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A new turn of leaf in Sino-Pak relations

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent four-day visit to China has attracted much attention, not only in the country but also in world’s powerful capitals. The visit came at a very important occasion and at a very strategic juncture as new alignments are taking place in the world. The United States and Western Europe and their allies are developing a new strategy to protect their own interests, and the contours of this strategy are becoming clearer. The heat of trade war between the United States and China is being felt around the world. The United States and its allies boycotted (diplomatically) the Winter Olympics in China as part of a plan that clearly means that the Allies are afraid of China’s growing economic power as it would pose a major challenge to their global supremacy in a not-too-distant future. In such circumstances, the visit of PM Khan was of utmost importance.

The four-day visit included meetings with top Chinese leadership, the business community, the signing of several memoranda of understanding (MoUs), and attending the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics — as a sign of solidarity with Beijing.

On the first day of his visit, the PM, who was accompanied by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry and Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar, joined other world leaders at Beijing’s National Stadium to witness the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics 2022. Although the opening ceremony took place under a diplomatic boycott by some countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, over alleged human rights violations by China, PM Khan’s attendance of the opening ceremony was much appreciated by the Chinese leadership. “We highly appreciate Prime Minister Imran Khan’s attendance of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Games,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.

On the second and the third day, PM Khan held meetings with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and senior leadership of China’s top state-owned companies and private enterprises. The executives who met the Prime Minister included Chairmen of China Energy Engineering Corporation (CEEC), China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), Power China, East Sea Group, China Railway Group Limited (CREC), China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC), Beijing Century Industrial Development Co. Ltd (CENTINCO) and the CHINAMEX Group. During the meetings, the Chinese businesspersons briefed the Prime Minister on the progress of their ongoing projects in Pakistan and future investment plans worth billions of US dollars in the fields of energy, refining, petrochemical, infrastructure development water management, information and communication technology (ICT), and housing.

In his remarks on this occasion, PM Khan appreciated the keen interest of Chinese companies to invest in Pakistan. Highlighting deepening economic and trade ties between the two countries, he informed the Chinese corporate leaders about steps to create a conducive environment for Chinese investment in Pakistan and encouraged them to benefit from business-friendly policies for investment in Special Economic Zones.

Moreover, the premier chaired a meeting on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) during which both sides reviewed the pace of work on different projects. During a virtual meeting with He Lifeng, Chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and Vice Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing, PM Khan termed the CPEC of strategic significance for both countries, and said that the project was delivering tangible benefits to Pakistan. He noted with satisfaction that CPEC’s early-harvest projects had transformed Pakistan’s economic landscape, thus laying a solid foundation for sustainable economic growth.

Reaffirming the commitment of the two sides to timely completion of CPEC and its high-quality development, the prime minister said that both sides would continue expediting efforts to achieve Gwadar’s potential as a hub of regional commerce and industry while also prioritising preparatory work on the ML-1 and other key energy projects.

The chairman NDRC said that China attached immense significance to CPEC and was firmly committed to its steady progress and development. He noted that China has become Pakistan’s largest investment and trade partner in the last seven years and both sides were keen to maintain the momentum of overall economic and trade ties in future as well. The chairman added that NDRC and all relevant Chinese institutions would continue their efforts to encourage Chinese state-owned and private enterprises to invest in CPEC projects. In this regard, both sides had decided to establish new green, digital, health, trade and industry corridors, which would enhance sector-wise cooperation in these areas.

On the last day of the visit, PM Khan met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of People in Beijing. This was the first in-person meeting between the two leaders since October 2019. This was an important meeting because high-level talks with Chinese leadership were necessary due to many reasons.
During the meet, the two leaders exchanged views on bilateral cooperation, as well as regional and global issues and developments.

PM Khan briefed President Xi on a people-centred geo-economics vision and his government’s policies for Pakistan’s sustained growth, industrial development, agricultural modernisation and regional connectivity. He also shared his views with President Xi on growing polarisation in the world which threatened to unravel global developmental gains and posed serious risks to the developing countries. He highlighted that insurmountable challenges like climate change, health pandemics and growing inequalities could only be tackled through unqualified cooperation of all nations in accordance with the purposes and principles of the UN Charter.
In this regard, he lauded President Xi’s visionary Belt and Road and Global Development Initiatives which called for collective action for sustainable development and win-win outcomes.

