Consolidating China-Pakistan friendship

Updated: 2013-05-24 07:15

By Du Youkang (China Daily)

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Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Pakistan, during his first foreign trip as China's premier and shortly after the Pakistani general election returned Nawaz Sharif for an unprecedented third term in power, fully reflects the new Chinese leadership's emphasis on China-Pakistan relations, as well as the two sides' common aspiration to consolidate and develop their friendship. The visit is of great significance for the two countries, as it marks the beginning of a new stage in their comprehensive strategic partnership and mutually beneficial cooperation.

During their frequent high-level visits in recent years, leaders of China and Pakistan have exchanged views on bilateral relations and international and regional issues of common concern in an in-depth and timely manner and built up a level of strategic mutual trust that is rare in today's international relations.

Bilateral trade has also seen important progress. China is Pakistan's largest trading partner, while Pakistan is not only China's second-largest trading partner in South Asia, it is also one of the largest overseas project contracting markets for Chinese enterprises, with a cumulative contract value of more than $25.2 billion. In 2012, the bilateral trade volume was more than $12 billion for the first time, up 17.6 percent year-on-year, while the accumulated Chinese investment in Pakistan totaled $2.1 billion last year. The two sides have launched or confirmed more than 450 projects related to agriculture, water conservancy, electric power, machinery, chemicals, textiles, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, biotechnology, computers, the environment, energy, oceans, earthquakes, mapping, the peaceful use of atomic energy, information and other fields. These projects are further promoting scientific and technological exchanges and cooperation between the two countries.

Cultural and people-to-people exchanges have also made remarkable progress. In addition to increasing exchanges in the fields of culture, education, sports, news and tourism, China has set up a number of Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms in Pakistan and Chinese teaching will soon be included in the Pakistani national education system. Meanwhile, in support of the Pakistani government, four Pakistan study centers have been set up in major Chinese universities, which will become a main platform for promoting China-Pakistan academic and cultural exchanges and bilateral friendly relations. In addition, there are more than 8,000 Pakistani students now studying in China.

Although China and Pakistan have been engaging in close cooperation in political, economic, diplomatic, military, technological and cultural fields, there is still great potential that can be tapped in the future. Compared with the size of both economies, especially their political, diplomatic and military ties, the $12-billion bilateral trade volume seems quite weak. The scale of bilateral investment is also fairly low considering the two sides' economic strength. Moreover, people-to-people exchanges between the two countries also lag far behind.

Fortunately, the development of bilateral relations is facing a new historic opportunity as the two sides have agreed on a long-term plan for an economic corridor to further connect the central and western parts of China with Pakistan. China is now making efforts to speed up its economic restructuring, transform its development model and improve its independent innovation capability to ensure more balanced and sustainable development of the Chinese economy and it is fully implementing the strategy of development in its western region and expanding westward opening-up.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is in a crucial stage of political, economic and social development. Due to the influence of the war on terrorism, severe floods and other adverse factors in recent years, the Pakistani economy has grown slowly and the domestic public security situation is yet to improve. So revitalizing the struggling economy and maintaining social stability are the priorities for the new Pakistani government. In this regard, as they are "good brothers", China will go all out to support Islamabad's efforts to develop Pakistan's economy.

On the other hand, both China and Pakistan need a peaceful, stable and secure surrounding environment to ensure fast socio-economic development and improvements in people's livelihoods. However, terrorism, religious extremism and separatism continue to seriously undermine the region's economic development and social stability. In particular, Pakistan, which remains in the forefront of global counterterrorism efforts, has paid a heavy price in the fight against terrorism.

With the complete withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan pending, the prospects for the counterterrorism campaign in South Asia are uncertain. So China and Pakistan need to maintain communication, strengthen consultation, deepen cooperation and support each other in dealing with the challenges of terrorism and the Afghan issue.

May 21 marked the 62nd anniversary of the establishment of China-Pakistan diplomatic relations. The older generations of leaders of the two countries laid the foundations for healthy China-Pakistan relations, which have now developed into an all-weather, comprehensive strategic partnership. Premier Li's official visit to Pakistan will help the two countries strengthen their friendship under their new leaders.

The author is a professor and director of the Pakistan Study Centre, Fudan University.