Revival of the ancient Silk Route can benefit Pakistan’s ailing economy, if the country upgrades its infrastructure along modern lines, says a Chinese minister.
“The Silk Route was a famous trade route in the ancient times. This proves that we have a long history of trade. Nowadays, the form of trade has changed. It needs to be developed along modern lines. I hope that this can benefit Pakistan’s economic development,” Ai Ping, Chinese Vice-Minister of the International Department Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC), told The Express Tribune in an exclusive interview.
Ai shared his personal views about the issues faced by Pakistan, its relationship with China and emphasised on improving trade relations to strengthen the entire region.
After development of its eastern side, China is now focusing on developing its western region by investing billions of dollars. Chinese authorities said the western parts, particularly Xinjiang that borders Pakistan, will be the focus of development. The area is being linked with the rest of the country through state-of-the-art communication networks.
In a recent article, Pakistan’s Ambassador in Beijing Masood Khan said Pakistan can turn into the most important westward artery for China’s exports, as it builds a Eurasian bridge. Pakistan’s ports can shrink distances between China, the Middle East and Africa.
However, Ai said Pakistan can benefit by upgrading its airports, highways, railway networks and ports and the two countries can cooperate to not only help boost Pakistan’s economy but also open new vistas of cooperation, including power generation, between the two countries, he added.
He hoped that after the pullout of US-led Nato forces from Afghanistan, there will be chances of bringing peace to the war-torn country and improving economic cooperation. According to analysts, Pakistan might lose important US aid following the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, but it is possible to turn the region into a peaceful commercial hub for transcontinental trade — reminiscent of the ancient Silk Route. On the reported complaints against extremists using terrorist bases on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border for training to create disturbances in China, Ai claimed that there is a general impression in China that Pakistan has been very supportive in fighting extremists. However, he added there can be some elements that are beyond the Pakistan government’s control.
“Some people say this war on terror was imposed on Pakistan. My personal opinion is that Pakistan is a victim of terror attacks. Pakistani people and the government are fighting against these evils. Pakistan is entitled to more support in the fight against terrorists,” he claimed.
On the issue of Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline project and US opposition to it, Ai gave candid remarks. “I think now there are some arguments about tensions… Even US intelligence operatives so far are not sure whether Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. I believe Iran has the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, so I do not know why this project is controversial,” he said. “But once again this is my personal opinion. I am not speaking on behalf of the Chinese government,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2012.