“…the two countries have gone through 70 years of thick and thin hand in hand”

March 14, 2021

Ambassador Nong Rong holds forth on the past, present, and future of Pakistan-China relations

The News on Sunday (TNS): 2021 marks 70 years of Pakistan-China relations. How do you describe this journey? What has made this relationship work?

Ambassador Nong Rong (ANR): China and Pakistan, connected by mountains and rivers, share the same aspiration for peace and development. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Pakistan in 1951, the two countries have gone through 70 years of thick and thin hand in hand. China-Pakistan communications have gone beyond the changes of the times and witnessed the test of the international situation, and can be regarded as a model of peaceful coexistence, mutual trust and cooperation between countries with different social systems and cultural backgrounds.

The China-Pakistan relationship has a time-honoured history. Over 2,000 years ago, China and Pakistan were already connected by the ancient Silk Road, when our peoples visited each other amid echoes of camel bells. In the extended course of history thereafter, the friendship has steadily grown stronger and deeper.

China-Pakistan mutual trust enjoys a solid foundation. We always support each other on our respective core interests and major concerns. Even at critical times, be it when New China endeavoured to break external blockade and make diplomatic opening, or when Pakistan stood up to crises to defend national dignity, we have always been there for each other, and have become true friends in need.

China-Pakistan friendship has deep roots among the two peoples. In times of hardship, one always extends a helping hand to the other as early as possible. Such mutual support and assistance have no strings attached, and are acts of pure goodwill and friendship. When the great earthquake hit Wenchuan of China in 2008, Pakistan donated all its tents in reserve. When Pakistan suffered devastating floods in 2010, China launched the largest humanitarian operation in its history to help Pakistan from land and air. When the outbreak of Convid-19 pandemic came, China and Pakistan adamantly stand by each other. There are numerous touching stories like these. Indeed, developing China-Pakistan friendship is a nation-wide consensus in both countries.

TNS: How do you respond to criticism of CPEC in terms of a debt trap for Pakistan leading to colonisation by China?

ANR: The so-called “debt trap” and “colonialism” are lies fabricated deliberately by certain Western politicians and the media by taking advantage of their publicity hegemony and conspiracies imposed on the CPEC projects. They are groundless and nonsense. Sharp vigilance should be maintained on their motives.

As an important pilot project of the Belt and Road Initiative, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has achieved fruitful results since its inception seven years ago. Among the 70 early harvest projects of CPEC identified by both countries, 46 projects have been completed or are under construction, with a total investment of up to $25.4 billion, creating a large number of jobs for Pakistan, bringing tangible benefits to the Pakistani people and injecting strong impetus to the economic and social development of Pakistan. The so-called “colonialism” is totally baseless.

The financing arrangements for CPEC projects are mainly of three categories. The first is investment projects, which are invested by Chinese companies, and the repayment is mainly from operational revenue after the project is completed, which will not increase Pakistan’s debt burden. This kind of projects are the main part of the CPEC projects, accounting for three-quarters. The second category is grants. The funds are provided by China, and Pakistan has no pressure to repay. The third category is preferential loans, based on China-Pakistan special friendship, accounting for about one-fifth, and the average interest rate is much lower than that of commercial loans. These support the development of Pakistan at lower costs. In fact, according to statistics from the State Bank of Pakistan, till the end of last fiscal year, total foreign debt of Pakistan was $113 billion. Western financial institutions represented by the Paris Club and the International Monetary Fund are Pakistan’s largest creditors.

I trust that our Pakistani friends will not be deceived and misled by the false arguments, and can distinguish clearly between those really helping them, investing, and constructing, and those who are into finger-pointing and driving wedges but do nothing helpful. As the CPEC enters a new stage of high-quality development, it will bring more opportunities to Pakistan and better promote the healthy and sustainable development of Pakistan’s economy. It will surely receive more firm support from the people in Pakistan.

TNS: What is the future of Pakistan-China relationship? What defines the future of relationship of both countries?

ANR: Looking forward to the future, China and Pakistan are working towards building a Closer Community of Shared Future, which will benefit the people of the two countries; promote regional stability and prosperity; and make China-Pakistan relationship a model for building a community of shared future for humankind.

First, we should deepen strategic mutual trust between the two countries under the guidance of leadership of China and Pakistan. The two sides will continue to maintain the tradition of frequent visits and meetings between the leaders and strengthen cooperation on major strategic issues.

