Pakistan-China Relationship In a Changing World

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The world is undergoing profound changes unseen in a century, with increasing sources of turbulence and risks around the world. We are witnessing significant political, strategic, and economic transformation and it would not be wrong to say that the world is in a state of flux and uncertainty.  The end of the cold war heralded the emergence of numerous fast-developing economies in Asia, South America, Africa, and the phenomenal rise of China, strengthening the expectation of the establishment of a multipolar world by the middle of the 21st Century.

The transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world is a period of uncertainty with the emergence of new alignments and new security and economic structures.

On the international front, we see the US-China rivalry fast turning from competition to confrontation. The US believes that China needs to be contained and its global influence countered through a range of political and business protective measures that include activities that the US believes can inhibit, reduce, retard, and slow down China’s growing influence. The growing fear of China’s phenomenal rise and the imminent possibility of China emerging as the most powerful state in the world economically, politically, and strategically resulted in the passage of the notorious China Containment Bill by the U.S.A in 2022 and then declaring China as a threat in its National Security Strategy and other documents. These measures also manifest the insatiable desire of the U.S.A. to continuously have an enemy to fight against. When there is none, they ensure one is created, in this case, China.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit in 2022 heightened the possibility of the dormant war theatre opening in the Straits of Taiwan, destabilizing the entire region and beyond. Now the controversy over a weather balloon has further made the China-U.S.A relationship completely unpredictable, unstable, and volatile. The balloon saga clearly demonstrates that China-U.S.A. competition is here to stay and has the potential to undermine peace and stability, particularly in the Asia Pacific region.

The United States has substantially expanded its defense budgets incorporating new technologies in its already massive defense capabilities. In the Pacific, Australia at the behest of the U.S.A and as a member of QUAD is now predominantly focusing on the Pacific Islands, Japan, situated off the eastern coast of China with difficult bilateral relations with China after almost 80 years is being encouraged to expand its defense budget gradually coursing it to abandon its peaceful orientation.

In the North East of China we see South Korea clearly demonstrated its preference for the United States in case of any confrontation while India has been chosen to be the strategic partner of the U.S.A in the Indian Ocean Region continues to heighten tensions with China and Pakistan, the all-weather strategic cooperative partner of China. On the other hand, security tensions between the United States and its allies and partners, and China also display signs of escalation. All these political moves by the U.S.A clearly betray its desire to encircle China too, if not stop, at least retard the political and economic rise of China.

China continuously trying to build up its stature as a leading world power that is responsible and desires a peaceful and developed world based on its concept of “Win-Win Cooperation”.

Therefore, we see that on the heels of the Global Development Initiative (GDI) launched in 2021, China launched the Global Security Initiative (GDI) in April 2022.

Developing countries, particularly Pakistan which is situated in an extremely important region, will face severe challenges alongside emerging opportunities. Pakistan needs to navigate these turbulent waters with great strategic vision and political sagacity if it wants to successfully emerge from this flux as a politically and economically strong nation.

Strengthening its all-weather strategic cooperative partnership with China while maintaining its friendly relations with the USA and Europe will be challenging but that is the only wise course of action to take for Pakistan.

Therefore, the coming decades will be the real test of political and strategic farsightedness and a test of its diplomacy.

Pakistan-China friendship has evolved over the past seven decades into a well-rounded relationship based on mutual trust and respect. Today, they truly are “All-Weather Strategic Cooperative Partners” and each other’s strength and “iron brothers”. This relationship has withstood the test of time and continues to demonstrate incredible stability and retain its strategic quality.

CPEC as the flagship project of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative is the unmistakable symbol of this abiding friendship and occupies a pivotal position in the development agenda of Pakistan.

CPEC has immense strategic significance for Pakistan and has already helped Pakistan lay a strong infrastructure for the subsequent development of our industry, agriculture, and human resource.

As a flagship project of the BRI, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has already achieved phenomenal success by laying a solid foundation of infrastructure in the energy and transport sectors. Building upon this foundation, Phase II of CPEC would now focus on socio-economic development and poverty alleviation for robust, sustainable, and inclusive growth for Pakistan and the whole region at large.

