Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan last week was an extremely significant development not only for Pakistan-China relations but also for the region and beyond. It enabled the two countries to reaffirm the importance that they attached to their strategic relationship and declare their intention to strengthen it further. They also signed a number of agreements and MOU’s aimed at implementing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and several other projects in energy, communication, and infrastructure sectors in Pakistan involving in all Chinese investment and financial support amounting to $46 billion. The two countries also agreed to raise the level of bilateral trade from the existing level of $15 billion to $20 billion within the next three years. The growing strategic and security links between China and Pakistan, highlighted during the visit, served the cause of regional stability. Major powers from other regions could not but take note of these momentous developments and their implications for regional and global security.

On the bilateral side, the CPEC project linking Kashgar in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang with Pakistan’s deep-water Gawadar port on the Arabian Sea through a planned network of roads, railways, fibre optic cables, and gas pipelines was the centerpiece of the programme of economic cooperation signed between the two countries. It would shorten the route for China’s trade with the outside world bypassing the Straits of Malacca, a bottleneck at the risk of blockade in wartime. The project, therefore, carries enormous economic and security value for China. For Pakistan, it would be the harbinger of economic progress by bringing in the much needed Chinese investment in infrastructure, communication, and energy sectors in Pakistan. The corridor projects envisage $34 billion investment in the energy sector and about $12 billion in infrastructure.

The early harvest projects worth $28 billion, whose implementation would start immediately, include: 1000 MW solar power park in Punjab, 870 MW Suki Kanari hydropower project in KPK, 720 MW Karot hydropower project in AJK, three wind power projects of 200 MW in Thatta, the second phase of upgradation of KKH from Havelian to Thakot, Multan to Sukkur motorway, Gawadar international airport, and Gawadar Port east-bay expressway project. Besides, agreements have also been side for Gawadar-Nawabshah LNG terminal and pipeline project, Lahore Orange Line Metro Train project, two coal-fired plants of 660 MW each at Port Qasim, and two coal-fired power projects of 330 MW each at Thar. Another agreement providing for the mining of 3.8 million tons of coal per annum at Thar Block II has also been signed.

These and other projects signed during President Xi Jinping’s visit, if implemented efficiently and with transparency and honesty, would boost the process of economic development in the country. The government must take urgent steps so that these projects do not become the victim of bureaucratic delays. It would be advisable to establish a dedicated office staffed by well-trained and honest officers to ensure their smooth implementation. It is heartening to hear that the government has already established a dedicated security division staffed by 10,000 personnel from the army, police and civil armed forces for providing fool-proof security to Chinese engineers and other citizens working on CPEC projects.

The visit, however, was not limited to the consideration of the various projects for economic and commercial cooperation. As the joint statement issued after the talks indicates, the two sides also had an extensive exchange of views on strategic and security issues. Against the backdrop of the “changing international and regional situations”, they noted that Pakistan-China relationship had acquired greater significance and agreed to elevate it to the level of “All Weather Strategic Cooperative Partnership.” In this context, they decided to enhance strategic coordination to safeguard their common interests, develop further defence cooperation, and promote mutual cooperation in space technologies and their application.

These decisions, which are likely to take Pakistan-China strategic cooperation to a qualitatively much higher level, should be analyzed against the background of the burgeoning strategic and security cooperation between the US and India. It would be recalled that the US had declared its intention in March, 2005 to help India develop as a major world power of the 21st century. It remains America’s hope that such a strong India would act as a counterweight to the expansion of the Chinese power and influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean regions. The US support to India in security fields also carries the risk from Pakistan’s point of view of disturbing the strategic balance in South Asia.

The decision to enhance Pakistan-China strategic and security cooperation, therefore, would help in strengthening stability in South Asia. It would also enable China to have easy access to the Arabian Sea, bypassing the US efforts to contain the southward expansion of its influence. These developments consequentially have both regional and global implications. It was for these reasons that the joint statement noted that “friendship and cooperation between Pakistan and China serve the fundamental interests of the two countries and peoples, and contribute to peace, stability and development in the region and beyond.”

It appears from reading the joint statement between the lines that China also conveyed a message of caution and restraint in Pakistan’s dealings with India. It appreciated Pakistan’s efforts “for the peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues with its neighbours.” The joint statement also takes note of the decision of the two sides to advocate actively “the Asian security concept featuring common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security.” Obviously, India has to be a part of such a concept. Further, it expresses the conviction of the two sides that “a peaceful, stable, cooperative and prosperous South Asia is in the common interest of all parties.” China’s efforts to develop relations and cooperation with South Asian countries have been noted positively in the joint statement. These signals should be seen against the background of the Indian Prime Minister’s forthcoming visit to China and Beijing’s sustained policy of developing a sphere of peaceful and cooperative relations in its neighbourhood including India. It is worth noting that Sino-Indian trade, which is reported to be about $80 billion per annum currently, is projected to cross the level of $ 100 billion soon.

Other notable developments during the visit were the decision of the two countries to continue their bilateral cooperation in civil nuclear energy and support a comprehensive and consensus based solution of the issue of the UN Security Council reform. They reiterated their support to the Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan. China also supported Pakistan’s efforts to become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization at an early date.

President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan was a giant step forward in reinvigorating Pakistan-China friendship and cooperation in strategic, security and economic fields. It has also sent the right signals in the interest of strengthening regional and global peace and stability. The CPEC project and the various economic agreements signed during the visit would strengthen economic links between China and Pakistan, and help the latter in overcoming its energy crisis and accelerating its economic progress. However, the lesson of history is that in the ultimate analysis economic progress is the result of a nation’s own efforts. Foreign help can only play a marginal role in this process. It remains to be seen whether Pakistan as a nation and its leadership have the wisdom and the resolve to carry forward this vital task successfully.