The two-day visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Pakistan is important both in symbolism and in substance. As President Jinping said soon after his arrival in Islamabad for a meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, he has made it a point to make the country his first destination this year. But beyond a matter of gestures the visit, the first by a Chinese head of state since nearly a decade is important in very real terms as well. The two leaders have already agreed to launch the $46 billion economic corridor which will link the Gwadar Port with Xinjiang province in western China through a complex network that includes highways and railways. The fact that it will run through our troubled Balochistan province is a matter that came under discussion during Monday’s meeting, with talk also turning to security issues. PM Nawaz Sharif held that while security was crucial to Pakistan, we were also as concerned about China’s security needs and had every intention of protecting it. The Pakistan army has also become actively involved in ensuring this. In recent years, there have been multiple incidents involving the kidnapping of Chinese personnel working in Pakistan. That leaders of all major political parties joined in welcoming the guest augurs well for the success of these joint ventures.
The economic cooperation agreement, a part of 51 agreements signed on Monday, is significant as it marks China taking on the role of Pakistan’s most important ally from either west or east. Right now, Islamabad is looking for friends, especially given the storm stirred up by its stance on Yemen. And the reassurances from Jinping will be particularly welcome at this moment. These went beyond matters of economic cooperation. The two nations have also agreed to generate 16,400MW of electricity over the coming years through solar, gas and other energy projects. The amount of power to be generated is what Pakistan is using up at the moment and, of course, if the figure discussed can be reached, this would be a huge landmark given the toll the shortage of power has taken on our country and our ability to sustain ourselves economically. The Chinese president is accompanied by a group of Chinese investors who have been meeting key business leaders and economic advisors in Islamabad and will also visit other places. Chinese investment too is something Pakistan would welcome with open arms. The visit then is a crucial one for the country. It demonstrates the direction of foreign policy for the future and suggests a possible shift away from traditional allies including the US. The language used as Sharif and Jinping spoke to the media after their meeting in Islamabad says it all. The two countries intend to be friends, can see mutual benefit in it and Pakistan can potentially gain a great deal by establishing closer links with a country that could within years enjoy immense power in the world.