of having friendly relations with all its neighbours should not be misunderstood, as it has the capability and the resources to give adequate response to those harbouring evil designs. And the tolerance China shows to other countries is in fact its strength. So far Pakistan is concerned, China always supported Pakistan, and of course Pakistan has also supported China over the issue of Hong Kong and Taiwan and condemned the machinations against China in the name of Tibet.

On the final day of his three days, historic visit to Pakistan, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, addressed the joint session of Pakistani Parliament. During the address, the distinguished guest lauded Pakistan’s role and sacrifices, it rendered in fighting out the terrorism.  He said, ‘Pakistan has paid a heavy price in combating terrorism. The fight against terrorism should not be linked with any religion or ethnic group and there should be no double standards. He further emphasized that, ‘The international community should affirm that and give great support as well as respect the path of development chosen by Pakistan. He also promised to further enhance the strategic and economic cooperation between Pakistan and China in the days to come.  Indeed, in conformity to the national interests of the peoples of both countries, this strategic partnership would promote, ‘peace, stability and prosperity of the region.

Indeed, the three days visit of Chinese Premier Mr. Wen Jiabao, has attained another milestone in the history of bi-lateral relationship of Pakistan and China. This visit is of a unique significance, as it covers all aspects viz; the strategic, political and economic. In the wordings of the Premier Wen, ‘To cement and advance the all-weather strategic partnership of cooperation between China and Pakistan is our common strategic choice.’ In the joint communique, issued by both countries, it was decided to boost the bi-lateral cooperation in the field of energy, defence, space technology, transportation, banking, infrastructure development, heavy machinery manufacturing, cultural exchange and finance.

Another distinctiveness of the visit of Premier Wen Jiabao is that he made sure to meets all stakeholders in Pakistan.  Apart from the traditional meetings with the President and Prime Minister, Chinese Premier met with leaders of all political parties of Pakistan. Rather, it was a rare mosaic of Pakistani political, religious, and territorial leadership gathering to welcome their all time friend in Islamabad.  This gathering was indicative of the fact that, there exists no second opinion about Pakistan’s relationship with the People’s Republic of China. This fact was amply highlighted in the welcoming address of the leader of opposition during joint session of Parliament once he said, ‘We are mired in a lot of controversies, but on one issue there is no controversy and that is our friendship with China. No global leader ever has such a reception and united response and indeed a spirit of love from Pakistan ever. Chinese Premier also had a detail meeting with the Armed Forces heads under Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Committee and assured further enhancement in the ongoing cooperation in the field of defence. Premier Wen Jiabao declared that, ‘Beijing would never give up on Pakistan.’ Seeing the unity among the leadership in Pakistan, Prime Minister Wen said that, ‘Government and people of Pakistan are united and moving forward to safeguard solidarity, prosperity, and sovereignty of the country.’ He also announced 500 educational scholarships for the Pakistani students in Chinese educational institutions. This indeed, would enhance people-to-people contact in both countries.

Today China houses 20% global population and because of its overwhelming growth rate, it has become a powerhouse of Asia. The enormous Chinese development in the field of technology, industry and even in the field of defence has created a fear in the Western world. India too is jealously following the Chinese path. Since China has strategic partnership with Pakistan, therefore, this aspect seriously bothering India. Projects like; Karakoram highway, Gwadar port, and Chashma nuclear reactors are some of the aspects where both countries are having strategic cooperation. Besides, China is investing in a number of other projects like; 2.6 billion dollars Kohala Hydel project and 8 billion dollars Bunji dam project.

China has always appreciated its deep-rooted friendship with Pakistan and acknowledges Pakistan’s untiring efforts for getting her closer to United States in early 1970s.  Indeed, through this collaboration during the peak days of the cold war, Pakistan lessened the tension, previously existed between U.S and the China, by becoming a bridge between two giants. Following this collaboration, China got an opening and diplomatic and trade excess into the Western world, whereas, U.S got a Communist friend in Asia. In a way, Pakistan proved its significance and vision as an international facilitator if not mediator. Thereafter, Chinese markets and goods were introduced at the global level and its economy started prospering to a level of second to U.S only in the contemporary world today. For the United States, this was the first moral and diplomatic pre-eminence over former Soviet Union.

During the visit of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, Pakistan and China concluded economic deals worth $35 billion in total.  These deals include; 17 agreements, four memorandum of understanding (MoU) and a joint venture. This indeed is a new record of the economic deals and agreements in the history of traditional friends. Both Premiers attended the Pak-China Business Cooperation summit, participated by 260 Chinese delegates with their 150 Pakistani counterparts. China Council for Promotion of International Trade (CCIT) and Board of Investment, Ministry of Commerce, Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI), jointly organized this summit. The agreements reached during the summit include; ‘development of energy sector, promotion of trade, exploration of natural resources and development of agriculture, livestock, finance and banking sectors.’

