China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang arrives in Islamabad tomorrow on a two-day visit to Pakistan. A traditionally warm welcome awaits Premier Li on his first visit to Pakistan after he assumed his office in March this year. The visit takes place immediately after the elections in Pakistan in which the people have chosen their new leadership by giving a renewed mandate to the PML-N as the largest political party of the country. During his stay in Islamabad, the Chinese Prime Minister will be meeting with Pakistani civil and military leaders, including the newly-elected political leaders, especially PML-N Chief Nawaz Sharif.

According to our Foreign Office, besides providing an opportunity for high-level leadership contact between the two countries, Premier Li’s visit will give further impetus to the special relationship between the two countries. In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry officials also described their Premier’s visit to Pakistan as "a sign of the high level of mutual trust and the special friendship between the two countries."

In a press briefing, Vice Foreign Minister Song Tao said: “This will send positive signals to the people of both countries and the international community that China values its relations with Pakistan and is committed to inheriting the traditional friendship and expanding mutually-beneficial cooperation between the two sides.”  As an all-weather partner, China will continue to firmly support Pakistan's efforts to maintain stability and seek development, he said. "We are convinced that through joint efforts, the Pakistan-China strategic cooperative partnership will be lifted to a new level," he added.

During Li's visit to Pakistan, the two sides are scheduled to sign three agreements on economic and trade cooperation, while a Chinese trade and investment promotion group will also be visiting the country. These exchanges will no doubt further reinforce the multi-dimensional cooperation between the two countries reflecting a continuously upward momentum in their relationship, which has over the years grown in its dimension and scope. China has contributed significantly to Pakistan’s security and economic development. 

Economic cooperation is the bedrock of this multi-dimensional relationship. From Karakoram Highway reviving and revitalising the old Silk Route to the newly completed Gwadar Port a whole string of industrial plants, factories, electrical and mechanical complexes, power producing units, including hydro and nuclear power plants, stand testimony to Pakistan-China cooperation and China’s vital contribution to the economic development of our country.

What the people of Pakistan admire most about this relationship is that unlike the conditionality-based aid programmes from other countries, everything that China has done or is doing in this country is people-specific and meant only for their benefit. It has never been ruler-specific. The Chinese help has always been selflessly unconditioned involving sacrifices in terms of many Chinese lives. Even today, thousands of Chinese engineers and workers are engaged under most difficult conditions in building roads, bridges, tunnels, dams, schools, universities and hospitals for the people of Pakistan.

It is a long-term partnership for peace, stability and prosperity at the bilateral, regional and international levels. Rooted in mutual trust and confidence, this relationship is not based on transient interests or expediencies, and is above personalities or any changes in domestic or international situation. Both countries have supported each other in their just causes, which for Pakistan include a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir issue and preservation of its independence and territorial integrity, and for China, the issues of Taiwan, human rights, Tibet and Xinjiang.

At the UN, we have been working together on many issues of common interest, including the question of UN reform. We also have common position on the question of enlargement of the UN Security Council.  On Kashmir, China’s position is well known and needs no reiteration. Till now, global changes in the direction of international politics have proved the permanence of Sino-Pak friendship. The world around us is, however, changing rapidly. Interstate relations are experiencing new equations.

We cannot remain oblivious of the new realities. The new India-US nexus involving a long-term strategic, military and nuclear alliance is not without serious far-reaching implications for the delicate balance of power and stability in the region. Both China and Pakistan will have to withstand the winds of change with maturity and self-confidence and in keeping with the soul and spirit of their relationship.

Though China has been repeatedly affirming its support for Pakistan’s “efforts in safeguarding its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity”, this does not mean that we completely absolve ourselves of our own responsibilities leaving our fate in the hands of others whoever they may be. The  Chinese ‘assurances’ may be heartening for us, but in no case exonerate our rulers of their obligation to preserve the country’s sovereign independence, which in recent years they have been so callously squandering for their own self-serving interests.

Interestingly, it is now the established Chinese tradition to combine their leaders’ visits to India and Pakistan. The Chinese diplomatic finesse is unparalleled anywhere in the world. Nothing is done in Beijing without a calculated purpose. There is a clear though nuanced message in this tradition of combining their leaders’ visits to India and Pakistan as a polite but deliberate rebuke to the US policy of dehyphenating the two nuclear capable neighbours in South Asia. It is a message of rebuke against America’s discriminatory policies in its dealings with India-Pakistan nuclear equation, the only one that grew up in history totally unrelated to the Cold War.

No wonder, before coming to Pakistan, Premier Li also visited India as part of China’s larger Asia policy, which is predicated on “peace, security, cooperation and prosperity.” China handles sensitive issues concerning surrounding countries in an “appropriate” manner and advances mutually-beneficial cooperation with its Asian neighbours bilaterally as well as regionally. It is understandable, therefore, that Premier Li’s discussions in New Delhi must also have been “cordial and frank” given the need for repairing the long-estranged relations between the two countries.

Both have been talking for quite some time of “their vision for the future, qualitatively upgrading bilateral relations to a strategic level.” Their bilateral trade volume is growing even faster than the target rate. From US$66.5 billion in 2012, it is now scheduled to reach US$100 billion by 2015.  There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, we should be taking lessons from this model of burgeoning economic relationship, instead of hopelessly remaining a ‘basket’ case. Our new leadership surely knows what it means to be at the mercy of other powers and will put the country back on its own feet. 

 The writer is a former foreign secretary.