Most people know that China and Pakistan are “iron-clad” friends, but few know about Pakistan. For example, Pakistan boasts the manufacturer of sporting goods. Footballs manufactured in Pakistan were used in the World Cup, twice in a row. Besides, Pakistan has already been a regular participant to China’s trade fairs, where many Chinese consumers’ attention are drawn to its exquisite products such as gemstones, jade and wool carpets.
In 2020, the appointment of Pakistan as a Special Partner Country of the 17th CAEXPO is of significance for us to know more about the country and for Pakistan to seek broader cooperation.
The “iron-clad” China-Pakistan friendship
Pakistan, located in the northwest of South Asian Subcontinent and bordering China in the northeast, has a population of more than 200 million, making it the sixth most populous country in the world. As agriculture is considered the backbone of Pakistan’s economy, Pakistan is the world’s leading producer of wheat and rice.
China and Pakistan have unusually strong ties. When it comes to China-Pakistan relations, the Chinese say that Pakistan is China’s buddy while the Pakistanis say that Pakistan-China friendship is higher than mountains, deeper than the Indus River and sweeter than honey. Such simple but accurate expressions fully reflect the all-weather friendship and all-round cooperation between China and Pakistan.
From mutual assistance in the early days of the founding of the People’s Republic of China and the construction of the Karakoram Road which opened up land transportation between the two countries in the 1960s, to the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor today, from disaster reduction and relief to the fight against terrorism, the two countries have always cooperated and helped each other, and the friendship has been continuously consolidated. During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan in 2015, the two sides agreed to upgrade China-Pakistan ties to an all-weather strategic cooperative partnership.
In early 2020, Pakistan, as China’s most intimate friend and neighbor in the fight against the COVID-19, offered all-round solidarity and support to China. Since the outbreak of the epidemic in Pakistan, the Chinese government and people in return have made every effort to support Pakistan. According to Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), China has provided Pakistan with 7 million sets of protective equipment and 600 respirators. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the “hardcore” friendship between the two countries has been further enhanced in the fight against the COVID-19.
Hardcore friend serving as a prelude to the Belt and Road
Since the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Pakistan, bilateral trade volume has been ever-increasing and cooperation areas expanded. China became Pakistan’s largest trading partner in 2011 after the two countries signed a free trade agreement in 2006. Machinery, transportation equipment, steel products and electrical appliances featuring the label of “made in China” have great influences on the lives of the Pakistani. On Chinese shopping websites, consumers can also buy items with Pakistani characteristics such as rice, home textiles, carpets and jade.
Since the Belt and Road Initiative was put forward by China in 2013, economic and trade cooperation between China and Pakistan has arrived at a turning point that calls for improved quality and upgrading. Since then, China has built the Silk Road Economic Belt in the north and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road in the south, from Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to Gwadar Port in Pakistan. Projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), including roads, railways, oil, gas and fiber optic cables, have gradually been unveiled. In 2015, China and Pakistan decided to take priority on the development of the CPEC and focus on such areas as Gwadar Port, energy, infrastructure construction and industrial cooperation, thus to form a “1+4” cooperation layout and promote joint development of the two countries.
Nowadays, the first stage of the construction of the CPEC, whose focus is on energy and infrastructure construction, has been basically completed. The Qasim Coal Fired Power Plant, jointly invested and built by China and Pakistan enterprises, has been put into operation, providing sufficiently low-cost and clean electricity to 4 million local households every year. The Gwadar Port, whose development has almost stalled, resumed its functions and was put back into commercial operation. The construction of Gwadar Port Free Zone has also been steadily promoted, with the formation of business environment initially coming into stage, and the local people’s livelihood has been significantly improved. Moody’s Corporation, an internationally renowned credit rating agency, commented that the project of CPEC has played a significant role in promoting Pakistan’s economy. According to China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, “If ‘the Belt and Road’ is like a symphony involving and benefiting every country, then construction of the CPEC is the sweet melody of the symphony’s first movement.”
At present, the CPEC has not only accelerated the pace of its first phase construction, but also fully prepared for the start of the second phase. From June to July in 2020, China and Pakistan have signed several project plans with a total amount of US$ 11 billion.
While cooperation on economy and trade are deepened, both sides seize the opportunity of the construction of CPEC to boost deeper and further people-to-people exchanges in fields such as culture, youth, education, etc. China’s cultural centres and Chinese media have opened in Pakistan one after another, becoming a window for the Pakistani people to learn Chinese culture. Personnel exchanges and mutual tourism have significantly increased with the promotion of Twin Cities. China has now become a key destination for Pakistani overseas students, with more than 28,000 in 2018, and China has also actively provided vocational training opportunities to Pakistani people. With exchanges and cooperation, mutual understanding and friendship of the two countries are accelerating and people-to-people ties consolidated.
More engagement and more opportunities in CAEXPO
Pakistan, geographically close to ASEAN countries, has been taking an active part in the CAEXPO for years to open its new market between China and ASEAN. Since the 13th CAEXPO, 27 of Pakistani official institutions and enterprises, including the Pakistani Embassy in China, the Consulate General of Pakistan in Guangzhou, and the Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, have made an exhibition of its national image, wooden furniture and handicrafts and so forth, with a total of 65 standard display booths. Its special commodities are popular in the CAEXPO, including jade in blue and white colour, bronze ware, wool carpet and the rest, encouraging the Pakistani enterprises to get more involvement in the CAEXPO.
Based on the “10+1” cooperation framework between China and ASEAN, the Mechanism of Special Partner Country, an innovation for the CAEXPO opening to the world, is established to accelerate the cooperation of both sides on the economies outside the region and integrate into the global value chain. After its establishment, six countries such as Australia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan, Tanzania and Poland have acted as Special Partner Countries in the CAEXPO, with breakthroughs in service sectors every year, and the practical achievements of it have enjoyed a widespread reputation.
In July 2020, the Consulate General of Pakistan in Guangzhou replied to the CAEXPO Secretariat with Pakistan’s agreement of being the Special Partner Country of the 17th CAEXPO. The head of the Pakistan delegation will deliver a speech at the opening cereminy of the CAEXPO. During the session, it will also display Pakistan’s national images, competitive products, key industries, cooperation opportunities, etc., and boost exchanges and cooperation of economy and trade by activities such as national promotion conferences.
Pakistan has always been striving for a long time to promote its industrialization process, constantly upgrade its trade structure and expand its exports, with the establishments of trade relations with more than 90 countries and regions. Deeply engaged in CAEXPO as the Special Partner Country, Pakistan’s commodities are expected to further expand its exports to the Chinese market, which will help both countries to explore more market potential in depth. Besides, through the CAEXPO, China and Pakistan can jointly exploit the international market, promote economic exchanges with ASEAN nations and other countries and regions, and help the two countries realize diversified development of foreign trade.
It is worth mentioning that with the gradual improvement of Pakistan’s domestic transportation infrastructure, the function and effect of the CPEC that connects the Silk Road Economic Belt with the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road are gradually emerging. Pakistan can show the development prospects and cooperation opportunities along the CPEC through the CAEXPO, attracting more enterprises to explore cooperation in trade, investment, technology and other aspects in Pakistan, and injecting strong momentum into Pakistan’s industrialization and the construction of the CPEC.
Source: China-ASEAN Panorama