This article, which is devoted to Pakistan’s vital friendship with China, is the third and the final one in the series of articles on China (“Letter from China”, 13 March; “China and the West”, 27 March) that I have written following my visit to Beijing and Shanghai last month. Pakistan-China friendship undoubtedly has stood the test of time. Since 1963 when the two countries signed the border demarcation agreement, the friendship between the two countries has steadily grown in strength despite the vicissitudes of time and changes of governments on both sides. The secret of the steady growth of this friendship lies in policies of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs followed by the two countries, the convergence of their strategic interests, and mutual cooperation in various fields. Further, it must be emphasized that Pakistan-China friendship not only serves their best interests but also strengthens regional peace and stability.
It is indeed fortunate that authorities and the people on both sides are fully aware of the significance of Pakistan-China friendship and are determined to strengthen it further. During my visits to Beijing and Shanghai which enabled me to exchange views with Chinese diplomats and scholars, I was greatly impressed by the Chinese desire to raise Pakistan-China friendship and cooperation to new heights. President Xi Jinping, during his visit to Pakistan in April, 2015, had called Pakistan as “Iron Brother” which means a friend who is firm and solid as iron. I was recently informed by a friend, who is well versed in Chinese language, that calling a friend “Iron Brother” is the highest praise and affection that can be expressed for a friend in Mandarin. The use of this phrase for Pakistan by President Xi Jinping simply shows that China attaches the highest importance to Pakistan-China friendship in the conduct of its foreign policy. There is no doubt that these friendly sentiments are fully reciprocated by Pakistani people and government.
Over the past several decades, Pakistan-China cooperation in political, security, economic, commercial, and cultural fields has followed an upward trajectory. Both sides recognize the need to deepen this cooperation even further. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor
(CPEC) agreement, which envisages Chinese investment exceeding $60 billion in various sectors in Pakistan during the period from 2015-30 as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is both a reflection of the close Pakistan-China ties and a demonstration of their determination to strengthen them further. In the economic field, it will provide Pakistan, which suffers from the shortage of capital, valuable Chinese investment in various sectors, thus, helping to accelerate Pakistan’s economic growth.
The development of road and rail networks from Pakistan-China border to Gwadar and the establishment of special economic zones along the way will contribute to the raising of the productivity of the manufacturing sector in various parts of Pakistan. CPEC would also have the additional advantage of facilitating Pakistan-China trade, China’s transit trade through Pakistan, and turning Pakistan into a regional trading hub by encouraging regional trade on the north-south routes. As a direct result of CPEC, Gwadar has the potential to emerge as a major port at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, lightening the burden of handling maritime trade on Karachi. The completion of various projects under CPEC would certainly help in opening up economically and commercially various remote areas in the country. In particular, Balochistan, which is badly in need of investment and facilitation of trade, would benefit from CPEC leading to its rapid economic progress.
From China’s point of view also, CPEC carries special importance as it would greatly reduce the distance to the sea for the maritime trade of its western provinces like Xinjiang, thus, providing them with short and easy access to the Persian Gulf region and the Arabian Sea. Even countries in the Persian Gulf including Iran and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council would find it to their advantage to use CPEC routes through Pakistan for trade with China. CPEC may also encourage some Chinese industries to relocate their manufacturing activities to Pakistan to take advantage of the cheaper labour available in the country.
Finally, CPEC has sent a message loud and clear to the regional countries and the major world powers of the determination of Pakistan and China to strengthen further their strategic partnership. Beijing is fully aware of the US policy to contain China and its serious implications for its security. Besides repositioning its forces in the Asia-Pacific region, the US is engaged in strengthening its alliances with Japan, South Korea, and Australia, and developing its strategic ties with India as part of its containment of China policy. CPEC virtually provides China with a strategic bypass for overcoming the US efforts to contain the expansion of its power and influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region. The project by promoting Pakistan-China strategic partnership would also act as an important balancing factor in the face of the rapidly growing US-India strategic ties, thus, helping to strengthen regional peace and stability.
CPEC, thus, carries enormous economic and strategic advantages for both Pakistan and China. In view of its enduring hostility towards Pakistan, India is obviously unhappy at the prospect of rapidly growing economic and strategic ties between Beijing and Islamabad. The US also would not like CPEC to succeed as it undermines its efforts to contain China. For these reasons, these two countries can be expected to use overt and covert means to promote propaganda against CPEC with a view to building up public opinion against it in Pakistan. The disinformation campaign against CPEC would aim at creating doubts about its benefits and using various nonsensical arguments to undermine it. Unfortunately, some of our so-called analysts have fallen victim to the disinformation campaign which has been launched against CPEC. Our government should counter this anti-CPEC propaganda campaign by providing necessary information to rebut the spurious arguments being employed to bring this project, which is vital for Pakistan’s economic progress and security, into question.
India, which has maintained a hostile attitude towards Pakistan since 1947, would not desist from using covert means to subvert CPEC and foment political instability in the country. The arrest of the Indian spy, Kulbhushan Jadhav who was engaged in terrorist activities in Pakistan, shows the extent to which India can go in pursuance of its policy to destabilize Pakistan internally. Political forces and the various centers of power in Pakistan should beware of Indian attempts to destabilize our country and weaken it internally. In the face of the continued Indian hostility towards Pakistan and its atrocities to maintain its military occupation of Kashmir and silence the voice of the people of the territory for freedom, it is imperative that we do not fall prey, wittingly or unwittingly, to New Delhi’s attempts to create disunity amidst us.
What we need at this critical juncture is a spirit of national unity in the face of Indian hostile activities. National unity and political stability in the country can be strengthened only on the basis of respect for the constitution by the different organs of the state, the strengthening of representative institutions of the state, rule of law, and the provision of social and economic justice to the common man. No individual or organ of the state should behave as if it has the monopoly of wisdom, patriotism, or concern for the welfare of the common man. All organs of state should remain within their constitutional limits in the performance of their duties.
The writer is a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.