Our formal diplomatic relationship was established on 21st May 1951 but the history of our relationship goes back to thousands of years when the ancient Chinese traders went to Europe via present-day Pakistan for trading purposes. Pakistan was an important station on the ancient Silk Route. More than 2,000 years ago, famous Chinese monks like Fa Xian and Xuan Zang travelled to South Asia- (modern day Pakistan) to study Buddhism. Although it is mentioned in the famous book Journey to West that Fa Xian and Xuan Zang travelled to India for acquiring Buddhist knowledge, most of the names in the book (only mentioning a few) like Peshawar, Swat, Taxila, and Kashmir, all of which are in Pakistan. The first official delegation from Pakistan visited China on 4th January 1950, just three months after the People’s Republic of China came into being.
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. The Foreign Offices of both countries kept close coordination which resulted in a complete harmony on international affairs. We made big strides in bilateral ties and many MoUs were signed between the two countries.
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.
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.
Till date, CPEC progress is satisfactory and as desired. The early harvest projects have been finished within the timeline set in most cases. At the same time, 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 fulfill our dream of the 21st century. China and Pakistan will join shoulders and work hand in hand to achieve a prosperous future.
Long Live Pakistan-China friendship! Zhong-Ba You Yi Wan Sui!
Published in The Express Tribune, May 21st, 2018.,