New contours of Pak-China relations

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Schehram Siddiqi describes salient features of joint communiqué of Imran Khan’s visit

President Xi and PM Imran Khan

The joint communiqué issued on the conclusion of the visit of PM Imran Khan is very specific though it covers multiple areas of cooperation between Pakistan and China. The emphasis on the nature of mutual ties that are termed as All-Weather Strategic Cooperative Partnership aimed at building closer China-Pakistan community of shared future in the new era. The point to note here is that the Chinese have interpreted the relationship according to principles set forth by the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Good-neighbourly Relations between the People’s Republic of China and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan signed in 2005.

By doing so the Chinese have deliberately avoided giving the credit of ushering a new era between both countries to the political developments taking place in Pakistan after 2005. This assertion is in line with Chinese policies of keeping politics separate from economic matters as designed by Deng Zhao Ping that play an integral part in Chinese national development.

The significant emphasis therefore is on economic matters, particularly CPEC, for which both sides reaffirmed their complete consensus on its future trajectory. Timely completion of its on-going projects is also emphasised along with realization of its full potential. CPEC is described as geared towards socio-economic development, job creation and livelihoods on Pakistan and also accelerating cooperation in industrial development, industrial parks and agriculture.

Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to CPEC and agreed that it was a win-win enterprise for entire region thereby ending the objections raised about it recently though both sides kept the door slightly ajar by mentioning that they will discuss the CPEC-related issues through China-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, political consultations and JCC. On an assertive and decisive note both sides dismissed the growing negative propaganda against CPEC and expressed determination to safeguard the CPEC projects from all threats and categorically stated that Pakistan recognised the immense contribution of the Chinese personnel working on various economic projects in Pakistan. To strengthen their resolve both sides agreed to speed up progress on Gwadar Port and its auxiliary projects.

Trade, investment and financial cooperation was also emphasised with an agreement to boost Pakistan’s industrial capacity including through joint ventures in priority areas, relocation of labour-intensive industry and SMEs collaboration. They expressed determination to address trade imbalance by broadening market access for agricultural and ICT products and simplifying customs, quarantine and phyto-sanitary procedures through concluding the second phase of the China-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement. Banking cooperation was also undertaken through letting respective banks operating in both countries and satisfaction at the operationalisation of currency-swap agreement. Both sides agreed to strengthen cooperation on tourism promotion.

Pakistani delegation
Detailed parleys

As a measure to ensure maritime cooperation it was agreed to strengthen on maritime affairs including close cooperation on navigation security, marine economy, exploration and utilization of marine resources, marine scientific research and marine environmental protection. It was also agreed to deepen collaboration in areas of new and emerging technologies, nanotechnology, biotechnology, ICT, which can contribute to improved living standards through their applications in the fields of health, agriculture, water, energy and food security.

Promoting 2012-2020 Space Cooperation Outline between China National Space Administration (CNSA) and Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) was also undertaken along with working together in fields of manned space and the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO) and SUPARCO will sign a framework agreement on cooperation.

Pakistan side recognised the great strides made by China in the field of agriculture and both sides agreed to build on existing cooperation in the area of agriculture and explore new areas of joint collaboration. Pakistani agricultural practices are antiquated that are primarily responsible for low yields.

Signing of agreements
Chinese water sprinkling-technique
Gwadar Port

Moreover, almost 20 million acres of Pakistan could not be planted due to lack of water and China can help in resolving this issue through its well-developed water-sprinkling techniques. It was therefore agreed to enhance Sino-Pak cooperation in the areas of climate change, desertification control, desalination, water management, afforestation and ecological restoration, wetland protection and restoration, wildlife protection, forestry industry development, disaster management and risk reduction.

Pakistan expressed a desire to learn from the Chinese poverty alleviation model which has lifted over 700 million people out of poverty over the last forty years. China is willing to strengthen policy dialogue, experience sharing and capacity building in the field of poverty reduction with Pakistan and support Pakistan to establish poverty alleviation demonstration projects.

The Chinese assistance will also be directed towards agriculture, education, health, poverty alleviation, safe drinking water, and vocational training. Both sides also agreed to enhance collaboration in the field of health care, medical and surgical treatment. Both sides will share best practices and explore collaboration in the fields of disease surveillance and control, vaccine production as well as traditional medicine.

