CPEC laying foundation for sustained indigenous economic modernization; growth within and across the region is logical next step: Pakistan PM
Published: Aug 14, 2022 07:31 PM
Shehbaz Sharif. Photo: Courtesy of Embassy of Pakistan in Beijing

Shehbaz Sharif. Photo: Courtesy of Embassy of Pakistan in Beijing

Editor's Note:

On the special occasion of Pakistan celebrating its 75th Independence Day, the Global Times (GT) reporters Liu Caiyu and Xing Xiaojing did a written interview with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif  (Sharif) on a broad range of topics, including China-Pakistan relations, hot-debated issues relating to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor  and the upcoming 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC). 

GT: On the special occasion of Pakistan's 75th Independence Day, which is also the first Independence Day since you took office. I would like to take this opportunity to ask, how do you evaluate Pakistan's current development path?

Sharif: Pakistan's development story is one of resilience, hard work and dedication. We have faced numerous challenges of grave nature in the past and overcame them successfully. We have built top quality infrastructure. Pakistan is home to one of the youngest but most talented populations that has made its mark. We have the natural endowments that are capable of propelling our development. 

The coalition government's development strategy rests on fixing the fundamentals of the economy that have restrained the unpacking of our existing potential. We are laying the foundation for the much-needed but long-delayed structural reforms to stabilize the economy. It also includes deepening trade and economic relations with the friendly countries. 

The shift from geo-strategy to geo-economics in our public policies represents a consensus to leverage our potential to fast-track the process of development and growth. The welfare of the people and making Pakistan self-reliant remain the core point of our development strategy.

GT: What are the characteristics of China-Pakistan relations under the new cabinet? What is changing and what is staying the same?

Sharif: The All-Weather Strategic Cooperative Partnership between Pakistan and China has been nurtured by successive leadership generations, is rooted in the hearts and minds of people, and covers all areas of bilateral cooperation. There is complete consensus across all political spectrums in Pakistan to further deepen our strategic partnership with China. Both countries support each other on their respective issues of core interest. Pakistan has always strongly supported the One-China principle, considering Taiwan as an integral and inalienable part of China. 

Our "Iron-Brotherhood" is characterized by mutual trust, complete understanding and support, mutual respect, and commonality of views on important regional and global issues. Pakistan-China relations are a factor of peace and stability in the region and beyond. 

Pakistan is amongst the earliest supporters of President Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative, with its flagship, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, transforming Pakistan's economic landscape. Pakistan is also amongst the foremost partners of the Global Development Initiative.

I am confident that together, Pakistan and China would continue their efforts to build a community of shared future for mankind.

GT: What efforts is Pakistan making to defeat the threat of terrorism and extremism?

Sharif: Pakistan has played a leading role in the fight against terrorism in the region. No country in the region has sacrificed more for peace than Pakistan. There is complete national consensus on the issue of countering terrorism and extremism. Despite paying enormous price in this effort (over 80,000 casualties and more than US $ 150 billion economic loss) we are determined to maintain the gains and completely eradicate terrorism.

This is possible because Pakistan is following a whole of the nation approach in fighting terrorism. We also owe our success against terrorism to concerted efforts and sacrifices of our security and law enforcement agencies.

Our efforts are wide-ranging and comprehensive aimed at countering both terrorism and extremism. Pakistan's efforts have been widely acknowledged at the international level. No other country in the world, outside the active conflict zone, has achieved so much in the global fight against terrorism when compared to Pakistan.

GT: China and Pakistan issued a joint statement after the meeting between the foreign ministers of China and Pakistan in May saying that the two countries called for stability in Afghanistan, and both sides agreed that peace and stability in Afghanistan is vital for regional development and prosperity. Beyond bilateral relations, what role can China and Pakistan play together in regional and global peace and stability?

Sharif: Both Pakistan and China have been instrumental in sustaining momentum of international efforts for continuous and practical engagement on Afghanistan. In September 2021, Neighbouring Countries of Afghanistan Platform was set up on Pakistan's initiative, which has held 3 meetings so far, with the last being in Tunxi, China in March 2022. Similarly, both countries are also part of major international mechanisms on Afghanistan, such as Troika Plus and Moscow Format.

