Pakistan and China are tied in a special relationship that defies usual textbook logic. The relations are rooted in the similarity of cultures and millennia of civilizational interactions. Informed by 5000 years of rich culture and civilization, the Chinese value history. They have not forgotten the air corridor that Pakistan provided to China in 1949 in difficult circumstances for the newborn republic. In those early years, the People’s Republic of China faced global isolation.
Disregarding possible opposition by global powers, Pakistan turned Karachi into a gateway to the world for China, thus becoming a bridge between Beijing and the world. This has literally become part of the Chinese folklore as an expression of an abiding sense of gratitude for Pakistan’s help and solidarity with China in its nascent post-revolution days.
This is an intrinsically positive relationship; rooted in the hearts and minds of the two peoples. Affirmed and validated by succeeding generations during the past seventy years, it is a time tested all-weather friendship that transcends expediencies of politics and geopolitical strategies.
The beginnings of this friendship could be credited to former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Chairman Mao Zedong and Chou En Lai. They laid the foundation for an exceptional partnership by taking a conscious and clear-headed decision to establish deep cooperative ties. Leaders on both the sides have continued to invest devotedly to the flourishing of bilateral relations – which enjoy a nation-wide consensus in Pakistan.
I was the Ambassador to China from 2005 to 2008 and have fond memories of our efforts for delineating a clear forward trajectory imbuing greater substance to the bilateral relations.
The fact is that various projects that now carry the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) label were conceived in those years. There was a clear vision – flowing from President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – which got translated into dozens of memoranda of understanding (MoUs), agreements and strategic frameworks along with implementation mechanisms.
In this phase of so-called great power competition, there are many controversies and misgivings about the Chinese strategic designs via the BRI. A lot of misplaced speculation surrounds the working of the CPEC. Gwadar, for instance, is a commercial port; reading strategic military connotations into it is just propaganda.
I remember my several visits to the Chinese Foreign Office to ask them to take up the operational aspects of the Gwadar port. They did not respond, as they were not interested in it at that time. Therefore, it was given to the Singapore Port Authority in (2006).
To read strategic calculus as the pivot of Pakistan-China relations, in my view, is not apt. Little thought is given to the fact that these are concepts of cooperation on an equal footing for progress and common development – for notions of geo-economics rather than brute geo-politics.
Nearly every physical project of economic significance in Pakistan was either gifted by or dependent on Chinese assistance. The landmark Karakorum Highway (KKH) that runs North to South through the majestic Karakorum mountains, the heavy mechanical and electrical industries’ complexes at Taxila and Wah, the Kamra aeronautical complex, the four nuclear power plants at Chashma and the K2, K3 nuclear power plants in Karachi are just a few examples of such projects.
The long term Pakistan-China Space Cooperation Program has also seen concrete achievements. Today, CPEC is contributing immensely to the development of infrastructure in road communication, energy, agricultural and industrial sectors. It is now centered on establishing industrial zones and promoting socio-economic development.
In our experience, China operates on the basis of principles. It has proven to be a responsible stakeholder in the dynamics of international relations. In the China-Pakistan context, China has scrupulously abided by the principles of non-intervention and non-interference in our internal affairs. Both countries share the vision for a just, peaceful and prosperous world. They enjoy complete mutual trust in accordance with the imperatives of global interdependence and cooperation. It is indeed a special relationship that transcends the complexities of geopolitics and is firmly anchored in the Asian values of friendship and cooperation.
The author served as Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary between May 2008 and March 2012. He served in Beijing as the Ambassador of Pakistan from 2005 to 2008.
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