The ‘China Model’ of International Relations is enshrined in the wisdom of having bilateral economic engagements despite geopolitical tensions. Within the region, China has a history of political disagreements with countries such as India, Taiwan, and Japan; however, these differences were never allowed to cloud China’s economic interests.
Hence, Pakistan has a role model to emulate in form of China. For far too long, our geopolitical estrangements with regional countries have been the cause of sullied bilateral ties. However, Chinese engagement with regional partners provides an effective blueprint for Islamabad’s new Foreign Policy.
The year 2017 was rough for both India and China. The Doklam standoff, Beijing’s consistent refusal to support India’s stance on declaring Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar as global terrorists at the United Nations, and China’s lack of support for India’s Nuclear Supplier’s Group (NSG) membership were a few irritants that kept bilateral relations tense. Yet, the year ended on a positive note for both the countries. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited New Delhi, and a meeting for the 20th round of border talks was held between the Indian National Security Advisors Ajit Doval and Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi.
The year 2018 was not different. Representatives of both the countries met at the 11th session of India-China Joint Group on Economic Relations, Trade, Science, and Technology along with initiating talks on the Free Trade Agreement. Moreover, both the countries also participated in the fifth iteration of the bilateral Strategic Economic Dialogue, and then explored ways to enhance trade and investment cooperation. This continuation of dialogue is a reflection of the modus operandi that, differences notwithstanding, China desires to maintain strong relations with New Delhi. According to India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the bilateral trade between India and China has grown from $38.02 billion to $71.45 billion over the past decade. A significant rise was seen in 2011-2012 and 2014-15 because of an increase in Chinese exports to India.
Over the years, India has pressed for a more significant role in the international sphere; a key aspect of which has been India’s ambition to get a permanent member seat at the United Nations Security Council. Though many international powers, such as the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Russia, supported India, China relented. Given China and India’s dispute over the border issue running over decades, and both the countries’ desire to seek influence and a strategic toehold in South Asia region and the Indian Ocean, not many were surprised by China’s decision. India may have felt the pinch, but neither disrupted their economic relations.
Post the Cold War, the world has increasingly become multi-polar with regional integrations gaining traction. Unification on the basis of ideology was relevant before globalization and until the Cold War. In the New World Order, which emerged after the collapse of the USSR, intra-state wars became common, and a new term in the international lexicon was introduced, known as ‘Ethnic Cleansing.’ From Algeria to Central Africa to Europe to Central Asia, the world saw people getting slaughtered in the name of ethnicity and religion. Irregular warfare, which included insurgency, guerrilla warfare and terrorism, replaced regular armed struggle. At this juncture, the world was in dire need of a new kind of bond that transcended culture, religion, borders, and ethnicity.
China’s breaking away with the communist model of closed economy and embracing capitalism with a regional outlook provided just that model. The economic transformation of China gave rise to a new power structure, which was rooted in peaceful regional economic integration rather than on the interventionist policies that the US had used all along.
Once again, it was proven that free trade helped achieve peace. Before China, the European continent, in form of the European Union, had effectively implemented this model. Economic interdependence preceded Europe’s unification under the broader umbrella of the European Union. Today, economic interests drive International Relations. Stanford economists Mathew O. Jackson and Stephen Nei’s study on the relationship between interstate conflict and free trade has established that interstate conflicts from 1820-1945 to 1950-2000 declined because of international trade.
India, undeniably, has had the desire to build its hegemony over its neighbours and wanted Pakistan to acquire a smaller role in the regional affairs, which Pakistan refused to comply with. However, instead of matching India’s economic muscle, Pakistan chose to get into the nuclear race and developed a proclivity to brand India as its arch-enemy. In the natural consequence, Pakistan became a security state and all its domestic and foreign policies emanated from India-centrism. Huge bulks of resources were shifted from development work to developing garrisons. Moreover, while the military grew in strength and stature, the civilian face of politics – democracy and constitutional rule – diminished; resulting in the weakening of institutions and rising corruption.
The civil-military nexus and division, both, have been used and misused to alter Pakistan’s political landscape at the cost of people’s welfare. To wrangle itself from this dilemma, Pakistan needs to look beyond itself and replace the security state mindset with the one that is based on bilateral economic relations with neighbours and beyond. Economy, and not nuclear capabilities, should be made the deterrent to war. China has advised Pakistan to grow out of the Kashmir centred India policy, and instead of fighting over it, should ‘work’ for its resolution.
For so long, Indo-Pak ties have been undermined by trust deficit, terrorism and cross-border skirmishes. And because Pakistan and India stop talking to each other and discontinue the process of dialogue at every disruption, this cycle never breaks. Whether one likes it or not, the reality is that Pakistan is more in need of economic assistance than India. How long shall we live on debt? Has the time not arrived to move on, and build an economic infrastructure that produces indigenous wealth?
Pakistan needs to shore up manufacturing and trade to generate employment, tax revenue, and welfare. Trade relations with India can prove to be the key for that. Once our economic relationship with India restores, it will induce confidence in the international investors about Pakistan’s resilience to ‘think regional’ and maintain relations through dialogue, diplomacy and not through proxies. Currently, the official bilateral trade between India and Pakistan is barely $5 billion, which has the potential to easily go up to $30 billion. Moreover, both governments lose millions in potential customers and revenue to illicit trade and smuggling.
Hence, rather than waiting for some breakthrough or finding a solution to connect with the outer world through CPEC or Chahbahar, creating a jointly run special economic zone along the Punjab borders – that separates both India and Pakistan – could be a useful first step.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore.