Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to China succeeded beyond expectations. The visit afforded him an opportunity to interact with China’s highest leadership and exchange views with them on issues of bilateral, regional and international importance. Since China under President Xi has made great progress in controlling corruption, the visit provided him a chance to learn from the Chinese experience in order to fight against the menace of corruption in Pakistan. During his visit, Imran Khan attended the Shanghai Import Expo and studied at first hand the Shanghai model of development for the future direction of Pakistan’s economy.
The relations between China and Pakistan are multi-dimensional and based on strong foundations. We are all-weather, time-tested friends. Our relations are exceptional in the sphere of international politics. We know each other well and fully understand each other’s needs. Pakistan has always supported China in difficult times, and China has helped Pakistan in its critical moments
The Pakistan prime minister’s visit took place at a very critical juncture as China is facing opposition by the West for its BRI and its trade surplus, while Pakistan is suffering from a severe economic crisis. In these circumstances, the two leaders discussed ways and means to overcome the current domestic and geopolitical challenges.
According to the joint statement issued at the end of PM Imran Khan’s visit, ties between China and Pakistan will be further strengthened in all sectors. Prior to their departure for the visit, the Pakistani delegation had talked of seeking balance of payments support from China through this visit, and Prime Minister Khan reiterated to journalists in Beijing that he sought support to build foreign exchange reserves and assistance to avoid a possible International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout
The statement says that both sides will “maintain frequent exchange of visits and meetings at the leadership level” and further bilateral meetings will be held on the sidelines of major multilateral conferences and events. The statement hails the relationship between Pakistan and China, saying they had “withstood the test of time, notwithstanding the changes in domestic, regional and international environments.” In deepening the ties further, the statement says the two countries will build on the China-Pakistan All Weather Strategic Cooperative Partnership and the China-Pakistan Community of Shared Future, “in line with the principles set forth by the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Good-neighbourly Relations” that the two countries signed in 2005. The Chinese side appreciated Pakistan’s important role in promoting regional peace, stability and security and efforts for the peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues with its neighbours, adding that China “supports Pakistan’s efforts for improvement of Pakistan-India relations and for settlement of outstanding disputes between the two countries.”
On the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), both sides “expressed satisfaction that rapid progress has been made in all areas especially in the energy sector” and underlined their complete consensus on the future trajectory of the CPEC. The Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC), which is the steering arm of CPEC, will “explore new areas of cooperation” and its 8th session will be held in Beijing “before the end of the year”. The last session was held in Islamabad in November 2017, during which the Long Term Plan was finalised. Both sides agreed to accelerate work on Gwadar and its auxiliary projects, as well dismissing “the growing negative propaganda against CPEC” while underscoring their “determination to safeguard the CPEC projects from all threats.”
Significantly, the shape and direction of CPEC is now set to change, with a growing emphasis on “industrial capacity including through joint ventures in priority areas and relocation of labour-intensive industry and SMEs collaboration.” The growing trade imbalance between Pakistan and China will be addressed through the second China Pakistan Free Trade Agreement, which the two sides “agreed to conclude as early as possible” while continuing with discussions on an agreement on trade in services as well.
In addition, both sides also agreed to boost cooperation in a wide range of areas, including tourism, maritime issues, navigation security, marine economy, resources, research and environmental protection. In addition to marine economy, emerging technologies like nanotech, biotech and ICT will also see strengthened collaboration to increase their contribution in health, agriculture, water, energy and food security. Space cooperation will also be promoted, building on the launch of Pakistan’s Remote Sensing Satellite earlier this year.
Cooperation will now be enhanced in areas like climate change, desertification control, desalination, water management, afforestation and ecological restoration, wetland protection and restoration, wildlife protection, forestry industry development, disaster management and risk reduction among others. All these are areas of cooperation that were already agreed upon in earlier discussions with the Chinese side that ended with the finalisation of the LTP in November last year. The Joint Statement shows that the evolution of CPEC has now come to a point where these cooperative steps are ready to be activated. Both sides also agreed to enhance people-to-people contacts, pointing at the 25,000 Pakistani students already enrolled in Chinese universities. China will offer additional scholarships for Pakistani students. All in all, it was a most fruitful visit that will go a long way in consolidating bilateral ties.