By Syed Ali Zafar August 10, 2008
Pakistan was the first Muslim state to recognize China in 1950 and hence began an era of mutual trust and understanding for which often colorful metaphors like “time tested” and “all whether” friendship have been often aptly used.
The relationship went from strength to strength primarily because whenever required not only did both sides cooperate on international issues but fully supported each other in times of need. Pakistan was a conduit for opening up China-US dialogue when Henry Kissinger flew from Chaklala Airbase to Beijing, and even supported China in subduing Muslim dominated militancy in China’s Northern Province. China on the other hand, e.g., came to Pakistan’s aid in both wars against India and always helped Pakistan militarily, economically and in maintaining its territorial integrity. Quite apart from this friendship between the two flourished also because of geopolitical situation existing in the world at that time; Cold War between USA and then USSR was at its peak; India and China had territorial and political disputes; China’s relationship with Japan and other South Asian countries was not friendly; and China had virtually no influence in Africa or Latin America. China itself, apart from sheer size of its army, was not as technologically advanced in warfare as the two main super powers or even many European countries, nor was the Chinese leadership ready to militarily or otherwise have its presence felt beyond the countries near its immediate boundaries. China was then also not close to being the economic might as now.
At that time Pakistan had some value to give back to China and also existence of conducive circumstances and absence of rivals competing for China’s friendship, ensured growing relationship between the two countries. While this Sino-Pakistan relationship is likely to endure (according to Chinese President’s message given to Pakistan recently that it is China’s keen desire to “build on past achievements and strengthen traditional friendship, advance with time, expand and enrich China-Pakistan strategic partnership so that our friendship will pass on from generation to generation”), worlds circumstances and China’s own political and economic situation has undergone a major transformation. In these changed circumstances Pakistan cannot be complacent and take things for granted, and indeed to meet the goal “of building on past achievements”, must prepare itself for an aggressive future looking policy.
Chinese makeover began as far back as 1990s by which time the “Mao” dominated generation of Chinese leaders had either passed away or become a voiceless minority, and Chinese leadership, although still conservative, but brimming with new confidence, realized that if China was to effectively compete with other developed countries, it had to start “playing a decisive role in world affairs”. China hence began a worldwide offensive to acquire a “soft influence” (as opposed to the hard-line military approach of the past). The Asian financial crises of 1997 provided a convenient point, when in sharp contrast to US and Japanese policies, Beijing refused to devalue its currency and came out as a country which was willing to stand up for other Asian states in time of need. At the same time, while entering into various bilateral corporate agreements with other countries China also began to end all its old border disputes. China’s aim to spread its “soft influence” around the world obtained further impetus by the missteps from US and its post 9-11 selfish and inward looking policies, including its war in Iraq and Afghanistan and lopsided and biased dealings with international disputes.
More importantly for Pakistan, during this time the world also saw emergence of India as a player in the economic field. It was but natural that both China and India recognized advantages of relationships afresh. An important landmark was realized when Chinese President Hu Jintao announced five point proposal for promoting China-India economic and trade cooperation in 2006 (which included setting a new goal for bilateral trade to reach US$ 40 billion by 2010, establishing concrete venues for economic and trade cooperation and strengthening cooperation in multilateral arenas like WTO). Since then it is envisaged that bilateral trade target for the year 2010 may even go beyond the US$ 50 Billion mark. India and China are now cooperating to meet energy demands and collaborating on oil and gas projects in countries like Iran, Syria and Kazakhstan as well in the countries in South America and Africa. China has even offered assistance in India’s nuclear energy program and there has been cooperation on defence matters. China and India alongwith Brazil are also the key figures in BRIC, the alternate financial organization of the world. Apart from above factors China needs to build up its relationship with India in pursuance of a policy to “engage and contain” as a counter measure to the developing US-India relationship. During Cold War, India’s proximity with USSR was a danger to China and this too is no longer there.
On the other hand stakes seem to be piling up against Pakistan, which opened up its air space to America and it appears that there could be a number of American air bases on Pakistani soil. There has been a US puppet regime operating in Kabul. Pakistan itself seems under US influence. Pakistan and China cooperation on Gwadar was based on the understanding that this would be the port used to carry goods to Central Asia and give China access to Arabian Sea and Middle Eastern markets but perhaps due to America’s growing influence in the region, coupled with unrest in Baluchistan and tribal areas, Chinese, after development of the port, have shown little interest in using it. Pakistan politically and economically also seems to have no agenda for the present moment with our leaders totally engrossed in domestic issues.
Since the future certainly belongs to China, which already is a country of great influence, more and more states will be vying to improve ties with China. Pakistan has advantage of the past but nothing lasts forever and with the changing face of China and its emerging relationship with India, Pakistan needs to take fresh initiative and concrete steps to ensure that preferential treatment Pakistan had enjoyed with China for the last many decades continues through the next generation.
There may be many things to be done but having sounded out a warning that China, notwithstanding its friendship with Pakistan, continue to expand ties with India, I intend to point out a few practical steps ought to be taken immediately. One impact of globalization will be collaborations on business ventures and projects between countries. China has just begun to bring professionalism to their business management but are technically and training-wise not very strong, and will therefore not only be looking for, but would prefer entering into joint ventures with nations whose people have the intellectual and technical skills and expertise to make the collaboration successful. For example India has already begun establishing universities where Chinese language is compulsory in MBA programme (remember in anticipation of things to come India invested in IT education in universities decades ago and readily established themselves as IT kings of the world, while Pakistan was still trying to solve its political problems). India has also embarked upon a major exchange program amongst students and experts which resulted in joint ventures being executed. Their plan is to enhance their educational system so they can be true partners in China’s future projects.
In order to stay in the game Pakistan must provide enough intellectual and trained manpower equipped in Chinese styles of management and working, and speaking Chinese and English languages, so that collaborations in future joint ventures between Pakistan and Chinese entities all over the world can become a reality. Pakistan needs to set up joint and unilateral universities, institutions and fields of studies in China and Pakistan for training in management sciences, IT, energy, infrastructure, science and technology, Chinese language, Chinese history and culture and in this manner right away start preparing the future teams of people who the Chinese would indeed prefer to work with. Pakistan Government needs to substantially increase programmes for exchange of scholars, send more and more students to China and organize many informal business and cultural summits. If we make a beginning now, we may hope to compete with the Indians for collaborations in China’s joint ventures, otherwise we may be too late and lose the economic advantage of having a relationship with China. Perhaps our private universities like Hamdard, Beacon and others can start programmes on these lines.
Apart from this, of course the future plan must re-evaluate and announce new and more aggressive bilateral trade goals our relationship with US and our joint fight against terrorism notwithstanding, consider setting up multilateral areas, economic zones and economic organizations with China and try and truly work towards synchronizing our economy with China. Agriculture is our main saviour and dams our priority. The leaders should put differences aside and notwithstanding the issues which can continue to be debated and resolved in their own time, plans need to be made of how value and benefit can be reaped from China’s expertise and assistance. The economy of Pakistan is in doldrums and the confidence of people at the lowest. Immediate announcements of China ventures and building dams could stimulate the economy and boost the hopes of the Pakistani nation and would give the much needed credibility to the Government.