To Urumqi and back again: 60 years of China-Pakistan friendship

By S. M. Hali
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, September 16, 2011
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Currently I am touring China at the invitation of the Communist Party of China (CPC) as part of the celebrations for 60 years of the friendship between Pakistan and China.The group I am touring with, led by the Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi, comprises young parliamentarians from Pakistan's National Assembly.

My first visit to Urumqi was in 1974, in the early years of my career in the Pakistan Air Force, flying as a crew member in the Air Transport Command. We would operate regularly to Urumqi from Chaklala, departing early in the morning and returning in the afternoon. Our mission was to ferry defense munitions our friend China had been providing since the 1971 Pak-India War to help Pakistan rebuild its military strength. At that time the Urumqi airfield was as sparse and humble as the Skardu airport of the 1970s. In those days, we were not permitted to go to the city to buy anything and if we were interested in making purchases, a trunk full of Chinese curios including silk scarves, small decoration pieces, hand fans or other such tidbits would be brought out for us.

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During all of my earlier trips, lunch was served promptly at midday, consisting of a banquet of 14 or 15 courses. Once I happened to peep outside the dining hall and saw our Chinese hosts having soup and bread only. I was touched by their hospitality that they would go out of their way to serve us expensive delicacies while they themselves subsisted on simple meals. In case the weather turned bad, we would be housed in rooms at the airport and given thick quilts to keep us warm in the winter season, because after a while heating would be turned off to conserve energy. Such was our hosts' frugality and thrift in preserving national resources.

Slowly and gradually, China has opened up. On subsequent visits, we started noticing changes. In the eighties, if we had to stay overnight, we were taken to hotels in the city, but en-route we would pass by impoverished villages. Now, 24 years later, the old and dilapidated airport has given way to a modern international airfield with the facilities comparable to any modern metropolis. The narrow road from the airport to the city is now a multi-lane highway. The city itself is sprawling with high rise buildings and five-star facilities.

Xinjiang comprises 47 different ethnic groups out of which the Muslims are in a majority, with the Uyghur ethnicity comprising 47 percent of the population. In yesteryears, Urumqi's mosques were opened only for the Friday prayers and one would find only old Chinese Muslims praying there. Now, the mosques are modern, well furnished and both old and young Muslims come to offer their prayers.

On this year's tour, we were taken to Shihezi City, an industrial metropolis, where we toured the Xinjiang Alzzeeh Textile Mill and the PVC-pipe manufacturer Tianye. At the factories, we saw industrial by-products being converted into cement and other construction materials, while the grounds were being used to harvest tomatoes and sauces for local and export markets. Returning from Shihezi, we visited a cotton and grape farm, which is being operated using the latest scientific and cost effective methods. Drip irrigation, modern methods of pesticide control and preservation of earth, wind and sun resources could be seen at their best.

Back in Urumqi, we stopped over at the Goldwind turbine manufacturing plant, which was established in 1998 but in just over a decade has become one of the world's leading total wind power solution providers. Goldwind provides cost effective solutions to Australia, USA, Germany and many other nations.

Certainly China has come a long way since my last visit in 1987, and developing nations like Pakistan can learn a lot from China's experiences. One important lesson I learned was that it is imperative for developed provinces to share their resources with less developed ones so that all of the country's regions can be on par with each other. Secondly, China reinvests the revenues it collects in leasing commercial land to farmers and manufacturers to develop the country's infrastructure and promote social welfare. Lastly, corruption does exist, but is dealt with severely, irrespective of the offender's position and status. If convicted a court of law, offenders are given exemplary sentences in order to deter others. The parliamentarians in our delegation have learned valuable lessons which we can apply back home.

Urumqi's scientific and technological prowess, as well as the kindness of its people, has instilled in our delegation the hope that Pakistan, which is facing energy and economic crises, can benefit from its close proximity with Xinjiang.

The author is a free lance columnist and talk show host in Pakistan. This article was first published in Pakitani media.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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