It is a happy coincidence that the new prime minister of China, Mr Le Keqiang, will be paying his first visit to Pakistan, just as the newly elected government prepares to enter office.
This will provide an ideal opportunity for the leaders to not merely share their thoughts as regards future expansion and enhancement of their ties, but to also exchange views on major regional issues that are likely to have a powerful impact on their countries and the region.
There is no doubt that the foundations of Sino-Pakistan relations are strong and durable. They have withstood the test of time and events, which is why the Chinese call it an “all-weather” friendship. In Pakistan, there is national consensus on the importance of forging exceptional ties with China. The latter, too, shares this view, convinced that consistently deepening cooperation with Pakistan is in their interest as well. After all, Pakistan has not only remained a reliable friend, but is an important neighbour of nearly two hundred million, with a location pivotal to peace and stability in a sensitive region.
But it is not enough to base foreign policy objectives on happy memories of past successes. Instead, hard-headed assessment of current realities and future potential are called for. Emotions and sentiments have no place in the pursuit of national interests, but this is one aspect where Pakistani leaderships have traditionally been weak, even confused. Given our cultural orientation, we have continued to live in the past, oblivious to the remarkable changes that have taken place on the global scene, which inevitably have had a powerful impact on China’s outlook to the world.
China is no longer a poor, underdeveloped country, isolated from the international community and desperately seeking solace in the company of its few friends, which included Pakistan. As the world’s second biggest economy, marching rapidly towards overtaking the US in the not-too-distant future, it is the much sought-after friend and partner of virtually the entire world. Ideological considerations are passe, with pragmatism and realism the lodestars in determining objectives, ever since Deng Xiaoping in 1978, brought about a revolution in the leadership’s thinking and approach, permitting the people the opportunity to give free rein to their inherent genius.
The result is right before our eyes. The world is lining up outside the Great Hall seeking Chinese assistance, especially investment, because economic ties are increasingly dominating the political discourse. On the other hand, we continue to count on political camaraderie to bolster our ties. This may have sufficed in the past, but is increasingly losing its relevance in the face of current challenges.
The reasons are many and varied. Admittedly, our leaderships have been enthusiastic advocates of comprehensive, meaningful ties, and to this end, have also visited China, often more times than warranted. They have also loved to sign agreements, seeing them as photo ops, but then failed to execute them or occasionally, to even honour the commitments made. Resultantly, the Chinese are disappointed but too polite to say that we lack both the focus and capacity, to the required degree, to bring these projects to fruition. But more than anything, it has been China’s deep misgivings about our less than categorical commitment to confronting the menace of extremism and militancy that continues to raise doubts and misgivings in Beijing.
If the incoming political leadership can, however, demonstrate the required degree of vision and resolve on this issue, there is no reason why this ‘time-tested’ relationship cannot be raised to new heights. With China’s concerns regarding the US “pivot” growing and its worries about India’s muscular attitudes on border disputes and Tibet out in the open (notwithstanding massive increase in their economic ties), Pakistan remains the one country that China can count on, in an increasingly uncertain regional scenario, that could worsen should the situation in Afghanistan spin out of control.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2013.
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