While implementing what is called “home turf diplomacy”, China is hosting a mega event, namely China International Import Expo (CIIE) in its commercial metropolitan, Shanghai, from November 5-10, 2018. A total of 82 countries and three international organizations will be showcasing their achievements in economic and trade development. As per local media reports, around 3,000 companies from over 130 countries have confirmed participation in the CIIE with a total booth area of 270,000 square meters. The participating countries also include the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) countries of which Pakistan is a major country due to its practical role in realizing (extra) regional market connectivity through construction of economic corridors. Thus, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has offered itself as a test case for the Belt and Road Initiative.
China International Import Expo, a unique event of its kind, is multi-purpose. One the one hand, it offers an opportunity to world leadership to head together to talk on issues that usually are not addressed due to time and space constraints and, on the other, provide a forum to talk businesse specially import opportunities, issues and prospects for further cooperation. Moreover, CIIE offers an opportunity to regional and global companies to interact, exchange ideas and explore avenues for furtherance of respective interest in a world which is beset with challenges of protectionism and prospects of economic globalization. In addition, the Import Expo helps generate cultural understanding among different participating nations. Pakistan is contributing to the Expo in more than one ways. At the government level, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, and officials of Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) are likely to attend the event. From the private sector, members of Pakistani business community are expected to register participation, as the event is a wonderful opportunity to understand import dynamics in China.
The Pakistani business community was also present during a two-day symposium and conference on China-Pakistan (Business) Cooperation held in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province, by Jiangsu Normal University. Members of Pakistani business community and academia, including this author, exchanged views with Chinese and, importantly, Iranian counterparts. Chinese scholarship argued that CPEC offers avenues for bilateral cooperation in industry, i.e. Special Economic Zones (SEZs), and agriculture, that could be linked with SEZs. On its part, Pakistani academics highlighted not only issues related, for example, to recent efforts to resist certain aspects of CPEC but also emphasized to expand CPEC to include Iran, Afghanistan and India. Hypothetically arguing, if the mentioned regional countries join CPEF, it will be a big boost to regional market connectivity and expansion but also a major diplomatic breakthrough to negotiate other bilateral and multi-lateral issues. Importantly, Iranian scholars, some of whom are studying Chahbhar, made a case for Gwadar-Chahbhar complementarity that will essentially benefit both Pakistan and Iran and will commercially interest China for trade with the Gulf, European, Arab and African countries.
CIIE offers an opportunity to regional and global companies to interact, exchange ideas and explore avenues for furtherance of respective interest in a world which is beset with challenges of protectionism and prospects of economic globalization. In addition, the Import Expo helps generate cultural understanding among differentparticipating nations
Besides, Pakistan can utilize China International Import Expo to explore export opportunities in other BRI countries. For example, East Asian economies and the Central Asian market need serious exploration at the policy and entrepreneurial level. In addition, the country ought to expand its bilateral trade with China above and beyond CPEC. The latter, in my view, could be seen as an add-on variable in China-Pakistan relations. Put differently, China-Pakistan relations predate CPEC and the latter is one component of bilateral (economic) relations. Nevertheless, CPEC is very crucial pillar of contemporary China-Pakistan relations as the former is so far the only bilateral economic corridor, out of the six proposed corridors, that is put to practice. Thus, the government in Pakistan need to view it accordingly as any unnecessary and unilateral action on CPEC carries negative implications for the overall spirit of the BRI.
Last but not the least, the world we are living in, is still consists of more poor than rich people. “There are more poor people in India than the total population of Bangladesh”, said an Indian scholar the other day. Moreover, 60 million people in Pakistan still live below the poverty line. With regard to poverty alleviation, modern China has set an example by putting some 600 million people out of poverty in just twenty years; and China is aiming at eradicating poverty for another 300 million heads in coming years. Pakistan in particular and the world in general has a lesson in this Chinese experience. Finally, this world need further opportunities to interact with and learn from inter subjectivities along with objective experimentation.
Thus, we need more, not less, globalization as a tool to, on the one hand, counter nationalistic protectionism and, on the other, as an instrument to exchange ideas and goods for the betterment, and not annihilation, of environment and humanity.
The author has taught at COMSATS, FC College and Iqra Universities in Pakistan. He was a visiting fellow at Fudan University in China and UC Berkeley in the US. Currently, he is based in Shanghai. He tweets @ejazbhatty
Published in Daily Times, November 3rd 2018.