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Sunday July 03, 2022

Ties with China

By Editorial Board
May 24, 2022

Irrespective of the hyperbole normally used while discussing ties between China and Pakistan, the two countries have remained steadfast in their friendship over the past seven decades. Both countries have a lot to offer to each other, especially Pakistan which can benefit from continued cooperation in sectors such as agriculture, economy, health, and investment. China is one of the leaders in science and technology and its help to Pakistan in the shape of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has started giving dividends to both countries. A mutually beneficial relationship with our larger neighbour is likely to continue as the foreign ministers of the two countries have reaffirmed recently during Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s visit to China where he met his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. The visit has come at an opportune moment as both countries are celebrating the 71st anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.

In addition to international and regional issues, there are several directions in which shared interests need more exploration and coordination. Since there is already a long-standing friendly atmosphere, there is no trust deficit between China and Pakistan that Pakistan has experienced at various times with countries such as Afghanistan, the US, India, and even with Iran and Russia. The joint statement issued after the recent meeting clearly mentions an agreement on changes that have taken place in the region and beyond. Strategically, China and Pakistan have enjoyed an understanding that not many neighbours in the world can claim to have – though there are some pressing issues that need attention on a priority basis. One of them is the facilitation of a safe return of all Pakistani students. Then there is a need for steady growth of economic cooperation so that Pakistan can export more to China and not the other way round, as is the case now.

We also need better synergy in development strategies that complement each other. While both the foreign ministers have resolved to push forward all CPEC-related projects, there is a need for more projects directly related to people’s wellbeing in areas such as education and health. China has high-quality expertise in drip irrigation in areas where water is scarce. Keeping in view Pakistan’s perennial water shortage, the country needs a more modern method of agriculture that China can help us in. There has been some improvement in bilateral trade in the past couple of years but still the balance of trade between the two countries is still overwhelmingly in China’s favour. This needs correction with more exports from Pakistan. Lastly, better collaboration in the services sector such as skill development in tourism, education, and information technology must be explored and promoted. Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto appears to understand that Pakistan at present needs to maintain a balance in its ties with the US and China, as well as Russia. The foreign minister’s task is to overcome this and do everything possible to benefit Pakistan. This will involve some delicate balancing of egos and good diplomatic skills. The US is wary of China’s engagements in Pakistan, but at the same time is also a major source of assistance both in fiscal terms and in weapons to the country. Pakistan has to walk the tightrope of keeping all its patrons and partners happy.

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