By Imtiaz Gul
Ahead of PM Imran Khan’s Beijing visit, starting on 25thApril, the message out of Beijing is loud and clear; China is here to stay to help in Pakistan’s economic and social development in whatever way possible. Discussions in Beijing will focus on enhancing Pakistan’s industrial base with a view to increase production of exportable goods and create employment. The other major focus will be a 6-tier social sector development cooperation.
In a briefing for Islamabad’s press corps, ambassador Yao Jing eloquently explained the status of bilateral relations and literally rubbished all speculation about any hold up in projects or misgivings between the two governments.
The entire commitment flows from the Chinese wisdom that “only a stable and developed neighbourhood can ensure stability and sustainable development in China”.
The ambassador delivered several messages as far as partnership with Pakistan is concerned.
Firstly, Pakistan is a major, distinguished, special and extremely important friend (like no other country) and that interests of both countries are inter-twined.
Secondly, all CPEC-related projects remain very much on track; as many as 11 have been completed and another 11 are on the way to completion, involving about 19 billion dollars’ worth of loans and investments. “In five years since the launch of the CPEC, we have come a long way. And we have a much brighter future ahead”, he said.
Third, the repayment of investments and loans should not be a matter of immediate concern. The 19 billion or so includes only $6 billion of government to government loan, for which the repayment period is 25 to 30 years including a 5 to 7 year grace period. “China works on objectives and does not look at cooperation through arithmetical figures”, the ambassador said when asked about possible complications in the repayment process.
Fourth, in response to the Pakistani prime minister’s eagerness for industrial and social development, the Chinese leaders will have extensive discussions with Khan and his team during his visit. The Phase 2 of CPEC will entirely focus on industrialization of Pakistan. The Special Economic Zone at Rashakai is essentially a symbol of China’s commitment to Pakistan’s growth and employment focused industrialization, ambassador Jing explained, adding that ever more Chinese manufacturers are headed into Pakistan.
Chinese leaders, so was the message, are also eager to transfer knowledge and practice of their concept of social sector development, which according to the ambassador, is so close to the heart of Pakistan’s prime minister. Education, Health, Agriculture, Water and Irrigation, Human Resource Development and Poverty Alleviation are the six tiers of the social sector.
It is worth reminding that poverty alleviation is one of three major goals that President Xi Jinping has set for himself during his second tenure.
Fifth, China will continue to pursue inclusive trade and development cooperation. “India may have a different view but we keep reminding them that BRI is tailored to the benefit of every country”, the ambassador said. Any doubts on BRI simply go against its spirit as well as the global consensus that trade and development are the key precursors to peace and stability.
“We keep welcoming and telling them if you are not ready to join we can wait till you join,” the ambassador said, when asked about Indian reservations on the Chinese involvement in Pakistan.
The success of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) hinges not only on bilateral but multilateral partnership, very much in sync with the spirit of BRI. Hence, Beijing welcomes any country that wants to contribute to the regional development through a BRI partnership.
Lastly, the Chinese ambassador called Afghanistan an “important immediate neighbour to both countries.” He noted that “that is why we fully support the Doha talks and home this process will deliver a mechanism for sustainable peace. We also encourage all stakeholders for intra-Afghan dialogue because that is the only way to lasting peace”.
The ambassador categorically discarded the simmering gossip and speculation on “disagreements between Islamabad and Beijing”. The ambassador said that the fact PM Khan will be the keynote speaker at the BRI FORUM in Beijing within six months of a similar keynote speech he gave at the Shanghai Expo during his first visit in November last year, should remove any doubts whatsoever about China’s commitment to special friend Pakistan’s stability and economic development.
The author is Executive Director, CRSS.