By Malik Muhammad Ashraf
To say that the relations between Pakistan and China are “deep-rooted” would be an understatement. They are vibrant, ever-growing and, perhaps, indescribable by any word in the diplomatic parlance. Therefore, the correct expression would be to term it “higher than the Himalayas”. This friendship is, indeed, underpinned by mutual trust and confidence; close identity of views and mutuality of interests remain the hallmark of the bilateral ties.
China over the years has supported the Kashmir cause and extended liberal economic and military assistance to Pakistan. When Pakistan was abandoned by the US during the 1965 war with India, China helped the State, as it did in each and every subsequent crisis. Also, an assistance of well over $42 million for the recent flood victims adequately reflects the strength of friendly sentiments. In this time of crisis, China is the only country that has expressed solidarity with Pakistan, supported its counterterrorism strategy, called upon the international community to support it and reiterated respect for its national sovereignty at all times. Islamabad, too, has been supporting Beijing on all the important issues, including the question of China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet and other sensitive matters such as human rights. Like the Pakistani leaders, the Chinese too appreciate their steadfast and unqualified support.
China has also played a significant role in the economic progress of Pakistan. The construction of KKH Highway, Heavy Mechanical Complex at Taxila and Chashma nuclear plant are the monuments of the ever-spiking relationship. Against the backdrop of US-India deal for the transfer of civilian nuclear technology, which Pakistan regards as discriminatory, China again exhibited friendship between the two countries by agreeing to set up two nuclear power units at Chashma, notwithstanding US concerns, and an agreement to that effect was signed on June 8, 2010, during President Asif Zardari’s visit to Beijing.
Although the curve of relations between the two countries has always been moving upwards irrespective of who was in power in Pakistan, yet it is a reality that it has soared to dizzying heights during the present regime. The interactions between the leadership of the two countries have produced very positive results in the expansion of economic cooperation, besides strengthening the process of consultations about security issues of the region and efforts to jointly quell terrorism.
Currently, China is working on a plan for the upgradation of KKH at an approximate cost of $500 million and in building 165km Jaglot-Skardu and 135km Thakot-Sazin roads in Gilgit-Baltistan at a cost of Rs45 billion. It would pay 85 percent of the cost, while Pakistan will contribute 15 percent. Also, a rail link between the two countries is envisaged to be built. Besides this, China is helping Pakistan to tide over the energy crisis. It is working on 17 mega projects in the energy sector in Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir. A very significant project in hand is the significant upraising of the Mangla Dam reservoir. As part of resettlement of the dam affectees, the Chinese firm, International Water and Electric Corporation (CIW&EC), is also working on the construction of a bridge over Jhelum River in the same area.
Moreover, trade between the two countries has been expanding. China is the fifth largest source for Pakistani imports; bilateral trade between the two countries touched $7 billion mark in 2008. Under a five-year programme launched in 2006, this volume is proposed to be enhanced to $15 billion by 2012. In the past few years, the Chinese have made an investment of $1.3 billion in Pakistan. A number of Chinese companies are working in the oil and gas, IT, telecom, engineering, power generation and mining sectors.
The new dimension imparted to the bilateral relations between the two countries by the present government reflects a marked departure from our perennial propensity to look up to the West, particularly the US, for our security and economic progress. The enhanced economic, political and strategic cooperation between China and Pakistan will contribute immensely to warding off the lurking dangers and consolidating the gains of the efforts made for changing the economic situations of the people of both the countries. This renewed and vigorous engagement between the two countries is an encouraging development, as it will greatly benefit Pakistan by re-invigorating commercial and industrial activities and creating new jobs. This will, indeed, restore the confidence of the international community in Pakistan as a ‘safe’ place to invest.
The writer is a freelance columnist.