Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, is an inspiring and a mystifying city. When we walk through the serene lanes of Jin Li Street and Kuanzhai Alley, we go back in time and reconnect the present with the past.
Also known as the city of pandas, Chengdu is indeed a fusion of tradition and modernity. It is a mosaic of breathtaking old Chinese style buildings, historical parks and museums of ancient history, hi-speed trains, hi-tech zones and modern sky-scrappers.
My rendezvous in Chengdu began when I arrived here last year as Pakistan’s consul general. Since my arrival, every day has enriched my experience of the ‘middle kingdom’ as well as of the age-old culture of Sichuan. The traditional small tea shops, exuding gentle aroma of Chinese tea, people playing majiang in the streets with perfect equanimity, women frolicking with dogs, beautiful children bicycling and Ferraris and Audis traversing the roads make Chengdu look heavenly and utopian.
Pakistan, presciently realising the growth potential of the Southwest of China, opened its consulate in Chengdu in 2007. The journey that began in 2007 is expanding and maturing with every passing year. Pakistan-Sichuan relationship has become multifaceted, diverse and durable.
Beginning with the people-to-people ties; as of now, nearly 700 Pakistani students are studying in various universities of this region. These students will serve as great assets for Pakistan and China as they will build stronger bridges between the two countries. Both the Sichuan University and the Sichuan Normal University each have a Pakistan Study Centre. These study centres are important intellectual bastions for promoting education and research ties between the two ‘iron brothers’. Pakistani universities are signing MOUs with universities in Sichuan to expand cooperation in various areas.
Lahore and Chengdu are sister cities. We are hoping that direct flights soon start between the two cities so that people can travel easily to their destinations every month.
There exists a huge potential in promoting tourism ties between Pakistan and Sichuan. While the former has some of the most beautiful scenic spots of the world including places like Hunza, K2,Naran and Deosai plateau, the latter boasts of timeless places such as the Emei Mountains, Lehsan Buddha, Huanglong and the Tibetan area of Sichuan to name a few. Efforts have been underway to encourage nature-loving Chinese to visit Pakistan and explore the sights and sounds of the country, and see and feel the depth and strength of Sino-Pakistan ties.
Culturally, what brings the two regions even closer, amongst other things, is their passion for food. Sichuan’s hotpot, a world renowned dish, has captured the hearts and taste buds of many Pakistanis. Similarly, the rich taste and exquisitely cooked Pakistani curries stimulate the hunger of the Sichuanese in the Al-Hamd restaurant located in Pidu district.
There have also been efforts to introduce cricket in Chengdu. Our cricketers can really inspire their Chinese brothers to engage in cricket matches, which can also lead to new roads of friendship, harmony and understanding. More recently trade, economic and investment relations between the two countries have deepened. CPEC has unveiled limitless opportunities for Pakistan as well as for the entire region. As a result of CPEC, business growth has gained remarkable impetus in Pakistan. A number of state-owned enterprises of Sichuan as well as private companies have invested in Pakistan.
Moreover, Gwadar is an integral link between the One Belt One Road, CPEC and Maritime Silk Road projects. In the future, Gwadar will provide an important logistical, trade and commercial route for the export of Sichuanese products as well open avenues of growth for Pakistan. Chengdu also happens to be the production base for JF-17 Thunder. The fighter aircraft is being developed as a joint venture between the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and the Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Corporation Limited. A small team of the PAF is based in Chengdu to assist in co-developing and producing the aircraft.
At the end, it may also be highlighted that in a very significant gesture signalling the special nature of Pakistan-Sichuan ties, the vice governor of the Sichuan province, Zhu Hexin, graced Pakistan’s March 23 National Day reception as the chief guest.
Pakistan and Sichuan can together move forward and complement each other’s efforts of economic growth, development and prosperity. It is hoped that visits of higher officials, people-to-people ties and enormous economic opportunities will deepen this relationship.
The writer is Pakistan’s consul general to Chengdu.