Very few relationships between two countries have been as consistent and enduring as the relations between China and Pakistan. The symbolism, language of warmth and sentiments often expressed by the leadership of these countries don’t capture the significance of this partnership. It is profound, deep and covers many areas of mutual interests, starting from defence issues to the economy.
It all started in the early years of the Cold War when Pakistan had the best of ties with the United States, a country that was engaged with us and other countries to contain China. Pakistan made quite a few far-reaching decisions to establish friendly relations with China, disregarding opposition and reservations of its Western allies. Two events shaped the future of this partnership: first was the 1963 border agreement and then the cooperation in defence following the 1965 war with India. These were not just small steps in the atmosphere of the Cold War.
Successive regimes and leaders have realised the importance of this relationship and have continued to build on further where the predecessors had left. Domestically, this is one of those relationships where we see national consensus across party lines. What explains this partnership? Only two words — mutual benefit. This is the foundation of every relationship in the world of modern nation-states. No relationship has ever rested on emotions, common ideology, historical heritage or even religion. It is always common interest or conflict over interests that brings states closer or causes a distance between them. Any generosity from one side is not one-sided or without consideration for some future benefits.
However, it is very difficult to measure the distributive effects of any bilateral relationship in equal terms, as one country may have benefits in one particular area of its national interests, while the other wouldn’t. In this sense, relations are rather complementary. This must explain the wide-ranging and vastly expanded ties between China and Pakistan. Pakistan is an energy-deficient country — for reasons of poor or no planning — and also witnesses low foreign direct investment in vital sectors of the economy. China, on the other hand, is brimming with surplus cash, capital, technology and multinational corporations that wish to invest in Pakistan. Pakistan makes better sense for them because of geographical proximity, mutual confidence and a strategic relationship. The real driving force is China’s emerging status as a global economic power. It has surprised, rather it has sent shockwaves, by establishing the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank that will play a big role in the development of Asian countries. Pakistan is one of those that will benefit from the bank and Chinese companies have already established their foothold in our economy.
The recent visit of President Xi Jinping takes this bilateral relationship to a new point. Never has any country signed so many agreements with the price tag of $45 billion. These agreements have been negotiated by our governments for more than one year, and some of them, like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, started much earlier. The corridor is the real game-changer in both China and Pakistan. China gets access to the Gwadar Port with closer connectivity of its western borders, and a big opportunity to invest in a very large number of projects from export processing zones to energy production and industrial parks throughout the country. The development of Gwadar and the corridor will change the economy of Pakistan and generate multiple channels of economic interdependence for the entire region.
The real test and challenge lies in the timely completion of the projects envisaged in the new vision of the China-Pakistan relationship. The sooner it is done, the better it will be.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2015.
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