Pakistan-China friendship undoubtedly has stood the test of time. Since 1963 when the two countries signed the border demarcation agreement, the friendship between the two countries has steadily grown in strength despite the vicissitudes of time and changes of governments on both sides. The secret of the steady growth of this friendship lies in policies of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs followed by the two countries, the convergence of their strategic interests, and mutual cooperation in strategic, political, security, economic, commercial, and technical fields. Pakistan-China friendship not only serves their best interests but also strengthens regional peace and stability.

China attaches high priority to its friendly relations with Pakistan. President Xi Jinping, during his visit to Pakistan in April 2015 to sign CPEC agreement, called Pakistan an “Iron Brother” which means a friend who is firm and solid as iron. Calling a friend “Iron Brother” is the highest praise and affection that can be expressed in Mandarin. The use of this phrase for Pakistan by President Xi Jinping simply shows that China attaches the highest importance to Pakistan-China friendship in the conduct of its foreign policy.

Over the past several decades, Pakistan-China cooperation in various fields has followed an upward trajectory. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement, which envisages Chinese investment amounting to $62 billion in various sectors in Pakistan as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is both a reflection of the close ties between the two countries and an evidence of their determination to strengthen them further. In the economic field, it will provide Pakistan, which suffers from the shortage of capital, valuable Chinese investment in various sectors, thus, helping to accelerate Pakistan’s economic growth. The development of road and rail networks from Pakistan-China border to Gwadar, the establishment of special economic zones along the way, and the development of Gwadar seaport would facilitate Pakistan-China trade, encourage Chinese industrialists to relocate their manufacturing units to Pakistan to take advantage of comparatively cheaper Pakistani labour, and promote China’s transit trade through Pakistan, thus, igniting the engine of economic growth in Pakistan and turning it into a regional trading hub on north-south and east-west trading routes.

CPEC has also sent a message loud and clear to regional countries and major world powers of the determination of Pakistan and China to strengthen further their strategic partnership. CPEC provides China with a strategic bypass in the face of US efforts to contain the expansion of its power and influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region by building up its strategic cooperation with India. From Pakistan’s point of view, CPEC by promoting strategic partnership between China and Pakistan would strengthen Pakistan’s security in the face of the enduring threat posed by India and serve the cause of regional peace and stability. CPEC, thus, carries enormous economic and strategic advantages for both Pakistan and China. For the same reasons, India and the US have left no doubt about their resolute opposition to CPEC. In particular, India can be expected to use all the tricks of trade to implement its nefarious designs against Pakistan. The recent decision by India to cancel the proposed meeting between the Foreign Ministers of Pakistan and India on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly is merely the latest instance of India’s hegemonic mindset, its unremitting hostility towards Pakistan, and the growing influence of Hindutva or Hindu religious extremism and bigotry under the present Modi-led BJP government.

There would not have been any need for this primer in the importance of Pakistan-China strategic partnership and CPEC but for the disinformation campaign unleashed by certain vested interests to discredit both since the signing of the CPEC agreement. It was particularly disturbing, therefore, that Abdul Razak Dawood, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Commerce, Textile, Industry and Investment, reportedly made remarks critical of CPEC in an interview published by the Financial Times on 9 September. According to the British daily, Razak Dawood, after criticizing the manner in which CPEC had been negotiated to the disadvantage of Pakistan and Pakistani companies, suggested that Pakistan “should put everything on hold for a year so we can get our act together”. He reportedly added, “Perhaps we can stretch CPEC out over another five years or so.” The Financial Times report was particularly unfortunate as it coincided with the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Pakistan during which both sides reaffirmed their commitment to upgrade their strategic ties and their support to CPEC and its expeditious implementation.

Razak Dawood did clarify that he had been quoted out of context by the Financial Times. But one wonders what prompted him to express publicly his critical views on such a sensitive matter, which carries extremely important implications for Pakistan’s security and economic well-being, instead of using diplomatic channels for seeking necessary clarifications and even changes in the various projects under the umbrella of CPEC, if considered necessary in the interest of Pakistan. His reported remarks aimed at putting the various CPEC projects on hold for a year and delay their implementation were particularly damaging because if implemented, they would not only lead to a sharp escalation of their costs but would also sabotage CPEC and undermine Pakistan-China strategic partnership. This is precisely the goal of Pakistan’s enemies.

It is worth mentioning here that Foreign Minister Wang Yi during his visit to Pakistan from 7-9 September pointed out that CPEC had not inflicted a debt burden on Pakistan. He stressed that CPEC had helped increase Pakistan’s economic growth rate and created 70,000 additional jobs in Pakistan. According to him, 22 operational CPEC projects, of which nine had been completed, had triggered investment worth 19 billion dollars so far. FM Wang Yi also expressed China’s readiness to enhance China’s cooperation with Pakistan in agriculture, education and health sectors to the benefit of the Pakistani people. The Chinese side during the visit further agreed to facilitate Pakistan’s exports to China to reduce the trade imbalance.

FM Qureshi for his part assured his Chinese counterpart that Pakistan would continue to accord top priority to CPEC. (The same commitment was reiterated by PM Imran Khan in his meeting with the visiting Chinese FM.) Both sides also agreed to enhance cooperation in defence and security fields. Separately, in a meeting between the Pakistan Minister for Planning and his Chinese counterpart on 9 September, the two countries agreed to invite third country investors to participate in CPEC projects. The reported willingness of Saudi Arabia and Iran to associate themselves with CPEC should be seen in this perspective.

Adviser Razak Dawood’s remarks as carried by the Financial Times, therefore, were at variance with the declared position of the government of Pakistan besides being ill-timed and damaging to Pakistan’s national interests. His comments prompted both the governments of Pakistan and China to issue statements reiterating their commitment to CPEC. Razak Dawood himself had to issue a clarification reaffirming Pakistan’s unwavering commitment to CPEC. This whole episode brings home the necessity of greater caution on the part of the Ministers and Advisers of the present government while expressing their views publicly on sensitive issues of strategic importance. Above all, they should not lose sight of the forest while counting the trees or, in PM Imran Khan’s words, not to overlook the larger picture in their comments. This is particularly important in commenting on issues of strategic importance relating to China with which Pakistan’s national interests are closely engaged.

 

The writer is a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.

javid.husain@gmail.com