The just concluded visit to China by Prime Minister Imran Khan is of immense significance as it has added new dimensions to the already existing strategic partnership and economic cooperation between the two countries, more so in the context of the present financial crisis faced by Pakistan besides quashing rumours regarding revisiting some of the agreements under CPEC. The joint statement issued at the conclusion of his visit reveals complete agreement by both sides for timely completion of the ongoing CPEC related projects to realize its full potential with a focus on socio-economic development, job creation and livelihoods, acceleration of cooperation in industrial development, industrial parks, agriculture and the long term resolve to build closer China-Pakistan community of shared future in the new era. That opens up new avenues of cooperation under CPEC and its expansion to other areas.

Earlier Chinese vice foreign minister Kong Xuanyu while briefing the media strongly ruled out any change in the number of projects under CPEC saying there had been no change in the number of projects under the framework and if there was any change it would be increase in the number of projects and going forward. In the context of helping Pakistan to cope with the current financial crunch he said “During the meeting the two sides had made it clear in principle that China government would provide necessary support and assistance to Pakistan in tiding over the current economic difficulties. As far as specific measures to be taken, the competent authorities of the two countries would have detailed discussions. Pakistan’s finance minister Asad Umar talking to a local channel confirmed that talks with government of China regarding financial package which would also include relief package were underway. After the conclusion of the visit while addressing a joint press conference with the foreign minister he said “Pakistan has come out of a balance of payment crisis after Saudi Arabia and China equally filled a gap of $12 billion in its payments. Our balance of payment crisis is over as our gap on the external front of $12 billion has been filled. Saudi Arabia has already provided $6 billion and the remaining is under discussion with China,” What he said reflects the confidence that China would be providing a package in the vicinity of $ 6 billion.

The two sides agreed to task the CPEC joint cooperation committee (JCC) with exploring new areas of cooperation and decided to hold the eighth session of the committee in Beijing before the end of the year. Accordingly a working group on socio-economic development to assist with livelihood projects in Pakistan was also formed. The PTI government led by Imran Khan has been stressing the expansion of CPEC to socio-economic sectors as well as some other areas of the country, for which it has been successful in getting a positive nod from the Chinese.

Pakistan and China also inked 15 agreements to further deepen bilateral cooperation in multiple spheres, including economy, agriculture, law enforcement and technology. The Chinese assistance will also be directed towards education, health, poverty alleviation, safe drinking water and vocational training. China has also agreed to give Pakistan anti-corruption formula to tackle burgeoning corruption, which has been the bane of her Socio-Economic development and now is the top most priority of the PTI government.

The two sides also agreed to take concrete measures to address trade imbalance. In this regard China has agreed to carry out bilateral trade with Pakistan in the Chinese Yuan instead of US dollars. This unprecedented concession in the eyes of the economists would go a long way in reducing Pakistan’s massive 87% trade deficit with Beijing and reduce pressure on her depleting foreign currency reserves. The annual trade volume between the two countries is about $15 billion of which Chinese exports to Pakistan are estimated at around $13 billion. The state bank of Pakistan has already declared Yuan as an approved foreign exchange for all purposes in the country. In the current scenario when the reserves of the country have fallen to less than $8 billion, the significance of this concession could hardly be over-emphasized. It could only be expected from a friend like China.

The foregoing gains surely indicate successful presentation of Pakistan’s case to the Chinese leaders by Prime Minister Imran Khan and his diplomatic skills that have added new warmth and depth to the everlasting strategic cooperation between two iron brothers. Prime Minister Imran Khan during his visit called on president Xi Jinping, held talks with Premier Li Keqiang, met with chairman of the standing committee of the National People’s Congress Li Zhanshu and vice President of China Wang Qishan.

The CPEC has actually given eternity to the relations between the two countries. It undoubtedly represents a transformational change and a gate-way to prosperity for the entire region. Prime Minister Imran Khan was right on money when addressing the opening ceremony of China International Import Expo he remarked “CPEC will serve as a vital link for the two countries to the Middle East, Central Asian republics and open fresh avenues of investments and new markets and vistas” China and Pakistan are fully cognizant of importance of the BRI initiative and its vital component the CPEC. The joint statement issued at the end of the visit rightly dismissed the growing negative propaganda against CPEC and expressed determination to safeguard the projects under it from all threats

Pakistan is lucky to have friends like China and Saudi Arabia who have always stood by her in times of adversity. The former has played a significant role in the economic progress of Pakistan. The construction of KKH Highway, Heavy Mechanical Complex at Taxila, Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and Chashma Nuclear Plants are the monuments of the ever-spiking relationship.

Pakistan and China also have very strong defence ties. It is pertinent to point out that in early March 2017 Chinese-built Low to Medium altitude Air Defence System was inducted into the air defence system of the Pakistan Army that would considerably enhance its response capability to the current and emerging threats as the Chinese Mobile Air Defence system is capable of tracking and destroying variety of aerial targets at longer ranges flying at low and medium altitudes. The co-production of JF-17 Thunder aircraft at PAC is yet another milestone in defence relations between the two countries.

Reportedly Global Times a tabloid associated with People’s Daily, a mouthpiece of Communist party of China revealed during the visit of COAS General Bajwa to China in last March that China planned to scale up its defence cooperation with Pakistan, including ballistic and cruise missiles besides joint mass production of multi-role combat aircraft. Though the spokesman of the Chinese foreign ministry evaded a direct answer to the media question on the subject but thought it suffice to say “Beijing stands for strategic balance in South Asia”. China is indeed a true friend and has not only played unprecedented role in the economic uplift of Pakistan but also boosted her defence capabilities to cope with the security challenges.

 

The writer is a freelance columnist.