For me, business is a comprehensive term that includes production, contracts, joint ventures, equity participation, direct investment, financial and banking linkages, and trade. This kind of business between Pakistan and China is going to increase exponentially in the years to come.

Pakistan-China friendship is the stuff of legends. In interstate relations, the strength, longevity and resilience of our relations are cited as a model. Our strategic partnership is the backbone of these relations. But the relationship of the two countries will continue to flourish with full vigour if we ensure fusion of all the three pillars of our relations - strategic, economic and people-to-people exchanges. I am confident that our business relations are going to be as robust as our strategic partnership.

My optimism is based on the following reasons:

One, because of our unanimity on regional and international issues there is an excellent enabling environment for businesses on both sides.

Two, during the frequent high level visits, economic and trade relations are put on top of the bilateral agenda. Every time there is a high level visit, the decision making machineries of the two sides are mobilised to complete existing projects and identify new ones. For instance, a long-term roadmap for cooperation was developed during the recent visits of President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and Premier Wen Jiabao.

Three, the two sides have developed a good working architecture for economic relations. We have a bilateral Five Year Development Programme for Trade and Economic Cooperation. The first five-year programme has been completed. The second, which starts this year, undertakes 36 projects with planned investment of approximately $14 billion. This programme is run by a ministerial level Joint Economic Commission (JEC) and Economic Cooperation Group (ECG).

Free Trade Agreements on goods, investment and services are stimulating economic and trade ties. Till 2008, in the past 57 years, the cumulative volume of our export to China was $1 billion. In the past three years, Pakistani exports have doubled to $2.2 billion. This is a good trend. We should build on it.

The Joint Energy Working Group, established last year, will oversee development and implementation of hydro, thermal, geo-thermal, coal-fired, solar, wind, biomass, and civil nuclear power projects.

We also have a longstanding protocol for cooperation in the field of science and technology.

The central banks of the two countries last year signed Pak Rupee-Renminbi Currency Swap Arrangement. This should enable traders and investors to settle their transactions in their national currencies. The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China has opened its branches in Islamabad and Karachi.

A Pakistan-China Joint Investment Company, supported by China Development Bank and Pakistan’s Ministry of Finance, was launched in 2008. Its paid up capital of $200 million needs to be increased.

Four, since the early 1960s, Chinese officials, engineers, bankers, financiers, and corporate leaders have worked in Pakistan. In 1976, former President Jiang Zemin worked in Pakistan to supervise a project. Chinese business leaders know Pakistan’s economic landscape very well. Likewise, Pakistani officials and professionals of several generations have dealt with their counterparts in China. What is more, the leading entities of the two countries have collaborated and even developed common platforms.

If these are the strengths, are there areas where we need to work harder to speed up our business ties? The answer is yes.

First, I would say that although Pakistan and China are close friends, we should try to know each other better. Here the role of universities and research institutions is crucial. We have to understand how business fits into the overall fabric of our societies, as well as into the evolving regional and global scenarios.

In this context, it would be a good idea to establish Pakistan-China centres in all key Pakistani universities. Some have already moved in that direction. We should also reinforce the trend for learning Chinese language and culture in Pakistani schools and colleges. This would produce a new generation of Pakistanis equipped with the skills to deal with China more productively. In China, Pakistan Study Centres are housed in four prestigious Chinese universities - Peking, Tsinghua, Sichuan, and Fudan.

Second, our economic teams and business leaders should learn how to do business with China. Although the world is globalised, the template of doing business with the Western countries would not entirely work in China. For instance, we need to understand a bit deeply, why would a Chinese corporate leader first assess a negotiator’s personality before doing business with his company? What is the relevance of consensual decision making, long-term relationships and win-win solutions in China?

Third, we must focus on youth because they have to inherit this relationship. This is already happening. Hundreds of young students and professionals are exchanging visits each year. This figure should move into thousands and then into millions. I can testify that there is a strong aspiration for that on both sides.

