There are no two opinions that the twenty-first is destined to be Asia’s century. Asian states, therefore, particularly ours that is so strategically situated geopolitically have to keep this in mind while doing their calculations. Some of our relationships in the Asian context are of vital importance and no one should be allowed to tinker with them.
The relations between Pakistan and China fall in this category. Before going further, some incontrovertible facts need to be put on record. Firstly, let us not forget that we are a proud nation of some hundred and eighty million people rather than the collateral appendage of some outsiders’ scheme of things. China, our neighbour, happens to be an ancient civilization and as a friend and next-door neighour we have a lot to learn from it. In our inexplicable propensity to go gaga over anything that is West-oriented we must not lose sight of the possibility that our ultimate destiny may lie with our neighbourhood to the East.
Talk of Pakistan-China ties has by now become something of a cliché with us. And much like a habit of long standing, it comes naturally to most pen-pushers who don’t even bother to delve into what they are driving at. Extolling of Pakistan-China friendship has, therefore, become something of a de rigueur in press parlance as well as after dinner repartee. This tendency, though natural in many ways, also has its pitfalls. In the field of international affairs, relations between countries –friendly or otherwise – should ever be in a state of constant evolution; never static and, in no case, stagnant. An unpardonable error our side is apt to commit is living too much in the past. Most pieces on the subject begin by highlighting the ups of our bilateral ties in the past and end with a string of clichés. Not that one has any serious objection to this line of approach. The pity is that what we have settled for is to relive the high points of the past of this glorious relationship embellished with hollow expressions of pious hopes of its continuation in the same vein. International relations must never be allowed to stagnate, but should rather be in a state of constant evolution.
The international scene has undergone a sea change over the turn of the millennium. Paradigms, such as they were, have lost the glimmer of old and, in most cases, will need to be formulated anew. It is in this context, that the relations between Pakistan and China in the twenty-first century would deserve to be re-evaluated, re-oriented and, indeed, re-vitalized. But age-old parameters must not crumble. One of the constants in the evolving Pakistan-China relations has been the resolve not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs. In fact, it is this constant that has etched the course of this relationship that has aroused the wonder and, at times, the jealousy of several interested outsiders. China has observed with interest several upheavals inside Pakistan over the decades. Besides its benevolent interest, China has scrupulously avoided any move or observation that could even remotely be construed as interference in this country’s internal affairs. We have responded in kind. There is no reason to alter this equation.
Needless to state our relations must evolve with the times. But there is no justification in moving the goal posts. For one thing, we have much to learn from China. China appears to be a country in a hurry, bent upon making up for the lost time. Development is taking place at a feverish pace. What is more, the development activity is not at all haphazard but is extremely well-planned. The infrastructure, the development projects and the industrial complexes are all parts of a giant jigsaw puzzle that appears to be emerging out of the landscape as a well- choreographed whole. Nothing appears to be either incongruous or misplaced; each piece of the puzzle is meticulously planned to fit in its proper place.
All one can wish for is that our planners would break out of their stupor, shed the web of statistics that they have conveniently woven around their public pronouncements and learn a few lessons from our Chinese friends. China is like a sleeping giant that has woken up. Through its pragmatic policy over the past decades, China has successful shifted its emphasis from political issues to economic development. Not that China has sacrificed any of its principles, just that it has taken a conscious decision to reorder its priorities to conform to its national interest. Coming back to Pakistan-China relations, time is ripe to break out of the strait jacket of hollow slogans and come down to brass tacks. Realism demands that our friendly relations be given some economic, commercial and cultural moorings. While we have been expending our energy in raising hollow slogans, other countries of the region have left us far behind. India, for instance, has developed into China’s biggest economic and commercial partner in the region. Conversely, China has emerged as India’s biggest trading partner.
One must not lose sight of the fact that Pakistan started with an initial advantage, but we have not only failed to build on the base but may actually be in the process of doing some damage to the foundations. One notices in particular the virtual absence of mutually beneficial joint ventures. Commercial exchanges too have become a little too one-sided. We have failed rather miserably to expand our exports base. The Free Trade Agreement that was heralded as a landmark can be effective only if we put our own house in order. And we must do it quickly or we are in imminent danger of missing the bus. A new generation is slowly but surely taking over the reins of power in China. This younger generation will be guided more by pragmatic considerations and less by inane sloganeering. It is imperative that our younger generation is also educated in the intricacies of the Eastern ethos. Over-dependence on Western mores may not be what our destiny calls for or what the nation, in deed, deserves.
It is in the context of the foregoing that we must nurture our relations with China. The guiding principles on which our relations are founded must not be lost sight of. In particular, it is hardly in our interest to jump to unwarranted conclusions in relation to our great neighbour’s internal affairs. It is for China, and China alone, to sort out its internal problems without outside interference. And it does not behove our liberals to offer gratuitous advice where none is called for.
Pakistan-China ties in focus.