Pakistan and China are both aware of their respective national challenges, and external variables in the form of global threats including unanticipated military conflicts, global recessions or financial crises, disruptions in energy supply lines, or determined efforts by countries, individually or within broad coalitions, to halt regional and inter-regional connectivity through BRI, coupled with unilateralism, protectionism, and unilateral coercive measure. Pakistan and China are also mindful of common regional issues such as widespread unemployment, changes in rainfall patterns and river flows, sea level rise, the melting of the Himalayan glaciers that feed most Asian continental river systems, and the increasing scarcity of freshwater resources and should try to cooperate in these areas to address these issues.

Similarly, the complementing demographics of Pakistan, with nearly a hundred million people below the age of 25, presents a unique opportunity as a national asset to tap their latent energies and potential skills, in making them effective managers of change for the future. Further, as projected, Pakistan will be around US$ 1.5 trillion in the economy if it can maintain a growth rate of 5% in the coming years. Thus, in realizing their national goals aligned with their respective centennial anniversaries in 2047 and 2049, Pakistan and China should make every effort to realize their common vision of a Pakistan-China shared community of common interests and in doing so contribute in a positive way to the future of mankind.

The Indian Ocean is critical to global trade, security, geopolitics, and geo-economics. Conflicting alignments of the three dozen littoral states, as countries compete for influence in its crowded waterways, have made this region a potential war theatre.

How will the new power dynamics play out, particularly the U.S.A-China competition, Pakistan-India, and China-India rivalry is a question that is gaining significance and urgency by the day and further endangering the stability of the region, which is significant for global maritime trade flows? This growing interest of the major powers and the U.S.A-China competition in the Indian Ocean has serious implications for Pakistan. As the dynamics of world politics change, the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) has become the real theatre of competition between the Western powers and China, and let me add Russia to the mix as well. Now, it has become an integral part of international power dynamics.

Implications for Pakistan are huge as it is not a member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), where India is one of the founding members.

Pakistan is directly affected by the actions of these three states as China is a friend, India is a foe and the U.S.A is a transactional partner. The IOR is the future of world politics. With India becoming the sixth largest economy in the world by bypassing France, it naturally has started to assert itself in the region. The Indian hegemonic ambition in the IOR is a matter of deep concern for China as it is heavily dependent on the ocean for its trade activities.

Pakistan is situated at the nexus of the four most dynamic regions of the world – China, South and South-East Asia, the Middle East, and Central Asia. In the current changing world scenario, China has assumed great importance in the region where Pakistan is a close partner of China to pursue peace and stability in the region. Through CPEC Pakistan and China should aim at the establishment of an efficient and integrated system of communications and transport, in order for both to benefit from and contribute to the regional dynamism.

Pakistan is now actively promoting economic corridors and the experiences of China and ASEAN countries in promoting and developing regional and sub-regional corridors will benefit Pakistan/ China, countries of South and Central Asia, and beyond.

Under the new circumstances, Pakistan and China should stand together even more firmly and push forward the all-weather strategic cooperative partnership, building a closer China-Pakistan community with a shared future in the new era. Nowadays, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has entered a new stage of high-quality development, and the cooperation between our two sides will have even greater potential. China supports Pakistan in exploring a development path suited to its own national conditions and is willing to share China’s high-quality development opportunities with Pakistan and contribute to Pakistan’s industrialization, urbanization, and digitization.

It is, therefore, essential to set out clear goals and expectations, to be translated into a concrete road map and coherent strategy for balanced human, social, and economic development that would substantially contribute to regional peace and stability. We should provide a conceptual platform for the revival of sustainable and inclusive growth, benefiting the two peoples. This will strengthen the development foundation enabling both China and Pakistan to achieve their development goals. Hence, aiming at achieving a high level of human development and national autonomy associated with a high-income status before the centennial anniversaries towards the middle of this century.

It has now become imperative that both countries aim to raise the existing level of “all-weather strategic cooperative partnership” to new heights with comprehensive regional and global partnership and strategic interaction and alignment, to meet the challenges of the New Era, while adhering to the development goals and aspirations of the two people through a comprehensive and forward-looking plan of action. It is also important to carefully study China’s strategy for socioeconomic development and poverty alleviation and draw lessons from it.

Looking at the future, more vigorous, inclusive, and all-encompassing relations would not only serve the best interest of the two countries but would also ensure peace and stability for the entire region.

Pakistan and China are cognizant of the new and emerging challenges within and arising from economic-political and geo-strategic realignments.

In view of these developments, both countries should aim to build a closer and more meaningful “Pakistan-China Community of Shared Future in the New Era” in line with the 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, the Joint Statement of November 2018 and other bilateral documents focusing on the long-term development of relations.

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