Apr 302008

The writer is an Islamabad-based security analyst

While the strategic parameters of the Pakistan-China relationship have long been set, there are regular additions to its content. New bilateral undertakings give it constructive dynamism and keep this half-a-century-old relationship current and crucial for both partners. This April was a month of strategic reaffirmation. The leaderships of the two countries reviewed and also enhanced the existing level of cooperation. Some new projects and proposals in place during the politically controversial President Parvez Musharraf’s six-day visit and the Chinese foreign minister’s two-day visit to Pakistan.

For example, five Chinese universities are jointly initiating a Pakistani-Chinese engineering and technology college in Islamabad beginning this September. Also to ensure systematic and regular exchanges between key policy-making and policy-implementing institutions, the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, proposed regular exchange visits between the legislatures, political parties and armed forces of the two countries. This would complement the regular interaction between the top leaderships of the two countries. Such expanded exchange will improve the quality of bilateral dialogue on major regional and international issues, increase efficiency in project implementation and enhance the official stimulus for expanding cooperation.

In April the Chinese Foreign Minister also visited Islamabad. In his meetings he reiterated the need to strengthen trade and business relations. He talked of indispensables for the firsts in bilateral relations. Connectivity, a through road, rail, air and sea links was crucial as was the energy security. It is no surprise that for Beijing and Islamabad upgrading of the KKH, the rail link to China from Gwadar and the Gwadar sea links are all priority tasks. For the energy security too various pipeline and alternative sources of energy, including solar, are now being explored. Pakistan is seeking to position itself as a trade and energy corridor between China and the Middle East, a prospect that greatly attracts China. Discussions are already underway on the possibility of a Gulf-China pipeline through Pakistan.

Currently more than 4,000 Chinese are in Pakistan working on various projects. They are working on projects ranging from the hydro-power project over the Neelum-Jhelum river, the Saindak copper mine, the Thar coal project and the construction of the Gwadar airport.

With a Free Trade Agreement signed between the two neighbours, a Special Economic Zone has already been set up in Lahore primarily for Chinese investors to set up industry in a secure environment. The Pak-China Joint Investment Company (PCJIC), established in mid-2007, will jointly work to promote investment, launch joint ventures, project financing, asset management, housing financing, investment in banking and infrastructure projects. This initiative will also attract foreign direct investment to Pakistan. The SEC and PCJIC are harbingers of greatly enhanced industrial and financial Pakistan-China cooperation. A $15 billion target has been set up for bilateral trade by 2011.

The goodwill between the two countries translates into intangibles that create the positive energy which contributes to the strengthening of this relationship. Over dinner goodwill was clearly conveyed through the visiting Chinese foreign minister’s words as he spoke to a small gathering in the banquet hall of the Foreign Office. “As the foreign minister of China, the most important task for me is to ensure that this relationship continues to prosper.” He carried on: “At the Chinese Foreign Office when someone is appointed on the Pakistan desk we always say you will have no worries that the good health of the relationship will positively affect your relationship. For Pakistanis the only word that promptly comes to everyone’s mind is brother…”

The exemplary trust factor has yielded an unusual degree of comfort factor enabling candid exchange on domestic matters between the two strategic partners. At critical junctures in Pakistan’s history the Chinese leadership has advised restraint, for example, on Kargil, and on economic development total focus. Interestingly, even their divergent routes in politics do not prevent Beijing-Islamabad dialogue on governance and politics. In fact, the two have coordinated closely on the ideological, political and development dimensions of countering terrorism. Politically a generally pro-stability and pro-status quo power, China has often advised its Pakistani friends, as the Chinese foreign minister’s advisor recalled over the April 25 dinner hosted by the Pakistani Foreign Minister, that for Pakistan’s own well being it was best “go beyond past political differences.”

Significantly, there is no major global issue in which the two strategic partners hold divergent views; the US war on Iraq, anti-terrorism, the WTO, UN reforms, inter-civilisation dialogue, multilateralism, the way forward for Afghanistan, the Iranian and North Korean nuclear question, to name a few. Islamabad and Beijing work closely in international and regional forums, such as the UN, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations, and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.

With common threat perceptions and changing strategic scenarios the two have common goals in defence leading to numerous critical joint defence projects. Defence cooperation covers conventional and non-conventional including nuclear programme, ballistic missiles, small arms production and joint production of the JF-17 Thunder aircraft.

When in troubled waters the two unequivocally stood by each other. There is no record of Beijing’s public censure of Pakistan on any issue. Likewise, Islamabad has always risen to discount international censure of China, whether on issues like Tibet or Taiwan. Most recently, when China was being internationally ragged for its policy in Tibet by boycotting and disrupting the Beijing-organised Olympic flame tour, Pakistan supportive message was categorical. “We think that politics must be kept out of sports. Sports generate brotherhood. Sports generate closeness. If we bring politics into it, then the whole idea of sports is killed,” Pakistan’s president Musharraf said.

Interestingly, the India factor in this key Asian relationship cuts many ways. Guided by international diplomatic trends, which while not ignoring security concerns are mainly focused on matters of energy security, market access, security and access to trade routes and cheap but quality joint production, Beijing-Islamabad simultaneously seek to check India’s rising conventional and non-conventional military power, yet increase their commercial engagement with India; as does India. However, how the Indo-US axis develops in the coming years will influence the China-Pakistan-India triangular relations.

Clearly, new bilateral projects and proposals help to retain the robustness of an engagement structure that Pakistan and China begun constructing almost half-a-century ago. While joint undertakings in multiple fields are the brick and mortar for this structure, it is the trust and a common worldview that secures this relationship structure against the tectonic changes occurring in global trade, politics and security. It is a relationship whose impact is going to be increasingly felt beyond the two states. This growing bilateral cooperation is creating new and strengthening existing trading routes, industrial facilities, regional multilateral institutions and security structures. Provided this relationship stays its course and Pakistan’s internal politics and governance produce internal stability, Pakistan will emerge as a major Asian state influencing the continent’s security, trade and political patterns.

Email: nasimzehra@hotmail.com
Source: The News, 30/4/2008

 Posted by at 2:11 pm

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