In line with the efforts of current Chinese leadership to eradicate corruption in China, the joint communiqué also contained a stringent message mentioning that the Pakistan side recognised China’s unremitting efforts to combat corruption and its great achievements and evinced interest in learning from the Chinese experience and accomplishments in the field of anti-corruption. Though the statement is couched in soft diplomatic parlance but it expresses the hard line opinion of Chinese leadership about corruption. President Xi has gone to extreme lengths in combating corruption and did not even hesitate in incarcerating the incumbent Chief of Interpol, a Chinese national, on his visit to mother country without formal notice.

The sensational arrest of Interpol chief was to give a message to government functionaries that even while they serving abroad it does not exempt them from being nabbed for corruption. Authorities in Pakistan have hastened their anti-corruption drive but Chinese do not consider it fast and rigorous enough to yield favourable results and they want government to proceed against the members of government services along with leading politicians.

CPEC has enabled both countries to engage on more people-to-people contact as Chinese citizens are required to work for many projects in Pakistan. Cognisant of the matter, both sides reiterated the importance of people-to-people contacts and cultural exchanges and agreed to encourage mutual visits of nationals of the two countries. Both sides agreed to improve visa facilitation for mutual visits. It was agreed to enhance exchanges and dialogue between leaders at provincial and local levels with particular reference to economy, trade, transportation, energy, industry, tourism, education, people-to-people contacts and livelihoods.

China is also conscious of lack of quality education in Pakistan, particularly high level education and has agreed to intensify educational linkages especially between higher education institutions. China is a already a popular destination for Pakistani students with about 25,000 Pakistanis enrolled across universities in China and henceforth China will offer additional scholarships for Pakistani students.

They agreed to promote teaching of Pakistan Studies and Urdu language at Chinese Universities and Sinology and Chinese language at Pakistani Universities. China intends supporting Pakistan in technical and vocational training to develop skilled manpower for employment in CPEC projects through upgrading vocational training institutes, vocational training exchanges and capacity building of trainers.

Defence matters were also quite high on the agenda and it was decided to enhance defence cooperation, high-level visits and exchanges at various levels between relevant departments of the two armed forces, make full use of the China-Pakistan Defence and Security Consultation mechanism, cooperation in areas such as military exercises, training cooperation, personnel exchanges and equipment and technology cooperation.

Chinese fondness for symbolism is quite apparent in mentioning efforts to carry out joint action against “Three Evils” of extremism, terrorism and separatism. Accordingly the Chinese side conveyed its support to Pakistan’s commitment and efforts to counter terrorism, assured Pakistan of its support in implementing its counter-terrorism strategy and commended the tremendous sacrifices made by the Pakistani nation in the fight against terrorism and for Pakistan’s immense contribution to regional and international peace and security through its achievements and successes. The Pakistani side reaffirmed its support to the Chinese side in safeguarding its sovereignty and security, and combating separatism, terrorism and extremism including East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM).

On international and regional issues the most significant was the agreement of both sides on strengthening cooperation on the Afghan issue and support the ‘Afghan-owned and Afghan-led’ peace and reconciliation process. China appreciates that Pakistan and Afghanistan are coordinating closely through the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) to enhance cooperation between the two countries in all areas. Both sides agreed on the importance of China-Afghanistan-Pakistan consultations at the Foreign Ministers level aimed at deepening trilateral cooperation for shared progress, development and security and for strengthening peace and stability in Afghanistan. Both sides supported Afghanistan to host the second tripartite foreign ministers dialogue within this year.

The visit of PM Imran Khan did not see immediate availability of funds to assist Pakistan tide over its balance of payment deficiency, hinting that China wants Pakistan to pursue a financial bailout from IMF. It is quite understandable because China is in the wake of financial crunch brought about by tough trade war America has subjected it to. But China has not said no to any financial help and has made it clear that this matter will be discussed in further consultations between both governments. As a matter of China’s continued interest in promoting financial collaboration with Pakistan, the two sides also signed fifteen (15) Agreements/MoUs on a range of bilateral issues.

Schehram Siddiqi is an industrialist based in Lahore

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