As neighbours and strategic partners, China and Pakistan have major stakes in the overall peace and stability of our region. Both countries have remained engaged with the Interim Afghan Government as well as the international community on issues of mutual concern, ranging from peace and security, humanitarian assistance, revival of banking channels, unfreezing of Afghanistan's financial assets, trade and transit facilitation, infrastructure and energy connectivity projects as well as capacity building of Afghan institutions.

Pakistan supports extension of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan in order to increase regional connectivity and economic integration, the modalities of which would be worked out in the times ahead.

It is hoped that our efforts will ensure continuity of international engagement with Afghanistan with the eventual aim of seeing a peaceful, stable, prosperous, and connected Afghanistan contributing to the stability and long-term prosperity of our region.

GT: What new progress has been made in accelerating the implementation of the CPEC agreed by the two sides, especially since you took office as Prime Minister?

Sharif: Since its inception in 2013, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has continued to make rapid and tangible progress. Over the past decade, CPEC has helped Pakistan alleviate power and infrastructure bottlenecks, thus laying the foundation for sustained economic modernization. 

CPEC has thus been instrumental for us to enhance the capacity for indigenous development; in keeping with the Chinese adage that it is better to teach one to fish. 

As Prime Minister, I have prioritized timely completion of underway CPEC projects that serve as the building blocks for our future agenda of bilateral economic cooperation. I have visited numerous CPEC projects, including in Gwadar, to ensure that timelines are met so that the people of Pakistan can benefit from our cooperation. My government has also spared no effort to facilitate Chinese enterprises and investors, who are the lynchpins of our cooperation, while initiating preparations for implementing our shared priorities in CPEC's next stage.

We will continue to work closely with China to enhance the momentum of our bilateral cooperation.

GT: What are your expectations for the future plans and development prospects of the CPEC? In particular, what measures have you taken and will you take to ensure the safety of Chinese personnel in Pakistan?

Sharif:  CPEC provides a long-term blueprint for our two countries to extend mutual support on the long road to development and greater wellbeing of our peoples. Following the success of its early-harvest phase - focusing on energy and infrastructure development - CPEC is being increasingly substantiated. 

In the short-term, we hope to see early progress on completing major infrastructure projects that are in the pipeline, including the strategic Main Line 1 (ML-1) railway line, which would further accelerate industrial relocation and help consolidate our integration into global value chains.

Pakistan is fully cognizant of the threats and challenges faced by our cooperation, in particular those arising from the complex regional and global environment. 

We will continue to attach the greatest importance to the safety and security of our Chinese friends, and extend our heartfelt sympathy and condolences to the victims of the shocking and tragic attacks in recent months, as well as to the great Chinese nation. As honored guests making invaluable contributions to our development, Pakistan will continue to provide the best environment to facilitate their work. 

My government has enhanced security measures across the board. We have also made breakthroughs in investigating these dastardly acts. Those who target Pakistan-China cooperation are, first and foremost, enemies of our own development and the well-being of our people; they will not escape justice.

GT: What do you think of the extension of the CPEC to Afghanistan? In addition, if third-party CPEC cooperation can proceed smoothly, what role will it play in promoting regional development and stability?

Sharif: Both Pakistan and China are ready to take next steps regarding CPEC's extension to Afghanistan with the Afghan authorities. As an international connectivity initiative, CPEC's growth to connect markets within and across the region is the logical next step. 

CPEC has been about enabling Pakistan to play an optimal role in regional economic integration. As third-party participation picks up, we expect more common friends to benefit from Pakistan's unique role at the crossroads of major emerging markets, demonstrating the win-win spirit that has always animated CPEC.

GT: Some countries regard the construction of the CPEC as a "threat," what is your comment on this?

Sharif: CPEC is a development initiative that aims to bring the region together in shared pursuit of prosperity and stability. Pakistan has long upheld our vision of a peaceful neighbourhood; sharing the benefits of our advantages in connectivity and productivity. This approach is not targeted at, and does not seek to exclude any party.

