By B. Raman
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China visited Pakistan from December 17 to 19, 2010, after having completed a three-day visit to India from December 15 to 17. During his stay in Pakistan, he inaugurated a one-year celebration of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Wen and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani jointly inaugurated on December 18 the Pakistan-China Friendship Center, which is a Chinese-aided cultural complex built in Islamabad by China to promote exchanges among students, media and academic circles from the two countries. Wen had laid the foundation for the center during his earlier visit to Pakistan in April 2005.
There were three important events during the visit. The first in order of significance was a joint courtesy call on him on December 18 by Gen. Khalid Shameem Wynne, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the Chief of the Army Staff, Admiral Noman Bashir, the Chief of the Naval Staff, and Air Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, the Chief of the Air Staff. According to the Xinhua news agency, during his meeting with the heads of the Pakistani Armed Forces, Wen called for enhanced military exchanges and cooperation between China and Pakistan so as to cement the bilateral strategic partnership of cooperation. He said: “The Pakistani military is a steadfast supporter and vindicator of the China-Pakistan friendship, and has played an important role in consolidating and developing their strategic partnership of cooperation.”He applauded the close exchanges between the two militaries in the areas of anti-terrorism and disaster relief, and hoped to further enhance the military links to contribute to the development of bilateral ties.
According to the Xinhua, the Pakistani military chiefs described China as an all-weather strategic partner of Pakistan and said the bilateral friendship had withstood severe challenges. The Pakistani military was ready to work jointly with China to play a positive role in developing their strategic partnership of cooperation. According to well-informed Pakistani sources, the initiative for the joint courtesy call came from the Pakistani military leaders. The meeting underlined the important role which the Pakistani Armed Forces have been playing in the development of Pakistan’s strategic partnership with China. Reports from Islamabad indicate that no Chinese military officer of comparable seniority and importance was present with Wen when he received the heads of the Pakistani Armed Forces to reassure them of China’s continued support for Pakistan.
The second in order of significance was Wen’s discussions with President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani. Xinhua quoted Wen as telling Gilani on December 17 as follows: “China and Pakistan were, are and will always be good neighbors, good friends, good partners and good brothers. China appreciates the strong support Pakistan has long been offering on issues concerning China’s core interests, and will continue backing Pakistan’s efforts in defending national sovereignty, maintaining social stability and achieving independent and sustainable economic development.” Noting that Pakistan has made huge sacrifices for and important contributions to the global counterterrorism campaign, Wen said his country is ready to work together with Pakistan to promote regional peace and stability. Speaking at a banquet hosted by Zardari, Wen said: “For decades, the two countries have been treating each other with sincerity and supporting each other on all international fora. Our friendship is a valuable asset.”
The third in order of significance was Wen’s address to a joint session of the two Houses of the Pakistan Parliament on December 19 before he left for China. In his address, Wen underlined the importance of China’s relations with Pakistan in the context of China’s policies in the region. He said inter alia: “To cement and advance the all-weather strategic partnership of cooperation between China and Pakistan is our common strategic choice. It serves the fundamental interests of both countries and peoples and contributes to peace, stability and development of the region and beyond. The two neighboring countries are brothers for ever. China-Pakistan friendship is full of vigor and vitality, like a lush tree with deep roots and thick foliage. China-Pakistan relationship is strong and solid, like a rock standing firm despite the passage of time. Pakistan has sacrificed greatly and made great efforts in the fight against terrorism. It is a reality … and the international community should respect Pakistan’s efforts.” Recalling Pakistan’s consistent and full support to China in the past at some crucial junctures and on various issues, including issues concerning Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang, Wen said that China received valuable help from Pakistan.
Talking to the media after Wen’s address to the Parliament, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik described it as a strong message to the enemies of Pakistan. He said that Wen’s address reflected the emotional attachment of the people and Government of China with the Government and the people of Pakistan and added: “The Premier’s speech must have rung alarm bells to the enemies of Pakistan, which cast covetous eyes on its peace, stability, progress and prosperity. It’s a strong message to the enemies (of Pakistan).”
Following are the salient points of the joint statement issued by Gilani and Wen at the end of their talks:
- “China-Pakistan relationship has gone beyond the bilateral scope, with broader regional and international influence.”
- “The Pakistani side stressed that the friendship with China is the cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy.”
- “The Chinese side reiterated its respect for Pakistan’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. The Pakistan side reiterated its adherence to the one-China policy.”
- “The two sides agreed to focus on strengthening infrastructure, energy and agricultural cooperation. The Chinese side is willing to upgrade the Karakoram Highway. An energy cooperation mechanism has been established to promote co-operation in the development of conventional energy, renewable energy and civilian nuclear cooperation.”
