Most people in Pakistan have heard this famous song “Pak-Cheen Dosti Wang Woye, Wang Woye” (Long live Pakistan China friendship). However, most of people are unaware of the history of this friendship.
Pakistan and China have been “friends” for more than 65 years. This began in 1950, when Pakistan ended all official diplomatic relations with the ‘Republic of China’ and officially recognized the ‘People’s Republic of China’. Since then, Pakistan and China’s relationship has been steady and has encompassed an array of diplomatic, defense, commercial, nuclear, political, strategic, cultural, and economic arenas.
The relationship has come a long way since 1950. The two nations now share close military and commercial relations, making China Pakistan’s largest supplier for arms and ammunition – both accounting for nearly 47% of Chinese exports. The country is also Pakistan’s 2nd largest trading partner. Recently, both nations have agreed to work on the Pakistani civil nuclear power sector. Over the years, both countries have supported each other. China openly announced support for Pakistan when it had been shunned by the United States of America during the 1965 Kargil War with India. Pakistan, on the other hand, provided complete support to China on its initial introduction to United Nations Security Council (UNSC). China supports Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir and Pakistan firmly supports China on issues of Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, and other issues concerning China’s core interests – both acting as mature strategic partners. According to a study, Pakistanis have the most favorable view of China, after China itself. And Chinese hold third most positive opinions on Pakistan’s influence in the world, behind Indonesia and Pakistan itself. According to Masood Khalid, Pakistan’s ambassador in Beijing, the friendship and relation between the two countries is “higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, stronger than steel, dearer than eyesight, and sweeter than honey.” Recently, Chinese cooperation with Pakistan has reached its economic high point with the beginning of the construction of 56 billion US dollar worth China Pakistan Economic Corridor.
The China Pakistan Economic Corridor, or the CPEC, is the flagship project of the Belt and Road initiative. “Belt and Road” refers to the creation of a network of railways, roads, pipeline and utility grids that would link China to Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, West Asia and parts of South Asia. The CPEC is the centerpiece of this project. The CPEC mainly consists of four projects: development of the Gwadar port, energy projects, road networks and industrial co-operation. The short term, medium term and long term projects are expected to be completed by 2020, 2025 and 2030 respectively.
The CPEC entails benefits for both countries. China may feel the impact of the project as it will shorten its trade route to Middle Eastern, African, and European countries, as well as offer an opportunity to develop the economy to the land locked western part of the country. This will give the push China requires to become the world’s number one economy. Through this project, China will be able to tackle homegrown militants. By establishing its physical foot in Gilgit Baltistan, China will be able to check the movements of Uighur separatist militants, bringing a new era of development to the country.
Pakistan will also be firmly changed by CPEC. Its GDP is expected to double, transforming its low growth economy to a stable and sustainable one with low inflation. The Corridor may fuel economic growth by 2%, solve the problems of unemployment by creating up to 1 million new jobs, improve Pakistan’s infrastructure, impacting positively the industrial sector. Approximately 20 million KW of power would be generated by the energy projects, which would be vital to overcome the energy crisis in Pakistan. CPEC would also benefit the sectors of information technology, agriculture, and aquaculture, and would probably help to alleviate the challenges posed by political extremists, radicals, and jihadists in Pakistan. All in all, it would lead to great improvements in the standard of living of Pakistanis.
The development of CPEC has agitated countries like the USA, Japan and India. For the USA, CPEC is the sign of its end as the number one economy in the world. Japan fears that by completion of CPEC, demand of its products would drastically fall as China would be able to export its low cost products in less time due to the decrease in physical distance between China and the international markets. India fears that China would set up a naval base at Gwadar port, which will interfere with the safety and security of its oil supplies that pass through the Strait of Hormuz. India is also concerned about Chabahar seaport located in Iran to the development of which it’s contributing $20 Million. India fears that once CPEC is up and running it would render Chabahar seaport redundant. Hence, its oil supplies would become entirely dependent on Pakistan and its plan to capture the Central Asian market would go down the drain. India has also raised issues regarding the route of CPEC. According to India, the corridor passes through a land that they claim is theirs, which Pakistan also claims is theirs. This is feared to ignite more tensions between Pakistan and India.
The CPEC is currently the hottest topic of debate in Pakistan. Many people have expressed their concerns, regarding it not being as beneficial as it’s being portrayed. Some people say that the deals with China are one sided and have no actual benefits for Pakistan. To some people, the Chinese Companies remind them of East India Company, which came in the subcontinent for trade and ended up colonizing it. According to these people, Pakistan will eventually become a colony of China. Some people also believe that there is a lack of transparency in the project.
Recently, all these concerns were addressed by Ahsan Iqbal, a Pakistani politician, the Minister of Planning and Development of Pakistan, and the Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission of Pakistan. According to him, the CPEC would be beneficial for Pakistan as it would boost industrialization and create jobs, leading to a boom in the economy which will diminish the energy crisis currently faced by the country. He also stated that China is not dictating terms to Pakistan, instead Pakistan and China are working jointly in making an overall planning for a unified development of CPEC projects. To him, Pakistan becoming a Chinese colony is “the biggest myth propagated on CPEC.” He said both the countries respect the sovereignty of each other and are building the CPEC on a shared vision; Vision 2025, which strives for Pakistan to become a top 25 global economy, and OBOR, which is China’s One Belt, One Road initiative. Further, he said that the CPEC is the most transparent project of Pakistan and all information on ongoing and agreed CPEC projects is available on its official website.
It is no doubt that the CPEC would bring prosperity to both Pakistan and China and would remove a major bottleneck that is in the way of realizing high economic growth. As Ahsan Iqbal stated, “This project is not a game-changer, but a fate-changer for Pakistan and for the prosperity of three billion people of the region.”