Pakistan and China’s bilateral relations have stood the test of time. China has always provided political, economic, humanitarian and diplomatic support to Pakistan. However, for the last two years there has been a concerted campaign in the Indian and Western media to malign this relationship by blowing minor issues out of proportion.
Chinese aid volume during the 2010 super floods, the pulling out of government owned Chinese bank from Iran-Pakistan pipeline project, the 2011 terrorist attack in Xinjiang in which involvement of Pakistani elements was pointed by China, the withholding of time sensitive funds of Rs 274 billion for Nelum-Jehlum hydropower project, on Indian pressure; are cited as signs of weakening ties.
Though Pak-China bilateral relations are very robust, it is obvious that in international affairs nothing can be taken for granted. Necessary measures need to be adopted to smooth any wrinkles in the relationship. There have also been some interesting regional as well as global developments during recent years which require further strengthening of PakChina rapport.
Pak-China interaction presently is limited to mostly inter-government contacts. People to people contacts are few and far between and play scant role in strengthening the bilateral relations. A sustained robust relationship would need understanding of each other’s culture, language, ways of life, regular people to people contact, interaction between media, joint participation in creative arts like cinema and music etc. Exchange of students, tourism and visits of cultural troupes keep mutual ties refreshed. Collaboration at think tanks’ level helps in correcting any distortion in perceptions.
It is very reassuring that China wants to see Pakistan as a prosperous and developed country and regards its problems sympathetically. Bureaucratic redtape and inefficient handling stand in the way of speedy execution of MoUs (Memorandum of Understandings) signed between the two countries. Over one hundred MoUs are awaiting concrete implementation measures.
China is Pakistan’s largest trade partner at the bilateral level. At the regional tier, Pakistan is China’s second largest trade partner in South Asia, while India is the first. However, Pak-China bilateral trade suffers from an imbalance. Pakistan’s imports from China exceed 6.5 b USD, while exports are merely 2.2 b USD. Hence, we need to review our policies to correct this imbalance.
Pakistani consumers often complain about the low quality and short operational life of Chinese goods. Both the countries need to take corrective measures to ensure requisite quality assurance of Chinese products sold inside Pakistan. In terms of investment, Chinese investors highlight the lack of investment areas in Pakistan. Moreover, energy crisis makes the situation worse. Ways and means need to be found to provide enabling environment to Chinese investors.
China is well aware of energy crisis in Pakistan and Chinese scholars suggest that Pakistan should not depend solely on the hydel projects for the generation of electricity but should also look for alternative means of energy production. Keeping in view Pakistan’s huge untapped potential in wind and solar means of electricity, Chinese investors should be encouraged and facilitated for participation in related energy projects. China is the only country that has been persistently helping Pakistan in the nuclear domain of power generation. This cooperation needs to be carried further and transfer of technology may be sought so that Pakistan could manufacture nuclear power reactors.
China has all along been a reliable supplier of military hardware and technology related know-how. Keeping in view the strings attached to the supply of military hardware by America and other Western countries, Pakistan should further build on this relationship and diversify its critical dependencies by initiating new projects with China. It would be worthwhile to join Chinese ventures in strategic domains like aircraft career and nuclear submarines.
China realizes Pakistan's importance in the region, and especially so in the context of Afghanistan. China thinks that without Pakistan there can be no durable peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan should urge China to play an active role in national reconciliation in Afghanistan.
Media reports about the presence of Uighur militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is another irritant in the bilateral relationship. While there are no precise figures as to how many Uighur militants are present in Pakistan, it is unlikely that the actual number would be very high; it could not be more than a hundred. However Pak-China cooperation in this regard continues.
The transition of leadership in China has taken place. The new leadership's priorities include eradication of corruption, promotion of economics and development of less developed regions of the country. The changing global environment, especially the presence of the U.S in Asia-Pacific; and resurgence of conflicts in the region present new challenges which were not faced by the previous leadership of China. Pakistan should strengthen its rapport with the new leadership and look for new opportunities which the change in leadership and its revised priorities may throw up.
Another irritant is the international propaganda against Pakistan-China friendship. Media, particularly Indian and Western, is full of reports about small events, such as the protest against Zulfiqarabad mega city, Gawadar port etc are highlighted as signs of anti-Chinese sentiments in Pakistan. This concerted campaign is aimed at the younger generation in China to malign them against Pakistan and thus weaken China- Pakistan relations.
Pakistan values its relations with China and does not take bilateral relations for granted. Islamabad needs to work hard to maintain as well as to further consolidate these relations. Trade imbalance between the two countries is not in favour of Pakistan. Pakistan needs to improve its markets to reduce the trade gap. China sees a greater role of Pakistan in peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan. Likewise Pakistan should pursue China to take the lead in intraAfghan reconciliation efforts and post 2014 stabilization of the country.
Recommendations • Indian involvement in Afghanistan is harming Pakistan’s core interests. India is carrying out military, political and intelligence activities under the cover of economic development. Pakistan needs to align its policy with China to counter balance Indian influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan and China should form a joint strategy for ensuring a stable and viable Afghanistan after the departure of the foreign forces. • China is not ready to annoy the U.S; it would not allow its support for Pakistan to impinge on its relations with Washington. Strategic planners of Pakistan should factor this limitation in their national strategic calculus. • •
Security of Chinese personnel working on various projects in Pakistan should be ensured. Western and Indian media is projecting Pakistan-China relations in a negative way. Pakistan and China should take active measures to counter this campaign. Interaction between media groups on both sides is necessary to counter international media campaign against the two countries. • To bridge the language gap, institutes should be established for teaching Chinese language to Pakistani people.
China offers scholarship programme for Pakistani Students, Pakistan should initiate such programme on reciprocal basis. China suggested alternative energy generation technologies in wind and solar domain should be incentivized. Pakistan should seek Chinese help in acquiring the capability of making nuclear power plants.
Pakistan should join strategic Chinese projects like aircraft carrier and nuclear submarines at R& D stages. Pakistan needs to make deliberate effort for maintaining friendly relations with China; continuation of high profile friendship should not be taken for granted.
Conclusion Pakistan enjoys good friendly ties with China. However there are some limitations of China which must be taken into consideration. China cannot be a replacement of the U.S for Pakistan, and there are issues where Beijing will not favour Pakistan beyond a point that could annoy America.
Pakistan needs to address issues which concern China. Beijing is interested in promoting trade and investment in Pakistan; however lack of infrastructure and energy crisis are major hurdles in this regard. These impediments should be removed through a long term strategy. The people to people contacts between the two countries need promotion so that the younger generations on both sides value the bilateral relations as much as the older generations did.