Pakistan-China Relations And CPEC Factor – OpEd


Historical Perspective 

Pakistan in its has faced many ups and downs, became part of various alliances and also left some of them. But one thing that has remained unshakeable is the Pakistan-China friendship. 

This friendship is dubbed as the “iron brotherhood” in China and “all weather tested friendship” in Pakistan. Two years after Pakistan’s independence, modern day China came into being in 1949 after the communist revolution under Mao Zedong. Since establishing diplomatic relations on 21 May 1951 both states have sustained cordial ties till the current date. The mutual relations started soon, in 1955 Chinese vice president visited Pakistan and later Hussein Shaheed Suharwardi reciprocally visited Beijing. Both sates pledged to cooperate with each other in times of difficulties and hardships. The first high level agreement Pakistan and China conducted was a border agreement in 1963. China also remained helpful in the 1965 and 1971 wars.

The USSR and China, two notable communist regimes of Cold War era, started parting their ways in early 1970s. The USA, the biggest proponent of the capitalist block, saw an opportunity and strove to mend fences with second biggest communist country, China. In this Sino-US rapprochement, Pakistan played a crucial role. It is said that the then American secretary of state Henry Kissinger surreptitiously travelled to China via Pakistan. Therefore Pakistan was the state which helped China to bridge its differences with the West. 

The decade of 1970s and 1980s saw a deepening of ties between both countries on education, culture and scientific research. Thousands of Pakistani students and researcher were granted admissions in universities in China. Benazir Bhutto also visited China and signed memorandum of understandings regarding mutual cooperation and growth. The bilateral friendship entered into historic phase in 1999 when both countries signed an agreement for developing the JF-17 Thunder fighter jet, which is backbone of our defense apparatus.

Post 2000 Relations

In the early years of 21st century, Pakistan had to collaborate with the USA on its war on terror in order to protect national interests at global levels. The USA supported Pakistan militarily and economically but also carried out civil nuclear deal with India in 2005. This deal with an archrival India was not acceptable to Pakistan. Also, the USA and India carried out various strategic agreements to strengthen bilateral ties. In recent times this Indo-USA partnership has one prime objective: to contain China. In this historic context, Pakistan and China also deepened their strategic friendship to counter growing Indo-US alliance. 

In the domain of defense, China is the key ally of Pakistan since past two decades. Pakistan and China in a joint venture built JF-17 thunder fighter jet which was inducted into Pakistan defense mechanism in 2010. Later both states jointly built frigates, destroyers and J-10c fighter jets. The latest reports regarding defense imports and exports show that almost 70 percent of defense related imports of Pakistan come from China, which makes 30-35 percent of all Chinese defense exports. In the wake of Indo-USA maritime co-operations in the Indian Ocean Region, China is also accelerating its naval cooperation with Pakistan. 

Pakistan, since its inception is mired in plethora of challenges, biggest among them is economic instability. In all economic crises, the country which came to rescue Pakistan without any condition is China. In 1964 China for very first time lent 60 million dollars to Pakistan for importing industrial goods and the process is still continue. Recently when Pakistan’s economy was at the brink of collapse, China decided to roll back its 2 billion dollar loan. Besides IMF, World Bank and Paris Club, China is biggest source of loans for Pakistan.

CPEC Factor

In the aftermaths of changing regional and global geopolitical and strategic environment in second decade of 21st century, China decided to assert its hegemonic powers on world stage. Incumbent Chinese president Xi Jinping announced to launch belt and road initiative in 2013. This massive project is comprised on 06 corridors, and among them CPEC is crucial because it passes through only one country unlike others. The CPEC project was signed in 2015 when Xi Jinping visited Pakistan. The initial cost of this project was 46 billion dollars, but now it has crossed 60 billion dollars mark. The first phase of project is concerned with building transportation and energy infrastructures. Since the start of project approximately 1000 km of highways is constructed, along with 820 km of fiber optics line from Rawalpindi to khunjerab. In the field of energy a total of 14 projects have been completed which include coal, wind, solar and hydroelectric power plants. These completed projects are approximately inducting 8600 MW of energy in Pakistan’s national grid. 

The second phase of CPEC project is about developing special economic zones, social development of Pakistan and establishing free economic zones in Gwadar port city. In the second phase three special economic zones (Rashakai, Dhabeji, and Allama Iqbal Industrial City Faisalabad) have been completed and operationalised. Bostan special economic zone in Quetta and one economic zone in Havelian are under construction. In the social sector a lot of projects have been completed which are vaccine storage and transportation mechanism, poverty alleviation trainings, emergency relief supplies for enhancing capacity of National Disaster Management Authority, and Pakistan vocational and technical education capacity building projects. This flagship project has brought huge foreign direct investment amounting to 25 billion dollars, generated revenues of 17.55 billion dollars and gave more than 2 billion dollars in taxes. Also, it has led to creation of approximately 200000 direct jobs .

CPEC is mutual beneficial for both countries. China is a huge country, almost 90 percent population of China lives in its Eastern half which has left Western half underdeveloped. China’s goods from main cities have to cover approximately 28,000 km to reach European markets and approximately 18,000 km to reach Middle Eastern markets from Shanghai and South China Sea route. If China diverts its trade through Pakistan (CPEC) it would reduce distance by approximately 8,000-10,000 km. Also; CPEC is an alternative route to hostile Strait of Malacca. CPEC is not only beneficial for China but it has great potential of transit trade for Central Asian Republics, Afghanistan and ultimately Russia. 

The last word:

Conclusively, through the thick and thin China has remained a stalwart ally of Pakistan, extending support from loans, investments, exchange programs, defense collaboration and CPEC to international level: supporting in UNSC. In the changing regional and global dynamics, states cannot progress on their own. They must need the support of other states in one form or other. Pakistan has remained in the Western block mainly an ally of the USA but contrary to hopes Pakistan lost much as compared to gains. In the wake of growing Indo-USA strategic partnership, the chance for Pakistan to ally with the USA is bleak. Only China is the option which can help Pakistan to thrive on the world stage. China is a growing economy and estimated to assume status of super power within next few decades. Pakistan can harness its geopolitical location to reap the dividends of being in backyard of superpower. 

Allah Nawaz

Allah Nawaz is a graduate of social sciences from Bahria University Islamabad, International affairs analyst with a particular focus on security and strategic studies.

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