Relations between Pakistan and China turned 65 on May 21, 2016. To commemorate the 65th anniversary of their ties in a befitting manner, the two countries have chalked out a weeklong (May 21-to May 28) programme of festivities and cultural activities. And why not celebrate a relationship that over the years has withstood vicissitudes of times, changing regional and global realities, has attained dizzying heights to the mutual advantage of the two, and is poised to remain on the upward curve in the future too.
Pakistan and China have been a source of strength to each other through testing times and buttressed this process with unstinted determination. Soon after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949, Pakistan was one of the first non-communist countries to recognise China. Pakistan also staunchly supported China’s to attain a legitimate place in the UN. Pakistan played a leading role in ending China’s international isolation by orchestrating rapprochement between China and the US. When China faced international blockade Pakistan provided air corridor to her. Pakistan has been and continues to support one China policy at all international forums and endorses China’s stance on Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang and issues related to human rights. The two countries have shared identical views on global issues like UN reforms, nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation and climate change. They have been on the same wavelength on regional security matters that were instrumental to the forging of strong defence ties between them. Pakistan and China are working together to fight the menace of terrorism in the region, and also collaborating with each other in promoting peace in Afghanistan.
China has played a sterling role in the economic uplift of Pakistan, bolstering its defence capability, development of its nuclear programme and provided uninhibited political support to Pakistan on issues of concern — like the Kashmir issue — at international forums. It helped Pakistan in 1965 and 1971 wars with India. The two-way trade volume between the two countries has gone beyond $16 billion, and is likely to cross $20 billion mark considering that the economies of the two countries are complimentary, and there is still a vast potential waiting to be realised. The relationship that some thought was founded on mutual disillusionment with India and the security threat from her to both the countries has undoubtedly crystallised into a much wider and deeper relationship.
The hallmark of bonds between Pakistan and China, apart from the foregoing factors, has been a sentiment of bonhomie between the people of the two countries. It is a relationship of genuine love and respect that is beyond the realm of normal diplomatic ties.
Needless to emphasise that Pakistan has been the greater beneficiary of this friendship — from military to economic assistance. The strength, sustainability and uniqueness of relations between the two countries has baffled many an observer of the world history. Andrew Small, of German Marshall Fund, an expert on Asian affairs, in his recently published book while examining what he calls the “unusual nature of the secretive relationship between China and Pakistan” remarks that it [the relationship] is much more promising than Pakistan’s erratic ties with the US. History indeed testifies it. The leaders of Pakistan and China also have trust in the strength of their relations. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif thinks they are “higher than the Himalayas, deeper than the sea and sweater than honey.” President of China Xi Jing Ping during his visit to Pakistan emphatically declared that China and Pakistan were “iron friends.” Similar characterisation of relations between the two countries by the Chinese leaders has been repeatedly reiterated. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi during his visit to Pakistan early last year assured Islamabad that China and Pakistan were in sync on all matters and have ‘iron clad’ understanding between them, one that has taken years to hone and fortify. The history of relations between the two indeed testifies to this reality.
Looking at the ties between Pakistan and China from a future perspective, there are strong and encouraging portents to suggest that they are moving towards an upward swing. The changing security environment in the region, US aggressive manoeuvres in the South China Sea and ever increasing anti-China nexus between the US and India with the former trying to prop up the latter as a regional super power to checkmate Chinese increasing influence in the region and beyond, will surely necessitate further upgrading of defence cooperation between Pakistan and China.
Another ingredient to strengthen ties is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which undoubtedly will act as a catalyst to regional connectivity and an economic boom to be shared and enjoyed by all countries of South Asia and Central Asia. Its impact beyond our shores is also assured. As Pakistan is striving to strengthen its democratic institutions and to stimulate a process of sustained economic growth, cooperation with China under the CPEC will surely enhance its ability to achieve those objectives. Development of infrastructure such as rail network, roads, oil and gas pipelines and optical fibre and implementation of power producing projects under the corridor will catapult Pakistan on a higher plank of economic prosperity. It would spur industrial activity on an unprecedented scale leading to creation of jobs for the ever-increasing labour force. Pakistan will become a hub of economic activity for the Central Asian and South Asia countries due to the connectivity that will be ensured. This visionary initiative of the Chinese, in addition to its potential to unleash the economic bonanza, will also promote peace in the region by creating economic dependence and linkages.
China, of course, will also reap huge economic benefits from the project on perennial basis in terms of saving on its oil imports, quick and easy access to markets in the Gulf, Middle East, Africa and expansion of its commercial interests on a global level. The corridor traversing and meandering from Kashghar to Gawadar will further strengthen relations between the two nations, a win-win situation for both the countries as well as other beneficiaries.