The establishment of a Pakistan-China Young Entrepreneurs Forum will be a good initiative in this context.

Pakistan and China are joined by mountains and rivers. But our most valuable asset is the respect and love our two peoples have for each other. Our proud nations are inheritors of ancient civilisations, which have been influencing each other for millennia. We are doing business today and we did business thousands of years ago through the Silk Route. Now we are making an effort to revive that route.

In the years to come, economic relations are going to get stronger. In Pakistan, expectations have been rekindled to look towards East, especially China, and work with its immediate neighbours. China is developing its Western regions, particularly Xinjiang, which borders Pakistan. Pakistan will be a participant in and beneficiary of that development effort. Both the governments are examining proposals on transportation and energy corridors, as well as transborder and transregional economic zones. They have a huge potential.

Over time, Pakistan will turn into the most important westward artery for China’s exports, as it builds a Eurasian bridge. The ports of Pakistan will shrink distances between China and the Middle East and Africa. The distance from Dubai to Khunjerab is 3,300 miles; from Dubai to Shanghai via the Indian Ocean is 9,000 miles. The advantage is evident.

Simultaneously, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is fostering connectivity among the East, Central and South Asian neighbourhoods. Pakistan is an observer of the SCO and hopes to be its member soon.

Pakistan and China will continue to work together to fight terrorism. Security and stability are must for economic development and growth of businesses. Pakistan provides the best protection for Chinese workers and businesses, which have steadfastly maintained and expanded their presence. We will not lower our guard.

Terrorism is not going to be there forever. In five years time, we will see a different world. The Pakistani nation will soon overcome its current difficulties, realise its full economic potential and emerge as a regional business hub.

Here are some ideas to strengthen Pakistan-China relations.

First, Pakistan’s manufacturing capacity has to be improved. The reason that we cannot export as many products to China as India is because we run out of exportable surplus. Besides, we sell raw materials or semi-finished goods. We need China’s assistance in vocational and educational training in value added textiles, gems and jewellery, light engineering, ceramics and surgical instruments.

Second, the visa regime for Chinese businesses has been made efficient and user-friendly. We hope that the expanding Pakistani business community will be able to obtain multiple entry visas for China with greater ease.

Third, more official purchase missions should visit Pakistan to identify Pakistani products for Chinese markets.

Fourth, the Chinese side may fast track concessional loans that have social development dimension. Pakistan, on its part, may streamline and expedite approval of the Chinese-funded corporate projects.

Fifth, China has encouraged its private enterprises to invest in Pakistan. Some have already done so. Others are looking at our market. This is a good opportunity to lock in Chinese private enterprises’ interest by partnering them with Pakistani public and private entities.

Sixth, universities and institutes, working with the corporate sector, should task researchers to produce studies in areas where Pakistan can find its niche. In fact, they could project Pakistan as an attractive destination for Chinese investment. They should go into specific areas such as oil, gas, solar power, wind power, coal, steel, cement, port development, highways, hybrid seed, and mechanised farming. The ultimate strength of this effort would depend on the data they would use and synthesise, as well as the support they may get from some of the leading Chinese capital investment corporations.

Seventh, collaboration in the fields of science and technology and industrial application is important. In China, many universities are the nurseries for industry. Some have their own industrial plants. Thus, leading Pakistani universities should emulate this model.

Three more thoughts:

In all these efforts, priority areas for collaboration are: science and technology, energy, infrastructure, and telecommunication. There is already agreement, in principle, that China will help Pakistan to enhance its capacity in science, technology and management. Let’s take full benefit of this opportunity.

Chinese businesses in Pakistan must be profitable for both Pakistan and China.

Pakistan-China economic cooperation will not be exclusive or isolationist. It will be designed to feed, bolster and expand regional economies.

n    The writer is Pakistan’s Ambassador to China. This article is based on his key note address delivered at Pakistan-China Business Forum organised by COMSATS Institute of Information Technology (CIIT) in Islamabad on April 15, 2013.