The prime minister also highlighted that atrocities being perpetrated in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), and the persecution of minorities in India in advancing the Hindutva mindset of RSS-BJP was a threat to regional peace and stability. He further highlighted that partnership between Pakistan and China was an anchor for peace and stability in the region and thanked China for its unwavering support to Pakistan’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence and national development, and reaffirmed Pakistan’s full support to China on all issues of its core interest.

Both leaders acknowledged that a peaceful and stable Afghanistan would promote economic development and connectivity in the region and called on the international community to promptly assist the Afghan people in averting a humanitarian catastrophe.
Xi Jinping noted that the past year has been of great significance to China-Pakistan relations. In celebration of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, the two countries reviewed the past history, summed up the experience and have been forging ahead for a better future of China-Pakistan relations with greater confidence. China stands ready to work with Pakistan to speed up the building of an even closer China-Pakistan community with a shared future for the new era so as to create benefits for people of the two countries, provide momentum to regional cooperation and contribute strength to world peace.

Xi Jinping emphasized that as the world finds itself in a period of turbulence and transformation, China-Pakistan relations have gained greater strategic significance. Both China and Pakistan should carry forward the tradition of mutual trust, mutual assistance and joint cooperation, and carry out more extensive and in-depth strategic cooperation. China firmly supports Pakistan in safeguarding its national independence, sovereignty and dignity and fighting terrorism. China stands ready to work with Pakistan to align development strategies, advance more in-depth development of CPEC, ensure the successful implementation of major projects, expand cooperation in science and technology, agriculture, people’s livelihood and other fields, build green, health and digital corridors, and support Pakistan in advancing its industrialization to enhance the capability of sustainable development. China upholds fairness and justice in international affairs. China does not provoke trouble, but will never flinch when trouble comes its way. China has the ability and confidence to safeguard its sovereignty, security and development interests. China is willing to work with Pakistan to strengthen coordination and cooperation at the United Nations and on other multilateral occasions to give more voice for justice, and maintain peace and stability of the world and in the region. The two sides should actively advance the implementation of the Global Development Initiative, and build a community with a shared future for mankind.

The meeting of the two leaders shows that the two countries are ready to stand together in the new global alignments. According to media reports, both leaders reviewed in detail Pak-China bilateral cooperation and discussed regional and global issues. This shows that the scope of this meeting has been very wide.

As CPEC has entered its second phase, which primarily revolves around the development and industrialisation of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), Pakistan and China inked the Framework Agreement on Industrial Cooperation under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The agreement that holds a paramount significance for CPEC Phase II and its future course of action has been inked between BOI and NDRC, the lead agencies on CPEC Industrial Cooperation. Minister of State & Chairman BOI Muhammad Azfar Ahsan and He Lifeng, Chairman NDRC, were the signatories of the agreement.

The agreement reaffirms prioritized development and operations of the 9 CPEC SEZs, with primary focus on the early completion of Rashakai SEZ in KP, Allama Iqbal Industrial City in Punjab, Dhabeji SEZ in Sindh and Bostan SEZ in Balochistan. For colonization of these SEZs, business-to-business matchmaking mechanism of Pakistani and Chinese enterprises has also been emphasized which will proliferate the people-to-people and institution-to-institution linkages. It will also facilitate relocation of industries as well as investment from China and other parts of the world to Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in Pakistan.

PM Khan’s visit signifies how indispensable relations with the emerging superpower are, and to what extent the Red Giant has been forthcoming to Pakistan’s concerns. The meeting with Chinese President was a hint towards congeniality as both the leaders reaffirmed their principled stance on Kashmir and Afghanistan, and how essential it is to revert back to politics of institutionalisation. The role of the United Nations, cooperation among states in fighting climate change and the need for cajoling a broad-based strategy against the Covid-19 pandemic were underscored in all sincerity. This illustrated the frame of consensus on global affairs, and what role a responsible power like China can play in its humble capacity.

This visit will long be remembered for two reasons: one, Pakistan and China reiterated their regional and global perspective and they were on the same page; two, Pakistan took the geo-economic partnership a step ahead and jotted a blueprint of the second phase of CPEC. This is an indispensable element in their buoying relations, and will see Pakistan move towards formal industrialisation. The first phase of CPEC has laid down a network of roads and infrastructure, as well as multi-billion dollar investment in the energy sector; the second episode will harness a new lifestyle of its own for the people of the region. Furthering employment opportunities and profiling investment in the public-private sectors is the new bonanza, and the way to go. PM Imran’s four-day landmark visit has cemented the road to prosperity and cooperation in all-weather decorum for ages to come.

The writer is a professor at a Lahore-based University.

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