Pakistan-China friendship: a lush tree
By Masood Khan
Rich imagery is important in describing Pakistan-China relations. Last year, on the morning of December 19, addressing a packed session of Pakistani parliament, Premier Wen Jiabao said that the friendship between our two countries is a “lush tree with deep roots and thick foliage, full of vigour and vitality. The sentimental bond between our people is thus a constant image. An aura of warmth and affection permeates our relations. Diplomats in Beijing and around the world hear with some amusement the poetic expressions suggesting that Pakistan-China friendship is for all weathers and time-tested, and that this relationship is taller than the Himalayas, and deeper than oceans, and that it is stronger than steel, and sweeter than honey. Some do offer envious compliments and ask about the secret of the longevity and depth of this relationship. The people of Pakistan and China evoke these poetic images with sincerity of conviction and feel that they still do not fully capture the depth of their feelings towards each other.
Well, let us try to figure out the secret of this unique bond.
The first crucible of our friendship has been history. Scholars and students are familiar with the recent history of Pakistan-China relations. But our relations go far back. It is obvious that the territories of Pakistan and China are joined by mountains and rivers or the so-called geographical fault lines. Pakistan and China also share civilisational fault lines. Monks and envoys traversed the daunting heights of the Karakorum, the Hindukush and the Himalayas to connect the Gandhara and the Indus Valley Civilisations with the Chinese Civilisation. Fa Xian and Xuan Zang, in the fourth and seventh centuries respectively, were not deterred by the inaccessible altitudes of these mountain ranges. Many scholars from the territory that is now Pakistan travelled to China to understand and imbibe the glorious civilisation of China. So, cross-fertilisation of our civilisations took place much before the modern era.
The founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 was a truly historic event. And so was the independence of Pakistan in 1947. Pakistan recognised China on January 4, 1950, and established diplomatic relations on May 21, 1951 following negotiations with Pakistan’s first charge d’ affaires who had arrived in Beijing in April 1951. The first Chinese ambassador to Pakistan went to Karachi in September 1951 and Pakistan’s first ambassador to China arrived in Peking on November 1, 1951.
These are the beginnings that we shall celebrate this year after six decades. The year 2011 has been designated the “Year of China-Pakistan Friendship”. We have decided to hold a series of activities in the fields of politics, economy, trade, military, culture, sports and education to commemorate the strength of our bilateral relations and to show the resolve to take it to new heights.
We can identify three periods in our relations. Because of the Cold War, the 1950s was a period of uncertainty in Pakistan-China relations, though efforts started right in the beginning for engagement. During the Bandung Conference in 1955, Premier Zhou Enlai and Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Bogra agreed to strengthen exchanges and cooperation between the two countries. On May 23, 1955 Chairman Mao Zedong, while talking to our Ambassador in Beijing, Sultanuddin Ahmed, expressed the hope that, given the goodwill between the two countries, relations would grow stronger and friendlier.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the leadership of the two countries steered Pakistan-China relations towards closer understanding and solidarity. In 1961, Pakistan voted for restoration of China’s seat in the United Nations. In 1963, China and Pakistan signed a boundary agreement. This was a significant milestone, as it underlined and displayed the emerging trust between the two neighbours. The agreement was signed in February 1963 in Beijing by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. This also showed Pakistan’s independence in its foreign policy and its growing faith in Sino-Pakistan friendship.
From this point onward, the third phase of relations between our two nations began which was characterised by mutual confidence, deep trust, and growing cooperation. This period can be called a period of consolidation and expansion and it has continued up to this point.
In May 1964, Premier Zhou Enlai, while recalling his visit to Pakistan, said: “…we found ourselves at all times living in an atmosphere of profound friendship, which the Pakistani people cherished for the Chinese people, and (we) were greatly moved by that”.
In the succeeding decades, China and Pakistan have not only deepened their ties but also stood by each other in difficult times. China helped us during the 1965 and 1971 wars. We advocated China’s entry into the United Nations. We also facilitated rapprochement between the US and China through quiet diplomacy. We have coordinated our policies during the turbulent period of the Afghan resistance against the Soviet Union in the 1980s; and are now cooperating in the fight against terrorism.
As we come to the recent history of Pakistan-China relations, we express satisfaction from the fact that the two sides have fashioned a very effective, practical, and flexible architecture for engagement and cooperation in strategic, defence, economic, commercial, and cultural fields. This architecture is responsive to the changing times.
Where are these relations today? Pak-China Joint Statement, issued in Islamabad on December 19, 2010 on the conclusion of Premier Wen Jiabao’s historic visit to Pakistan, highlighted the following points: (1) It is important to deepen the China-Pakistan all-weather strategic partnership; (2) China-Pakistan relations have gone beyond bilateral dimensions and acquired broader regional and international ramifications; (3) Friendship and cooperation between Pakistan and China serve the fundamental interests of the two countries, and contribute to peace, stability and development in the region and beyond; and (4) The two sides will enhance their strategic coordination, advance pragmatic cooperation, and work together to meet the challenges in pursuit of common development.
Pursuing friendship with China has become the bedrock of Pakistan’s foreign policy, which enjoys a consensus across the political spectrum. Pakistan deeply appreciates the support and assistance China has given for our economic and social development. We fully support China’s principled stand on Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, and other human rights issues.
The Chinese government and people reciprocate these sentiments and consider Pakistan to be their most reliable friend and partner. Developing relations with Pakistan is high on China’s diplomatic agenda. China supports Pakistan’s efforts in safeguarding its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.
