Premier Li's visit will cement Pakistan-China ties

By Rashid Ahmad Khan
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, May 25, 2013
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 Premier Li Keqiang is congratulated by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari after being conferred the Nishan-e-Pakistan honor, for the highest degree of service to Pakistan, in Islamabad on Wednesday. [Pang Xinglei/ XINHUA]

Premier Li Keqiang is congratulated by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari after being conferred the Nishan-e-Pakistan honor, for the highest degree of service to Pakistan, in Islamabad on Wednesday. [Pang Xinglei/ XINHUA]

It is much more than a mere symbolism that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang included Pakistan in the list of four countries for his first foreign visit after assuming his office in March. Pakistan is China's strategic ally in Asia and the two countries enjoy robust ties in defense, trade, security, energy, infrastructure and economic cooperation. The visit underlines two countries' mutual desire to further push forward the process of increased cooperation in trade and economic field as well as the need for consultation between the new leaders of Pakistan and China on issues relating to peace, security, stability and prosperity in the region in view of NATO withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2014 and growing menace of terrorism, extremism and separatism.

The agreements signed during the visit and pledges made by the two countries in the Joint Statement outline the broad features of a long-term and comprehensive China-Pakistan strategic partnership in defense, security, counter-terrorism, economic cooperation, trade and investment and promoting people-to-people contacts.

Since the two countries decided about a decade ago to put greater focus on trade and economic cooperation, the volume of bilateral trade has for the first time reached the level of US$12 billion. The two sides plan to increase it up to US$15 billion annually within the next two or three years under a Five-Year Plan signed by Islamabad and Beijing in 2010. To make the bilateral trade more balanced by increasing Chinese imports from Pakistan, a senior Chinese trade minister had visited Pakistan a few days before Premier Li's visit to identify items that China could import from Pakistan.

Over the last five years, there has been considerable expansion of economic cooperation between Pakistan and China in multiple fields. There are about 14,000 Chinese engineers, technicians and workers belonging to well over a hundred Chinese companies, engaged in various sectors of Pakistan's industry, agriculture, energy, infrastructure and dam construction.

The evolving situation in Afghanistan amidst growing activities of trans-border terrorism has further enhanced the significance of Premier Li's visit to Pakistan, which is itself faced with turbulent economic situation, particularly acute energy crisis. In response to this challenge the two countries have decided to give priority to cooperation in the energy sector, along with cooperation in trade, investment and agricultural sectors. The visit has provided an opportunity to the leadership of two countries to exchange views on issues relating to regional security and stability threatened by three evil forces of extremism, terrorism and separatism and to find ways how to combat this menace.

An important outcome of the visit is the agreement to strengthen security mechanism on China-Pakistan border along Gilgit-Baltistan to combat terrorism in the Xinjiang, China. As indicated in the Joint Statement issued after the conclusion of the visit, Pakistan and China have agreed to activate Defense and Security Consultation Mechanism involving the exchange of high level military visits between the two countries to deepen anti-terrorism cooperation. Frequent exchange of high level state and government visits between Pakistan and China is a familiar feature of unique relationship between the two countries, but this visit has taken place at a time when the international as well as regional situation is marked by turbulence and complexity. In view of this, the relationship between Pakistan and China acquires special significance.

The discussions and exchange of views between Pakistani and Chinese delegations during Premier Li's visit focused on bilateral as well as regional issues.

Bilaterally, the two sides signed eleven agreements, Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs), and documents to strengthen and diversify cooperation on economy, science and technology, space and upper atmosphere, communication and boundary management. The visit highlights the resolve of Pakistan and China to enhance the level of anti-terrorism cooperation by signing an agreement to establish Sino-Pak border Posts as part of a boundary management system. The MoUs signed include between the two countries those on Maritime Cooperation, Cooperation for Long term Plan on China-Pakistan Economic corridor, and Cooperation in marine science and technology. As Premier Li said after the signing ceremony the range of cooperation between Pakistan and China indicates growing convergence between China's strategy to boost domestic demand through the development of its western region and Pakistan's desire to further deepen its economic development.

The deep sea port of Gwader on the Balochistan coast line of the Arabian Sea constructed with the Chinese financial and technical assistance has recently been handed over to China for operational purposes. The Chinese have agreed to build the requisite infrastructure linking the port with Western region of China: thus establishing Pakistan-China Economic and Trade Corridor. It will provide China a much shorter and cheaper route to trade with the countries of Gulf region, Middle East and Africa.

Premier Li in his speeches has assured Pakistan of China's firm support for Pakistan's efforts to defend its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. These assurances are especially significant when Pakistan's sovereignty is being violated by drone attacks. On Afghanistan, China endorsed Pakistan's view that the best way to establish peace in that country is through a process of reconciliation, which should be Afghan led and Afghan owned.

Dr. Rashid Ahmad Khan is a professor and chairman of the Department of International Relations/Political Science and also dean, Faculty of Arts, Social Sciences and Law, University of Sargodha-Pakistan.


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