THE visit made by Premier Imran Khan to China vindicates that Islamabad will regard its ties with China as a cornerstone of its foreign policy. Reciprocally, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang Saturday pledged to strengthen its all-weather strategic cooperative partnership with Pakistan and build a closer community with a shared future between the two countries. Chinese President Xi said that Beijing was “willing to work with the prime minister to strengthen the China-Pakistan all-weather strategic partnership and build a new era” in the two countries’ ties. The Chinese officials assured that they would not review , rather expand the positive constructivism- based CPEC trajectory. The joint communique is richly reflective of an all- round China-Pakistan bilateral mechanism on all necessary fronts between the two time-tested friendly states.
Beijing-Islamabad economic ties are also historically shaped by strategic priorities such as road connectivity in the border region of Gilgit-Baltistan and Xinjiang. Built in the 1970s, the Karakoram highway connects Pakistan’s north, via Gilgit-Baltistan, through the Khunjerab pass, to Xinjiang’s Kashgar prefecture, rising to 4,700m above sea level in rough mountainous terrain. The estrangement in US-Pakistan ties presents Beijing with an opportunity to promote a new model of international development to replace the dominant US model. As part of China’s geo-economically ambitious “Belt and Road Initiative”, Beijing preaches “wide consultation, joint development, and mutual benefits” in regional cooperation. This has won support from Pakistan, as demonstrated by Beijing’s success in the implementation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
As affirmed earlier, politically they [China and Pakistan] will further enhance political mutual trust, strategic communication and firmly support each other’s core interests and mutual concerns. The CPEC would provide a major boost to Pakistan’s economy by substantially increasing its trade volumes with other states. Apart from this, during the construction phase and after completion of the CPEC, Pakistan economic growth will get an increase by about 3 percent because of the increase in its industrial output via availability of electricity and because of enhanced production of the SEZs. Domestically, Pakistan’s local populations need to see dividends; benefits that overwhelmingly flow to outsiders would aggravate social and political divides, fuelling tension and potentially conflict.
CPEC offers a mix of concessionary loans, grants and public-private projects combining infrastructure, industrial zone development and integrated logistics. CPEC’s success will provide an early benchmark for China’s much larger and more ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, which commits $1 trillion in energy and infrastructure investment toward creation of a vast Eurasian trade area spanning 68 countries from China, via South and Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa, to Europe. CPEC’s Long-Term Plan (2017-2030), released in December 2017, defines the project broadly as “a growth axis and a development belt”, with “the comprehensive transportation corridor and industrial cooperation between Pakistan and China as the main axis” and “concrete economic and trade cooperation” as “the engine”. The plan names four priorities in Pakistan – the Gwadar port, energy, transport infrastructure and industrial cooperation, which would speed up Pakistan’s industrialisation and urbanisation.
‘’Reviewing with satisfaction the historical development of China-Pakistan relations and the great strides made, both sides reiterated that the friendship between Pakistan and China has withstood the test of time, notwithstanding the changes in domestic, regional and international environments. The two sides agreed to further strengthen the China-Pakistan All-Weather Strategic Cooperative Partnership, and build closer China-Pakistan Community of Shared Future in the new era in line with the principles set forth by the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Good-neighborly Relations between the People’s Republic of China and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan signed in 2005. Both sides agreed to strengthen coordination and cooperation on international and regional issues of common interest; and maintain close communication and coordination within international and regional organizations and mechanisms such as the United Nations, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), SAARC, the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA). China welcomed Pakistan’s membership of SCO and appreciated its active participation in the SCO Summit in Qingdao in June 2018.
They called on parties to uphold their respective commitments and to resolve all issues through dialogue. They opposed unilateral measures and long-arm jurisdiction that is inconsistent with the principles of international law.’’ China, Afghanistan and Pakistan over the past two years also have launched a trilateral engagement at the foreign ministers level, and the three sides are scheduled to meet in Kabul for another round of talks next month. Beijing is also engaged economically in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, suspension of US military aid to Pakistan also gives China the opportunity to focus on assisting the Pakistani military in counterterrorism operations. Beijing has strategically sought to bolster Islamabad’s capacity to serve as a hedge against India’s rise. China has offered long-time support to Pakistan’s missile and nuclear programme, jointly produced JF-17 fighter, and facilitated sale of Chinese-built submarines to Pakistan, among many other areas of cooperation.
‘’Both sides agreed to further enhance defence cooperation, maintain high-level visits and exchanges at various levels between relevant departments of the two armed forces, make full use of the China-Pakistan Defence and Security Consultation mechanism, deepen cooperation in areas such as military exercises, training cooperation, personnel exchanges, and equipment and technology cooperation.’’ Because OBOR consists of a continental Eurasian “Silk Road Economic Belt” and a Southeast Asian “Maritime Silk Road,” Pakistan has the potential to serve as a nexus for the two routes, and Beijing describes the CPEC as a “flagship project’’. Put pragmatically, Pakistani policymaking is still shaped by the ostensible strategic dividends of a close relationship with China as a counterpoint to India and a means of deflecting US pressure. In this backdrop, it may rightly be said that PM Imran Khan’s current visit to China ushers in a new heraldry of Pakistan-China futuristic relationship which could geopolitically and geo-economically influence the regional and trans-regional spectrum via CPEC’s open sesame to progress.
— The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum- analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of European Society of International Law (ESIL).