The fuel for this relationship comes from the hearts and minds of the people. The prudent, farsighted policies of their governments buttress it through multiple frameworks.
The 2005 Pakistan-China Treaty for Friendship and Cooperation and Good Neighbourly Relations is a key instrument, which enables us to strengthen our strategic, economic and cultural relations. High-level visits play a crucial role in this regard. In December 2010, Pakistan and China decided to establish an annual meeting mechanism between leaders, set up foreign ministers’ dialogue mechanism and reinforce contact and dialogue between the foreign ministries. Since 2008, President Asif Ali Zardari has visited China six times and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani three times. Last year, Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang have visited also Pakistan.
A Joint Economic Commission (JEC) helps us stimulate growth of our economic and trade ties. We use a five-year development programme on trade and economic cooperation for this purpose. The first five-year plan, which will be completed this year, has focused on port development, educational exchanges, the establishment of Pakistan-China Joint Investment Company (JIC), automobiles, chemicals, fertilisers, telecommunications, and energy projects. We will launch the second five-year programme in 2012. Under this plan, the two sides have identified 36 projects covering education, healthcare, water conservancy, agriculture, transport, energy, ICT, and industry.
China’s leading brands, such as China Mobile and Haier, are doing good business in Pakistan and their operations are poised to expand as we set up exclusive economic zones for China.
The two sides are now working on the creation of an energy cooperation mechanism that would create an interface between the relevant departments and entities dealing with conventional (hydro, thermal, and coal-fired), alternate (wind, solar), and nuclear energy.
Following the massive floods in Pakistan last year, China gave us generous, timely, and unconditional assistance. China’s assistance to Pakistan was the highest ever disaster relief assistance given to a foreign country. We are glad that the Chinese companies are going to participate in the post-flood reconstruction, especially in the agricultural and infrastructure projects.
Pakistan-China trade, which was only US$1.8 billion in 2002, last year rose to US$8.7 billion. Last year Pakistan’s exports to China increased by 37 percent, while imports from China grew by 25 percebt. The overall growth rate was a promising 28 percent. If we work at that pace, we would soon achieve our target of US$15 billion, though we would like to surpass it.
Pakistan and China have signed Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) on goods, investment and services. A Free Trade Commission (FTC) meets regularly. It has started consultations for the second phase negotiations of China-Pakistan FTA to enhance trade liberalisation and promote economic and trade growth of the two countries. It will also look into the issues of dispatch of official purchase missions from China to Pakistan, visa facilitation measures and development of an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) system.
Our two armed forces have very close cooperation. Early this year, chairman joint chiefs of staff committee of Pakistan held the eight round of Defence and Security Talks with the PLA chief of general staff. We have unanimity of views to pursue peace and security in the region and to defeat terrorism, extremism, and separatism. Our active collaboration in this regard has produced results. The defence cooperation covers high-level military exchanges, structured defence and security talks, joint exercises, training of personnel in each other’s institutions, joint defence production, and defense trade. Joint production of the JF-17 fighter aircraft, F22-P frigate, and Al-Khalid tanks are good examples of cooperation between our defence industries.
This year we will make special efforts to promote understanding and friendship between our people by enhancing exchanges in culture, education, media, sports, tourism, and public health. We would especially encourage visits by researchers and scholars so that they could give in-depth and perspective to the narrative of the Pakistan-China friendship. Within this context, our emphasis is on exchanges between the younger generations of Pakistan and China, so that they can inherit this narrative and propagate it. We have set a good tradition of visits by youth delegations comprising 100-members from both sides. We believe that these exchanges will lay the foundation for understanding and cooperation among the young men and women of China.
China is a rising power. In fact, it has risen fast and has overtaken all economic powers but one. The leadership of China is modest in its approach and declares that the country would continue its march towards comprehensive development by boosting per capita income, by redistributing wealth and resources among all citizens, by bridging the gaps between the rural and the urban areas as well as the eastern and western parts of the country, and by generating domestic demand. All these measures we believe will have a salutary impact on China’s immediate neighbourhood, the Asia Pacific region, and the international economy.
Pakistan supports China’s vision of a harmonious world – a world that works for win-win partnerships instead of win-lose paradigms. Pakistan hopes that Afghanistan would move towards stability and national reconciliation. In Pakistan, we hope to eliminate the networks of terrorism and create conditions for economic and social development of our people. Towards our east, we aspire to have a structured, sustained, and substantive dialogue with India to resolve our outstanding issues, to pave the way for a cooperative environment, and to make South Asia a safe and secure region.
The entire Pakistani nation was deeply touched by China’s forthright, principled and staunch support to Pakistan, expressed by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu, following the killing of Osama bin Laden. Pakistani media applauded China’s reiteration of the principle that independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of any country should be respected; and its reaffirmation that the Pakistan government was firm in its resolve and strong in its action in the fight against terrorism. The people of Pakistan welcomed China’s support to Pakistan for the development and implementation of its anti-terror strategy according to its own national conditions.
In all these endeavours, we would work closely with our neighbour China. Pakistanis without exception are proud of China’s extraordinary success and we hope that China would continue to grow in its stature and the world would continue to benefit from China’s quest for regional and global peace and prosperity. Amongst all political forces in Pakistan, there is unanimity that we should strengthen Pakistan’s ties with China. We shall maintain that tradition and take our relations and friendship to new heights.
The writer is the ambassador of Pakistan to China