Second, we should focus on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC as a key channel to expand bilateral cooperation. The CPEC has now entered a new stage of high-quality development, and more focus will be given to the cooperation in areas such as people’s livelihood, industry and agriculture, while ensuring the smooth operation of existing projects, so that the achievements of the CPEC will deliver greater benefit to the people in Pakistan.

Third, we should take the people-to-people and cultural exchanges between China and Pakistan as the driving force to consolidate the foundation of China-Pakistan friendship. We should take the 70th anniversary of China-Pakistan diplomatic relations as an opportunity to jointly organise a series of activities to promote people-to-people and cultural exchanges, and further enhance the mechanism in this regard. The two sides should strengthen exchanges and cooperation in culture, health, education, media and academic groups, so as to lay a more solid foundation for China-Pakistan friendship.

Fourth, we should work for regional peace and stability and jointly cope with the security challenges. In the field of traditional security, China-Pakistan cooperation is an important guarantee for the strategic balance in South Asia. In the field of the non-traditional security, the two countries will also strengthen cooperation in anti-terrorism, climate change, public health and other fields; and provide reliable security guarantee for the economic cooperation and common development of the two countries.

Fifth, we should use multilateral cooperation mechanisms as platforms to strengthen international communication and coordination. China-Pakistan relations go far beyond the bilateral level. We will further strengthen cooperation on major global issues such as the reform of the UN Security Council, and regional flashpoints such as the peace process in Afghanistan. We will strive to develop multilateralism in the post-epidemic era and jointly build a new type of international relations with mutual respect, fairness and justice, and win-win cooperation.

TNS: China is the second largest economy and being dubbed as the world factory. It has a trade surplus with most of its trading partners. How can China help Pakistan in terms of closing the trade gap between the two strategic allies? What could be some measures that can help Pakistan increase its exports to China?

ANR: According to Pakistani statistics, China has been Pakistan’s largest trading partner for six consecutive years since FY2015, and is Pakistan’s largest source of imports and second largest export destination. In the 2019-2020 fiscal year, bilateral trade volume was $10.67 billion, and China-Pakistan trade accounted for 16.7 percent of Pakistan’s total trade. The bilateral trade deficit fell to $7.35 billion, a year-on-year decrease of 11.45 percent. It has shown a downward trend for three consecutive years, and the trade imbalance has continued to improve.

Pakistan’s trade deficit with China is mainly caused by structural factors such as the stage of economic development of the two sides, the layout of the industrial structure, and the capacity of processing and manufacturing. Pakistan’s exports to China are mostly raw materials, agricultural products and primary processed products. However, its agricultural products cannot enter the Chinese market on a large scale because the inspection and quarantine protocol are not fully in place. While in terms of Pakistan’s imports from China, a large number of imports of industrial machinery, chemical products, and transportation vehicles have promoted Pakistan’s economic and social development; Pakistani consumers also have a great demand for daily consumer products such as high-quality and inexpensive household appliances and food from China.

In order to balance the trade gap and maintain the sustained high-level development of bilateral trade, China and Pakistan are taking a number of measures to reduce the trade deficit.

First, in accordance with the second phase protocol of the China-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement, the proportion of the number of tax items for zero-tariff products between China and Pakistan has gradually increased from the previous 35 percent to 75 percent. The companies of the two countries should make good use of the policy incentives brought by the protocol.

Second, China and Pakistan are accelerating the inspection and quarantine process of agricultural products exported to China such as onions, cherries, potatoes and dairy products, expanding the scale of imports from Pakistan, and allowing more advantageous agricultural products of Pakistan to enter the Chinese market. China will also actively invite Pakistan officials and enterprises to participate in the China International Import Expo and China-ASEAN Expo to further explore the Chinese market and even the Southeast Asian market.

Thirdly, the second phase of the CPEC will focus on agricultural and industrial cooperation. The Chinese government encourages Chinese companies to invest in Pakistan, help Pakistan improve industrial manufacturing, and promote export-oriented industries. Through China-Pakistan agricultural cooperation, Pakistan could increase output, improve the quality of agricultural products, and promote the export to overseas markets.

TNS: China has helped Pakistan during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. What further measure can China take to help Pakistan fight this pandemic? What can these two countries do to further enhance their abilities to fight such pandemics in the future?