- The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China has decided to open branches in Islamabad and Karachi.
- The two sides have decided to strengthen the implementation of the framework agreement on co-operation between the China National Space Administration and the Pakistan Space and Atmosphere Research Commission.
- “China believes that in the fight against terrorism, Pakistan has made great efforts and sacrifices. It reaffirmed its respect for Pakistan’s efforts to develop and implement its own national conditions under its anti-terrorism strategy. Pakistan reiterated its firm determination to combat terrorism.”
- “China believes that Pakistan is an important country in the region, which should play an important role for the maintenance of regional peace, security and stability. The two countries support the unity and the territorial integrity of Afghanistan. “
Wen’s visit came at a time when the Pakistani economy is going through a difficult period due to the recent floods and when Pakistan has been under increasing criticism from the US for not doing enough in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Apart from highlighting the growing strategic partnership between the two countries and their military-military relationship, Wen missed no opportunity to underline China’s economic solidarity with Pakistan and its appreciation of Islamabad’s contribution to the fight against terrorism. He was reported to have promised to Pakistan low-interest loans amounting to US $ one billion for various projects and export credits amounting to US $ 300 million.
There has been some confusion regarding the total economic benefits to Pakistan as a result of the Wen visit. The “Global Times” of China estimated the total value of the various agreements signed as about US $ 10 billion, but the Pakistani media, briefed by Pakistani officials, has given the figure as US $ 35 billion. After going through the welter of confusing reports from Pakistan on the economic benefits to Pakistan, one can assess as follows:
- Immediately after the floods, China had pledged US $ 250 million as grants as flood relief. Wen has pledged another US $ 400 million as low-interest loans for the reconstruction of the flood-ravaged infrastructure.
- Among the infrastructure reconstruction projects to be given priority is the repair, upgradation and recommissioning of the Karakoram Highway from Xinjiang. The National Highway Authority (NHA) of Pakistan and the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) signed an agreement for the reconstruction/rehabilitation of a portion of the Karakoram Highway (KKH) which had been damaged at a cost of $275 million. NHA Chairman Altaf Ahmed Chaudhry and CRBC President Wen Gang signed the agreement on behalf of their respective organisations. While talking to reporters, Chaudhry said that heavy landsliding at Attaabad on the Karakoram Highway had blocked the flow of the River Hunza, which resulted in the formation of a lake at the site. The lake submerged a 25 kilometre-long section of KKH, resulting in suspension of traffic and all other activities in the area. The CRBC was already engaged in widening and rehabilitation of the Raikot-Khunjerab section of the KKH. Following a survey, the CRBC has said that a section of the road could be reclaimed by bringing down the water level in the lake by 30 metres. A new alignment will have to be made for the rest of the portion. Chaudhry said that a 17-kilometer-long road will be constructed on a new alignment while a 7 kilometre-long section will be rehabilitated. The project will be completed in two years. He said the project includes construction of two tunnels having a length of 4,485 metres and 1,225 metres. He added that seven large and two bridges and 70 culverts will also be built. (From the “Daily Times” of Lahore)
- According to a list of Chinese-aided projects handed out to journalists by Pakistani officials, the biggest deal to receive Chinese assistance would be worth $6.5 billion to develop wind and solar power. There was no specific reference to the Chinese assistance for the construction of three more nuclear power stations. The Chinese proposal in this regard is still to be approved by the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group. Despite this, the Chinese suppliers of the new power stations are going ahead with their preparatory work such as preparation of designs.
- Pakistani officials told their media that Pakistan and China have agreed in principle to constitute a consortium for seeking a soft loan from international institutions for laying a railway line between the two countries through the Khunjerab Pass. It is not clear why China is not providing the funds for this as it has done in the case of the railway lines being constructed by it in Myanmar. China had strongly opposed in the Asian Development Bank a proposal for a soft loan for some Indian hydel power stations in Arunachal Pradesh. India should strongly oppose any proposal for financial assistance to the proposed railway line from any international or regional institution.
- There was no reference during Wen’s visit to the Pakistani proposal for the construction of oil/gas pipelines from the Chinese-constructed Gwadar port to Xinjiang. The Chinese continue to be hesitant to make fresh commitments in Balochistan due to the security problems in the area.
The relatives of 350 Pakistani nationals languishing in jails in China held a demonstration in Peshawar on December 18 to demand the release of their relatives by the Chinese authorities. They have been arrested and jailed by the Chinese authorities for illegally entering Xinjiang and for indulging in narcotics smuggling. Many of those arrested for narcotics smuggling have been sentenced to death by Chinese courts.