All-weather diplomatic relations between Pakistan and China were formally established on May 21, 1951. Pakistan was the first Muslim country to accept People’s Republic of China. In Sino-Indian war of 1962, Pakistan supported China, and their relations bolstered because of mutual alignment against India. Cordial relations between two states are not only termed as ‘higher than Himalayas, deeper than oceans and sweeter than honey’ but both sides equally acknowledge this element of trust in each other. As responsible neighbours, both Pakistan and China always maintain well-coordinated, appropriately communicated and balanced approach on regional and international issues. Apart from matters of mutual interests Pakistan supports China on the issues of Tibet, Taiwan and Xinjiang, while China has always appreciated Pakistan’s role in war against terrorism other than supporting it economically. To fortify diplomatic relations between the two states, several exchange visits of leaders and high officials on both sides take place on a regular basis.
Consolidating diplomatic relations, Pak-China cooperation takes place in various fields. China has supported Pakistan a great deal in defence sector, and it has extended military support to all three armed forces of Pakistan. Whether it is setting up of the PAF Aeronautical Complex at Kamra, Heavy Industries, Taxila, production of ammunition at the POF or maritime assistance for projects of Pakistan Navy, China has always stood side by side with Pakistan. The joint venture of manufacturing of JF-17 Thunder aircrafts at the PAC Kamra is one of the examples of defence cooperation between the two countries. China also intends to provide Pakistan Navy with submarines and up-gradation of frigates.
China is one of the major supporters of Pakistan’s nuclear power generation for peaceful purposes. With the help of China, a commercial nuclear power plant named CHASNUPP-I was established in Chashma, Punjab. Following the safety measures of IAEA, China National Nuclear Corporation started construction of CHASNUPP-II in December 2005. China has assisted Pakistan in building six nuclear reactors with a total installed capacity of 3.4 million kilowatts. The 2,200 MW nuclear power plants at K-2 and K-3 in Karachi are also supported by China. China, as member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and holding veto power, guaranteed Pakistan that it will take all possible measures for Pakistan to become the member of the NSG.
China is Pakistan’s second largest trade partner and foreseeing it as one of the largest investment opportunities in the South Asia, China’s investment in Pakistan has reached to 18 billion US dollars. Trade volume in last 15 years between two countries has developed from 5.7 billion to 100.11 billion US dollars. Both countries signed contracts worth 150.8 billion dollars from year 2000-2015, which started off from just 1.8 billion dollars. China has invested in Pakistan more massively than any other country, and the renowned British economist Jims O Neil has also predicted the emerging of Pakistan as the 18th global economy with 3.3 trillion GDP by 2050.
One mega project of 46 billion dollars, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is viewed as game changer in the region, aims to cover energy, infrastructure, communication and other developmental sectors. Work on CPEC is in constant progress to give reality to the Chinese vision of ‘One Belt, One Road’ concept. The CPEC will not only improve bilateral relations between the two countries but it will give access China to Indian Ocean by reducing time and space for its economic plans. Recently, China Overseas Shipping Company had a ship arrive at the Gwadar port as the first export cargo there. The CPEC is an all-inclusive growth programme that requires the linking of Gwadar port to China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang through highways, railways, oil and gas pipelines, and an optical fibre link. While the project offers enormous opportunities to Pakistan such as economic prosperity, socio-economic uplift of general population and under developed areas, there are also a few challenges attached to it. Therefore, it is important that Pakistan should adopt sensible policies and strategies to accrue maximum benefits and assure China of its all-weather friendship. Gwadar plays a key role in the CPEC, and in the next four-five decades it would surpass Karachi in socio-economic development, thus offering multiple employment opportunities to the people of Balochistan. Adversaries of Pakistan have always created problems for projects encompassing economic progress of the state through hostile attempts. Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif stated in a seminar in Gwadar on April 12, 2016 that the CPEC is grand manifestation of deep-rooted ties between Pakistan and China and that it is a corridor of peace and prosperity for region.
Apart from over 120 Chinese companies and 12,000 skilled technicians working on different projects, Pakistan has established a special force army to provide security to Chinese workers. China seems to have confidence in Pakistan army, and therefore construction projects of building roads, strategically important bridges and highways are handed over to the Frontier Works Organisation.
Apart from people-to-people contact, both countries are also focusing on cultural exchange programmes and offering scholarships to students. To ensure peace in region China is also part of the Quadrilateral Dialogue Process along with Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US. While celebrating 65 years of Pakistan-China friendship, it is expected that in coming years both countries will continue to strengthen their strategic bond focusing on short and long-terms economic goals for individual, bilateral and regional prosperity.
The writer works for an Islamabad-based think tank, Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies.