China on the chessboard

Courtesy:-  Malik Muhammad Ashraf

Relations between Pakistan and China reached new heights with 19 agreements and MOUs signed between the two countries in Beijing. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was visiting China on the invitation of the Chinese government to participate in a dialogue on ‘Strengthening Connectivity And Partnership’. The agreements mainly relate to power-generation projects and infrastructure-building under the Pak-China Economic Corridor and are expected to attract a total investment of $42 billion. 

The envisaged power projects would collectively add 16520MW electricity to the system on completion. The Chinese also promised to open the green channel for facilitating quick release of funds for the implementation of the investment in Pakistan. 

The Chinese president and prime minister, during their interaction with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, promised continued support for economic development and stability in Pakistan. Nawaz also assured Pakistan’s unflinching support for quelling acts of terrorism in Xinjiang province which has been a cause of worry for China for quite some time now. 

Considering the outcome of the visit, nobody in his right mind would like to contest the claim of the prime minister that the implementation of these agreements and the materialisation of the Pak-China Economic Corridor would end power shortages in Pakistan, create one million new jobs and consequently usher a new era of prosperity in Pakistan. 

The PML-N government, which is the architect of this exponential enhancement in economic and political ties with China, deserves unqualified accolades for its pragmatism and vision that characterise these new initiatives.

It is satisfying to note that both countries have worked relentlessly together to neutralise the negative effects of the postponement of the Chinese president’s visit to Pakistan in September, due to the security situation created by the crass politics of Imran and Qadri. That indicates the urgency and importance that both countries attach to bilateral economic cooperation and opening new vistas for shared economic prosperity in the region. Pakistan badly needed quick harvesting energy projects to tide over the energy crisis gripping the country and ensure energy security for the future.

However, the growing economic ties between Pakistan and China and Chinese efforts to revive the old Silk Route as well as the Pak-China Economic Corridor – which has the potential to create strong economic bonds between the countries of Central Asia and South Asia where nearly half of the world’s population resides – are a thorn in the side of the west. 

These initiatives are likely to neutralise US attempts to block Chinese access to the Malacca Strait by providing it a dependable and safe alternate outlet to the Arabian Sea. Pakistan, on the other hand, views them as a unique opportunity for convergence of the economic interests of both countries, attuned to its narrative of building regional linkages. 

The rising economic power of China, the expansion of its commercial interests in South Asian states and much of Central Africa and consequently the strengthening of its military power to protect those commercial interests, are perceived by the US and its allies as a major threat to their commercial and strategic interests. 

China has steadily increased its interests in Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar and the Philippines which are already allied with the US – nominally so. It has built or is building ports in Bangladesh, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. These have not been done for only trade purposes; they have military applications as well. The Chinese navy participated in the anti-piracy operation in the Somalian Sea in 2011. It is investing heavily in submarines and its first aircraft carrier will be operational within a decade.

The west is, therefore, feverishly pursuing a ‘containment of China’ policy. The shift in US policy to turn its focus on the Indo-Pacific region is dictated by the surge in China’s influence globally. Helping India emerge as a regional superpower and a counterbalance to Chinese penetration in the region and beyond is also a link in the same chain. Similarly, dissuading Pakistan from aligning its commercial and economic interests with China, is also one of the policy ploys to scuttle moves by China to pursue its economic objectives in the region. 

However, these machinations have failed to deter both China and Pakistan from going ahead with the implementation of the projects already in hand and in the pipeline. Pakistan has already handed over the management of the Gwadar Port to the Chinese. Both countries stand resolute in their determination to take this cooperation to its logical conclusion.

The friendship and economic cooperation between Pakistan and China is underpinned by mutual trust and confidence. Development of relations with China has been the corner stone of Pakistan’s foreign policy. It was due to Pakistan’s alliance with the US and strong ties with China that enabled it to facilitate the end of China’s isolation. Pakistan has also been supporting China on all issues of importance and concern to the latter especially those related to the question of China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet and other sensitive matters such as human rights – a stance deeply appreciated by Chinese leaders.

Over the years China has supported the Kashmir cause and extended liberal economic and military assistance to Pakistan. It has played a significant role in the economic progress of Pakistan. The construction of the KKH Highway, Heavy Mechanical Complex at Taxila and Chashma Nuclear Plants (III and IV) are the monuments of the ever-spiking bilateral ties. 

In the backdrop of the US-India deal for transfer of civilian nuclear technology, which Pakistan regarded as a discriminatory act, China showed the strength of relations between the two countries by agreeing to help us in this area despite reservations on the NSG and the US.

The new economic and strategic partnership forged with China represents a pragmatic and visionary approach that would put the two countries on the road to eternal friendship and cooperation dictated by unalterable geographical realities and economic and strategic compulsions. It also marks a departure from Pakistan’s perennial propensity to look up to the west for its security and economic needs – and rightly so. 

Pakistan belongs to the South Asian region and its security and economic needs are inextricably linked to this region. The new narrative evolved by the present government with regard to Pakistan’s relations with its neighbours and building strong linkages with the countries of the region, especially China, also fits in well with the scheme of things at the global and regional level where China is poised to play a major role in determining the rules of the game on the chessboard of world politics.

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