Sino-Pak friendship: Explaining the Variable | Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif

gathered here in Lahore, my thoughts go back to His Excellency President Xi Jinping’s historic visit to Pakistan. That was a truly a momentous occasion and today we see CPEC in motion.

China and Pakistan have always been wedded to their unique relationship. Our friendship has no precedent in modern history, simply because it is based on trust, understanding, honesty of purpose and sincerity of commitment. I would like to compliment Ambassador Sha Zukang, President of China-Pakistan Friendship Association for his excellent remarks. The Ambassador’s remarks made me speechless and made all of us very emotional because he spoke from his heart. He said all the right things. I think this is the essence and spirit of our relationship.

68 years have passed and our friendship remains unparalleled in contemporary history. Pakistan and China have been through thick and thin. However, this depth of friendship is not reflected in economic terms. One must admit there has always been a gap between depth of our friendship and economic bonding, whether it is in the form of trade, joint ventures, or investments.

Allow me to take up this question today. The fact of the matter is that this friendship, which is higher than Himalayas, deeper than the deepest seas and sweeter than the sweetest honey and marked by the nomenclature of ‘Iron Brothers’, has always been there. It has been a constant feature of our bond. But here is the catch, and I am not going to cast aspersion on the sincerity of any previous government of Pakistan. All of them have been wedded to this idea that we have to have the best of relations through the worst of circumstances. Be it peace, war, earthquake, or flood, this friendship has stood the test of time.

But the contradiction is that our trade with China has hovered around US $ 10 billion annually, while trade between China and India touched $80 billion mark, during the same time. While China has made investments around the world, why is it that Pakistan, its best friend, lags behind? That China becomes a hub of innovation, research and development, and modern hi-tech but Pakistan does not benefit from this wonderful opportunity available from our Chinese brothers and friends.

Without fear or favour, allow me to say that it is entirely our fault. How could this be possible in this day and age that China, which supported Pakistan through thick and thin, would have a bilateral trade of 80 billion dollars with a country it went to war with, while our trade just hovers around $10 billion? It does not make any sense except for our failure to seize the opportunity.

The only answer is that we lagged behind. We did not show enough urge, commitment and the desire to reach out to Chinese brothers and friends and attract their investment towards Pakistan’s economic portfolio. They never shied away. They were always there, dedicated and committed but obviously we had to have the right kind of environment to attract Chinese investments and businessmen to Pakistan.

This is not the time and the occasion to spell out why it happened and why we did not look at the East the way we were captivated by West. It is not a mistake to look towards the West but the mistake was that we missed out on the East altogether in terms of our priorities, our planning, and our vision. So I have explained the constant i.e. our friendship has always been there, no matter what happens in the world.

But then it is all about converting political goodwill into concrete economic relations. In today’s world, diplomacy is all about economy and economic cooperation. Gone are the days when diplomats had nothing to do with economic aspects of relations. Today diplomacy is all about economic matters.

The Government of Pakistan, under the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has had an unwavering commitment to the government and people of China, which has been reciprocated by the Chinese leadership. The unprecedented surge of economic and political relations during tenure of the present government is the variable which has added the much needed depth to our relations.

Ambassador Sha would testify that this One Belt, One Road vision was always there in one form of the Silk Road beginning from times immemorial. But the Chinese brought it into practical shape during the current tenure which has resulted in CPEC, the largest ever Chinese portfolio anywhere in the world. He is absolutely correct that Pakistan and other countries of Central Asia will be linked to One Belt, One Road. Similar facilities have been given to these countries so that the entire region grows economically.

Allow me to say that CPEC projects are not on papers anymore. As I speak, unprecedented construction work on these projects is underway, whether it is 1320-MW Port Qasim power project, 1320-MW Sahiwal Coal Power project or 1000-MW Quaid-e-Azam Solar Power Park in Bahawalpur or coal-based power projects in Sindh or hydropower projects in KPK, or development of Gwadar port in Balochistan. This has never happened in Pakistan. While MoUs and Agreements take years to mature, here is the history’s biggest departure. It was in April 2015 that these projects were signed during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan and work was started during last quarter of the same year.

China had other opportunities to commit these investments other than in Pakistan. But despite all our challenges of security, energy and other issues, China has decided to make investments here. Our Chinese friends did not take decisions due to commercial reasons. They took this decision overwhelming due to their friendship with Pakistan, their love for people of Pakistan and trust and faith in the leadership of PM Nawaz Sharif. This is the variable.

Such opportunities do not come very frequently; rather they are once-in-a-life-time historic moments. Now it is all up to the businessmen and investors from Pakistan and China to work on business to business engagement. The Governments of Pakistan and Punjab are there to support you. We will act just as catalyst. The government’s job is to provide enabling environment through policy instruments and other support. It is now up to you how you capitalize on these opportunities and convert them into mutually beneficial partnerships. For example, on both sides of the Corridor, you can have industrial estates. The Government of Punjab is ready to offer land for the industrial estates. Let the private sector come and invest in those areas with your Chinese counterparts.

China has already announced to shift their production capacity outside China because they have gone into hi-tech and their labour is becoming expensive. I can tell you with all authority at my command that Chinese leadership is ready to support all those ventures where these capacities are transferred to Pakistan. The CPEC projects will have sub-contracting. It is all up to businessmen and entrepreneurs how they come up with quality products, and attractive business proposals to establish joint ventures. So sky is the limit.

Suffice it say that it is now or never. This great opportunity must not be lost. Otherwise we would inflict permanent loss to our economy. We would betray the trust of people of Pakistan. All stakeholders i.e. the federal and provincial governments, traders, businessmen, and planners will have to stand up and be counted. These are great investments in Pakistan but they are great gifts from China. And then these investments do not carry any political strings or conditionality. China has always respected Pakistan’s sovereignty and independence. This is lesson of last 68 years. Let us resolve to leverage this opportunity to our advantage.

n This is excerpted from the keynote address that Punjab Chief Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif delivered at the China-Pakistan Business Friendship Conference in Lahore on Jan 20.


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