ANR: China and Pakistan are true friends and good brothers that share weal and woe. In the face of the sudden outbreak of the Covid-19, China and Pakistan have been helping each other by all means. China has always regarded Pakistan as priority for anti-pandemic cooperation and has provided Pakistan with a large amount of material and financial assistance. China will continue to provide support within its capacity for Pakistan’s fight against the Covid-19. In addition, China has provided 1 million doses of vaccine to Pakistan. In order to further support Pakistan, the Chinese government has decided to assist Pakistan with another 500,000 doses of vaccine. Meanwhile, the Chinese company is exploring possibility of sub-packaging the bulks of vaccines in Pakistan, which will effectively help Pakistan improve its vaccine self-supply capacity and further reduce prices. China would like to cooperate with Pakistan on mutual recognition of health codes, thus facilitating safe and orderly flow of personnel.

TNS: Recently, some Western politicians claimed that China’s actions in Xinjiang constitute “genocide”. This has angered the Chinese people. What’s your comment on this?

ANR: Just as State Councilor Wang Yi pointed out at a recent press conference on the sidelines of the NPC and the CPPCC sessions, the claim that there is genocide in Xinjiang couldn’t be more preposterous. It is just a rumor fabricated with ulterior motives, and a lie through and through.

Over the past four decades and more, the Uyghur population in Xinjiang has more than doubled from 5.55 million to over 12 million. In 60-plus years, Xinjiang’s economy has grown by more than 200 times, and the average life expectancy has increased from 30 to 72 years. Mushahid Hussain, the chairman of Foreign Relations Committee in Pakistan Senate, who has been to Xinjiang more than 20 times in the past 20 years, has witnessed the development and achievement of Xinjiang by himself. In his words, “their lives are very happy”. A French author Maxime Vivas wrote a book entitled Uyghurs: To Put an End to Fake News. Based on his two trips to the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Vivas tells you about a real Xinjiang that enjoys prosperity and stability. He expressly pointed out in his book that those who have never been to Xinjiang are the ones fabricating fake news and piling up lies about Xinjiang.

Some Western politicians chose to believe in the lies made up by a few, instead of listening to the voice of 25 million Xinjiang residents of various ethnic groups. They chose to dance with the few anti-China elements in their clumsy dramas, instead of acknowledging the progress in Xinjiang. This only shows that they do not care about the truth. They are only interested in political maneuvering, and creating the so-called Xinjiang issue to undermine security and stability in Xinjiang and hold back China’s development.

We welcome more people from Pakistan and the world to visit Xinjiang. Seeing is believing. It is the best way to debunk rumors.

TNS: Chinese National People’s Congress (NPC) has made a decision on the electoral system in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR). Some foreign governments have said that this will violate the One Country, Two Systems policy. What is your response to the assertion?

ANR: I want to make it clear here: the move to improve Hong Kong’s electoral system and ensure “patriots administering Hong Kong” is necessitated by the need to advance the One Country, Two Systems cause and maintain long-term stability in Hong Kong. It is a constitutional power and responsibility of the NPC, and is totally constitutional, lawful and justified.

The return of Hong Kong to the motherland put the region once again under the overall governance system of the country. The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China and the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China jointly form the constitutional basis of the Hong Kong SAR. The electoral system of the Hong Kong SAR, which includes the methods for the selection of the Chief Executive and for the formation of the Legislative Council, is an important part of the political structure of the Hong Kong SAR. The electoral system should conform to the policy of One Country, Two Systems, meet the realities in the Hong Kong SAR and serve to ensure “patriots administering Hong Kong”. It should be conducive to safeguarding China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests and help maintain the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.

Since Hong Kong’s return, the State has all along fully and faithfully implemented the policy of One Country, Two Systems under which the people of Hong Kong administer Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy, and has run Hong Kong affairs according to law, upheld the constitutional order in the Hong Kong SAR as established by the Constitution and the Basic Law, supported the development of democracy in the SAR and guaranteed the exercise of democratic rights by residents of the SAR in accordance with the law. The legislation will help Hong Kong to have a better tomorrow.

The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist, researcher and media trainer. A former Daniel Pearl/AFPP fellow, he shared in The LA Times’ 2016 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. He tweets @AounSahi 

“…the two countries have gone through 70 years of thick and thin hand in hand”