A $6.5 billion MoU was signed between China Three Gorges Corporation and Alternative Energy Development Board for the wind power projects and solar energy projects. Both the countries signed framework agreement in relation to Development Finance Cooperation Agreement besides inking agreement of purchasing seafood, guar products, cotton yarn purchase and yarn import contract. In addition, frozen fish agreement, import stone business agreement, leather purchasing contract and agreement for purchasing of Pakistan rapeseed meal, were also inked on the occasion. Cooperation agreement, medical equipments donation agreement, and stone import business were also signed during the daylong summit between the business communities of both the countries.

On this occasion, Chinese Premier, reiterated his resolve to enhance the bilateral trade with Pakistan in the coming years in a bid to improve the flow of investments between both countries. The bi-lateral trade between Pakistan and China rise from $1 billion in 2002, to $6.8 billion in 2009. Chinese Premier desires that volume of this trade should be brought to the level of $10 billion on earliest possible timeframe. For the betterment of economic cooperation and to facilitate the currency swap, both countries agreed to open the branches of ICBC in Pakistan and China. The Premier Wen said that, ‘China welcomes Pakistan’s effort to capitalize on the preferential terms in the bilateral FTA to expand exports to China. The Greater financial cooperation between China and Pakistan will provide a strong support for in-depth and sustained growth of our economic and trade ties.

He said that, ‘his country would increase investment in Gwadar Port. The port currently administered by Port of Singapore Authority (PSA), was constructed by China in 2006. Chinese Premier promised that his country would remove the trade barrier between Pakistan and China by improving trade infrastructure and promoting Pakistani exports to his country. Earlier Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, appreciated Chinese investment in Pakistan, especially in the energy sector of Pakistan. Prime Minister Gillani said that, ‘We would encourage Chinese companies to consider investments in the energy sector, which assures certain returns. Our energy requirements are expected to increase from 20,000MWs to more than 160,000MWs by the year 2030.

In fact, Pakistan is not a resource deficient country, but problem lies with the technical expertise, infrastructure development, and availability of capital.  Today, apart from huge amount of unexplored oil and gas, ‘Pakistan has 185 billion tonnes of coal reserves, which would be converted into energy to satisfy Pakistan’s growing demand.’  Besides, Pakistan welcomes Chinese experts for the exploration of its oil and gas resources. Prime Minister assured Chinese investors for special economic incentives like; ‘duty-free import of plant and machinery, exemption from sales tax and income tax. In spite of a stiff resistance from New Delhi and Washington, China has agreed to establish two nuclear plants as part of the civil nuclear energy programme.

Pakistan and China are already working for the development of the Pak-China Trade Corridor along the Karakoram Highway (KKH). In this regard, the highway is being upgraded and lying of a railway track along the KKH is in progress. Upon development of this overland route, there would be further boost to the economic relationship. Pakistan is otherwise becoming a hub for the oil and gas from Central Asia and Middle East. With the improvement of communication infrastructure, oil and gas from these regions can easily be transported to the Chinese territories either through oil tankers or through an overland gas pipeline. Premier Gilani assured his counterpart for the safety of Chinese nationals working in Pakistan. He said, ‘Besides a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement and the Joint Five Year Economic Programme, we are now jointly endeavouring to establish closer financial and banking sector cooperation.’ Chinese Premier also supported Pakistani point of view on Kashmir issue. China has a clear stand that, Kashmiri must get their right of self-determination as per UN resolutions. China indeed, rejects all Indian assertions of betraying Pak-China relationship and regional domination by India. China does not support Indian case for a permanent membership of UNSC. China also assured Pakistan for its full supports on Pakistani position on the Afghan issue.

Pakistan and China are bounded in, an inalienable relationship ever since the formal beginning of their diplomatic relationship in early 1950s. Nevertheless, Pakistan has more frequently served the U.S aims and objectives, even more than its European partners have.  Nevertheless, it enjoyed a smooth relationship with China, but rocky, complicated, full of mutual mistrust and apprehensions with United States.   Chinese Premier has the moral courage to laud the sacrifices of Pakistan while fighting against terrorism and extremism. This acknowledgement and praise indeed, is in stark contrast to a ‘cacophony of statements emanating out of Washington that urge Pakistan to do more.’ Therefore, the red carpet reception for such a time tested friend and declaring the Friendship with China as a matter of pride for Pakistani nation’ by Prime Minister Gilani was a true reflection of the national sentiments.

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