Friday, the third day of Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif’s visit to China when he held talks with Premier Li Keqiang, witnessed the signing of eight MoUs centred on Pakistan’s economic recovery and strategic cooperation between the two countries. Deficient energy, the single most nagging preoccupation of both the leaders and people of Pakistan today, elicited requests for help from the visiting dignitaries and pledges of support from the gracious hosts. The warm reception that Mian Nawaz received on reaching the historic Great Hall of the People was a reflection of the deep Pak-China understanding, which have over the years found expression in glorious terms, somewhat erring on the side of rhetoric: “higher than the Himalayas, deeper than the ocean” and now another simile “sweeter than honey”. But, it is now time to put more substance to these rhetorical expressions and for that the ball is in Islamabad’s court; for, it is Pakistani leadership that has invariably shied away from developing substantive cooperation even though the Chinese have been forthcoming. Not only has the bankrupt economy prompted Mian Nawaz to rush to China to seek help, but so must also have the geopolitical climate of the region where both the countries urgently need a close strategic cooperation to repel the pincer movement the opposing international forces are making. It is against this backdrop that PM Nawaz’s call, a day earlier on Thursday, on President Xi Jinping ought to be viewed. Both the leaders reaffirmed the strong nature of friendship as well as resolved to turn it into unique and exemplary in nature.

The MoUs pertained to projects that could enable Pakistan to break out of the gridlock of poverty: the ambitious $18 billion plan of building Pak-China economic corridor by which both sides set great store; undertaking solar energy projects; laying optic fibre for setting up communication link between Pakistan and China. There were also agreements to initiate training courses for textile, flood relief and disaster management and polio eradication; and increased economic and technical cooperation. In three days’ time Chinese construction firm would be sending its men to take up the 450MW Nandipur, reflecting both the dynamic approach of Punjab CM Mian Shahbaz Sharif and the Chinese readiness to respond.

Hopefully, the PM’s visit would reawaken the realisation that in line with the aspirations of the people the focus should shift from rhetoric, exemplified by a bilateral trade of mere $12 billion, to substance. There are immense prospects of mutual cooperation, which if exploited, could tie Pakistan and China into a strong force working for peace and prosperity in the region.