In these turbulent times, Pakistan’s relationship with China provides an essential anchor for its security and foreign policy and the foundation for its socioeconomic development. China meets Pakistan’s defence requirements; it is building Pakistan’s infrastructure; it is a bulwark against aggression by India and bullying by the US.
The trade tariffs Trump has imposed are unlikely to return many manufacturing jobs to America since most Chinese goods will continue to be cheaper than their alternatives. US consumers will pay higher prices. China-located supply chains of many US corporations will be disrupted, while China’s supply chains are mostly outside of the US. Nor will technology restraints significantly dent China’s 2025, technology programme, since it has already achieved considerable technological autonomy.
The prospects of the US ‘containing’ China in the Indo-Pacific is also marginal. This is China’s front yard. The US allies and friends in East Asia — even Japan, Australia and South Korea — are economically intertwined with China and will be reluctant to confront it. US Freedom of Navigation operations could lead to accidental conflict, as almost happened recently. Short of war, the US cannot wrest the South China Sea islands from China. A reckless US decision to discard the One-China policy could unleash a Chinese invasion on Taiwan.
Unlike India, Pakistan’s choice is clear. Its strategic partnership with China is critical for its national security and socioeconomic development. This choice automatically implies a strategic divergence with the US. The only question is whether Pakistan can maintain a modicum of cooperation with the US despite the strategic divergence. Pakistan has some room for manoeuvre as long as the US remains in Afghanistan, with or without a political settlement there.
If India chooses to remain aloof to form an alliance with the US, and moves closer to China and Russia, it could radically alter the calculus of the political and economic relationships in the entire region. A Sino-Indian rapprochement would increase the prospects of Pakistan-India normalisation and a compromise ‘solution’ for Kashmir. The visions of regional ‘connectivity’ would become reality. However, this scenario is highly unlikely until after the 2019 Indian elections.
In the first six decades, the relationship between Pakistan and China was mostly limited to the political sphere. There were frequent exchange visits of leadership of both countries to each other. Both countries supported each other on domestic issues, as well as on regional and international issues.
Pakistan’s choice is clear. Its strategic partnership with China is critical for its national security and socioeconomic development
With the launch of ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) initiatives and signing of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan and China entered a new era in their relationship. In addition to the already strong political and military relationship, economic relations have improved exponentially. Chinese investments are pouring into Pakistan, several mega projects have been launched in power generation and transmission. Basic infrastructure like motorways, railway, airports, seaports, oil and gas pipelines, optical fibre linkages are being upgraded and strengthened.
China has been trying to pursue an economic diplomacy with neighbouring countries. The modern Silk Road is a land and maritime initiative Involving the south and the east to construct huge roads, railways, and communications infrastructures, China’s Government policy is very friendly and does not want to dominate or influence its neighbours or the region. Several aspects of economic integration from plans about free trade, customs union, common markets, reduction of the tariffs, removing border barriers, to relaxation in rules and regulations, etc. Are among the several projects. The Chinese Government also emphasized to provide free and relax visa regimes members and secure stay, among their citizens. Therefore, all the economic effects will come under the economic integration theory.
The history of the ‘One Belt and One Road’ initiative is vital to see how the Chinese leadership floated the idea and moved to give concrete shape to it over a short span of two years from 2013-2016.
The Silk Road is an Eurasian ancient concept of land connectivity between China and other parts of the world including Asia, Africa, and Europe. The modern Silk Road idea, termed by President Xi Jinping, as the “One Belt and One Road” initiative is a strategic economic vision to create balanced development across Asia.
Chinese nationals are coming to Pakistan to help build a stronger and viable Pakistan. The number of visitors from China has exceeded the accumulated number of visitors from the rest of the world. Since then, people-to-people contacts have increased tremendously. The number of flights between two countries has quadrupled. Cultural exchanges are increasing with more Pakistani students learning Chinese and cultural troupes from two countries visiting each other. The strength of Pakistani students has gone up to 28,000. Nowadays China is one of the most desirable destinations of higher education for Pakistani students. Our friendship has expanded in all dimensions and has been forged into a strategic partnership. In fact, we have entered into a new era of relationship with China.
At present, CPEC is entering the next phase, where Pakistan will launch Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and China will shift its industry into Pakistan. The Pakistani private sector is gearing up for joint ventures with Chinese counterparts. Industrialisation will generate an abundance of job opportunities and increase national productivity. Industrial output will meet the requirements of the domestic market eventually, reducing our import bill as well as excess products will be exported reducing our trade gap and become a major source of foreign exchange. Agriculture is our economic backbone and will remain a key feature in CPEC’s next phase. The mining sector is another area which needs attention and will see a surge in the next phase. The real potential of growth of economic ties between China and Pakistan is huge. These two niche areas may be exploited immediately to fulfil our dream of the 21st century. China and Pakistan will work hand in hand to achieve a prosperous future.
The writer is a human rights activist, constitutional lawyer and teacher. He can be contacted at email@example.com
Published in Daily Times, December 5th 2018.