Pakistan and China are celebrating 2011 as a year of friendship to mark 60 years of diplomatic relations. The Pakistan-China friendship is unique in many ways in the recent history of state-to-state relations. The friendly relationship has been described over the years by the leaderships of the two countries as all-weather; time-tested; deep-rooted; trusted; deeper than the oceans and higher than the Himalayas; sweeter than honey; and lately, as comprehensive; strategic and stronger than steel. These expressions are not simple clichés but truly reflect the strength, depth and maturity of the relationship constructed over the last 60 years.
The world has changed immeasurably in all respects since the two countries established diplomatic relationship 60 years ago. Similarly, the civil and military leadership in both countries has also changed several times over the years. But nothing has changed in terms of the contents and context in which our bilateral relations have grown. This relationship has been constantly moving on an ascending trajectory, gaining strength with the passage of time. Evolution of this extraordinary relationship owes its genesis to the vision of the leadership of the two countries, who based the relationship on strict compliance to the five principles of peaceful co-existence, commonality of interests, and shared perceptions on regional and global developments. The cordiality and trust that the peoples of the two countries enjoy today is an invaluable asset for the future growth of bilateral cooperation. It is, in fact, a natural outcome of the accumulated goodwill that continues to expand between the two neighbors.
Pakistan was the first Islamic, and the third non-communist state to accord recognition to the People's Republic of China. Substantive engagement between the two countries started in the early 1960s when Pakistan supported China's seat in the UN. During the Sino-Indian conflict in 1962, the US rushed military assistance to India, which Pakistan considered detrimental to its security interests, and decided to gradually move out of the Western orbit (SEATO & CENTO). At this point, a convergence in security interests emerged between Pakistan and China. The two countries amicably negotiated and signed a border demarcation agreement in March 1963, thus removing the only contentious issue between the two states. In the following years, Pakistan continued to help China end the isolation imposed by both superpowers by signing an air-transport agreement and trade agreement and facilitating China's contact with a number of countries, especially in the Islamic world.
China reciprocated Pakistan's gestures during the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war by securing, through stern warnings to India, a ceasefire at Pakistan's request. Later, China compensated Pakistan's war losses by providing military equipment including tanks and aircraft. In the early 1970s, Pakistan played an important role in facilitating the US-China contacts that resulted in Henry Kissinger's secret visit to China, followed by the landmark visit of US President Nixon. Pakistan-China relations and US-China détente prompted India to sign the Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union, which altered the regional strategic dynamics, and further consolidated Pakistan-China relations. After the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971, China provided military and economic assistance to Pakistan. When Bangladesh applied for membership of the UN, China, on Pakistan's request, exercised its first ever veto at the UN Security Council to stall the move, enabling Pakistan to secure the release of its POWs and the return of troops to pre-war positions. While China has helped Pakistan at every hour of need, Pakistan too has always remained steadfast in its support to China on all issues important to China's national interests. The peoples of the two countries will always remember the help extended to each other in difficult times.
Although Pakistan and China have an all-encompassing strategic relationship, until late 1990s bilateral cooperation remained focused on political and defence issues. Economic relations ranked relatively low, despite the enormous potential for growth in this sphere.
Pakistan and China both felt the need to enhance economic cooperation in order to provide sustenance to their strategic partnership in a fast changing regional and global environment, and since 1999 the two countries have shown resolve and determination to catch up and make up for the lost opportunities in the economic sphere. Our trade has increased from US$1 billion in 2001 to US$8 billion in 2010. The two sides have undertaken several mega infrastructural projects in Pakistan such as the Gwadar Deep Sea Port, the Coastal-Highway linking Karachi with Gwadar, upgrading of the Karakoram Highway, the Chashma nuclear power plants, and a number of hydro-power projects.
Pakistan wants to link Gwadar with the Western regions of China through road, rail and energy pipelines to serve as a trade and energy corridor for China. Despite Pakistan's current security and economic difficulties, China is committed to supporting Pakistan and Pakistan also reassures China that it will protect its core national interests at all costs. This mutually beneficial relationship has a bright future and the two countries are determined to continue to build the relationship on the basis of mutual respect and benefit.
The author is director of China Study Centre, Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad.
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