With Chinese President XI Jinping’s latest visit to Islamabad, the two neighbouring countries officially upgraded their relations to a new high – terming their diplomatic ties an “all-weather strategic partnership of cooperation.” The terms, never before seen within international relations, can certainly be considered an expression of the unique relationship between China and Pakistan.
The attachment of this prefix comes after six decades of friendship based on sincerity and mutual support between the two governments and the two peoples. It similarly forecasts a bright future for their bilateral relations following a decades-long history of cooperation. During President Xi’s Islamabad trip, the two countries held talks concerning the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which connects the Pakistani deep water Gwadar Port and China’s in-land city of Kashgar in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Xi’s trip led to the signing of a total 51 deals on a wide range of issues, from energy and infrastructure to education and culture. With these steps taken, a more prosperous Pakistani economy is to be expected and a fresh impetus has entered into China-Pakistan relations.
Best for both sides
Of the 51 deals signed between China and Pakistan, 30 agreements were related to the proposed economic corridor. The economic corridor, which was first announced during Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Pakistan in May 2013, is a planned network of roads, railways and energy projects for which China will commit $46 billion in investment. The scale of investment is more than the $31 billion the United States has provided to Pakistan over the past 10 years in security and economic funds, according to the US Congressional Research Service.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif hailed the economic corridor as an excellent example of cooperation between the two countries, adding that it bears great significance to peace and prosperity in the region.
Observers said that the economic corridor will benefit both China and Pakistan greatly.
Zhou Gang, former Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, noted that he hoped the corridor project could help curb Pakistan’s crippling energy crisis, since the economic corridor’s initial focus will be on providing power to Pakistan. In the meantime, providing assistance for China’s neighbour to overcome this obstacle in its development can help the country tap into its full economic potential. A stronger Pakistan will in turn provide the region with an economic hub once the nation’s cash-strapped economy – which previously took out loans from the World Bank and the IMF – stabilises on account of its energy needs being met.
Federal Minister for Planning and Development, Ahsan Iqbal, the Pakistani minister overseeing the corridor project, was quoted by Pakistani media that China and Pakistan will cooperate in natural gas, coal and solar energy projects that will provide 16,400 megawatts of electricity – roughly equivalent to the entirety of the country’s current capacity.
According to Iqbal, some $15.5 billion worth of power projects will come online with Chinese help by 2017.
Lou Chunhao, a researcher on South Asian studies with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, noted that when compared with their close political ties, the nations’ economic ties lagged behind. Trade between China and Pakistan last year was only $16 billion, while that with India, another important neighbour of China in South Asia, was worth $70.6 billion.
However, observers also warned of the difficulties the two countries face in the construction of the corridor, which is particularly bleak as a result of extremist and separatist forces in the area.
In the province of Balochistan where the Gwadar Port lies, insurgents known as the Balochistan Liberation Front have attacked numerous gas pipelines, trains and construction workers. In early April, the militia claimed responsibility for an attack in the province that left 20 construction workers dead.
Deeply concerned about regional secularity, the two countries vowed to strengthen cooperation on combating terrorism and safeguarding the region in a joint statement made during Xi’s visit. Lou stated that China is aware of the security issues that exist, but remains committed to the project regardless. Lou said the employment opportunities that the corridor’s construction will create in the region are sure to bring stability to the area.
Flagship for the initiative
The projects in Pakistan are expected to proceed smoothly with security guarantees from the Pakistani side and the pledged capital support from China. The significance of the economic corridor is even more apparent when its location, where the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road (the Belt and Road initiative) meet, is taken into consideration.
The Belt and Road Initiative refers to a host of international trade and infrastructure projects proposed by President Xi in 2013.
“The economic corridor can be seen as the flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The advancing of the economic corridor shows that China is focused not only on its own development but that of its neighbours and the region as whole,” Lou added.
During Xi’s visit to Pakistan, a total of $1.65 billion was pledged toward the newly unveiled Karot hydropower project – the first endeavour to receive funding from China’s $40 billion Silk Road Fund.
The fund, which President Xi announced during the Beijing Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings, will be used to provide investment and financing support for projects to connect the countries along the routes. – Beijing Review