Our focus on common development is largely shared by countries in the region and internationally. We hope it would continue to inspire greater international cooperation and help the region break the vicious cycle of deprivation and conflict. With these ideals at its core, CPEC cannot reasonably be perceived as a "threat" except to those who view things in a zero-sum perspective and would rather want that our peoples remain deprived of the fruits of development.

GT: China's Belt and Road Initiative connects China and Pakistan. What other areas can China and Pakistan further deepen economic cooperation?

Sharif: Our partnership with China has a strong economic component, and we are committed to further strengthening it for mutual benefit. China is Pakistan's largest trading partner. The Phase-II of FTA, operationalized in 2020, has further improved access of Pakistani commodities in Chinese markets. Last year, our exports to China recorded an all-time high of US$3.6 billion. For many years, China has also been the largest net FDI source for Pakistan. Our two countries have robust financial sector cooperation which includes currency swap arrangement. We are discussing ways to further strengthen our cooperation in the banking sector, digital currencies and e-commerce. 

Pakistan's industrial development is an important focus of my government. Work is underway on CPEC Special Economic Zones and we are incentivizing Chinese investments in key industrial sectors. 

Our people-to-people cooperation has also continued to grow, reflecting the mutual goodwill that forms the unshakeable bedrock of our All-Weather Strategic Cooperative Partnership. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the momentum of these exchanges has been maintained. This is a cherished legacy from more than seven decades of friendship, which we will continue to safeguard and pass on to future generations.

GT: What is your impression of China?

Sharif: China's civilization has deep imprints on the entire region. Its governance model, rapid modernization, economic development, and people-centered policies have lessons for all developing countries, including Pakistan. 

I have visited China many times, and have always marveled at its stellar rise. In a short span of four decades since Reform and Opening-up, China has lifted 800 million people out of poverty, an unprecedented feat and a modern miracle. The focus, wisdom and determination of Chinese leadership and the hard work of the Chinese nation has set modern China on the path to national rejuvenation.

GT: The 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) will be held in Beijing in the second half of 2022. How do you view China's development over the past decade? What's your perspective, why has China been able to achieve such accomplishments? Do you have confidence in China's development plans for the next 5 or even 10 years, and what are your expectations?

Sharif: As I mentioned earlier, China's stellar rise is a modern miracle. This could not have been achieved without the leadership provided by the Communist Party of China (CPC). By rallying the Chinese nation, the CPC lifted the yoke of colonialism and founded the People's Republic of China in 1949. Last year, the CPC celebrated its centenary and is leading China on a new journey of building a modern socialist country in an all-round way. The CPC is indeed holding high the banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the New Era.

China has modeled itself as an economic powerhouse and with general secretary of the CPC Central Committee Xi Jinping at its core, has emerged as a great power. Today, China has the largest economy in the world on Purchasing Power Parity basis. The people-centered policies of the CPC have raised the standards of living of the Chinese people, with per capita income doubled in the last decade. China's dual-circulation strategy and emphasis on high-quality development are geared to deal with the economic realities of the coming decade.

I have full confidence that the Chinese nation will attain its dream of national rejuvenation under the leadership and guidance of CPC.   

GT: The world has experienced great turbulence in the past ten years. What are your observations regarding the achievements that the CPC has brought to the world over the years? 

Sharif: I agree that we are witnessing global transformations unseen in a century. The world is in a flux with conflicts still afflicting many parts of the world. In these challenging times, developing countries, including Pakistan, concur with China's emphasis on peace, development, dialogue and win-win cooperation through mutually beneficial partnerships.

Like other developing countries, Pakistan has greatly benefited from President Xi Jinping's visionary Belt and Road Initiative, an open and inclusive platform of global development. CPEC has placed Pakistan as a fulcrum of regional integration, linking South and Central Asia and Middle East. Similarly, the Global Development Initiative has offered a comprehensive blueprint for realization of sustainable development goals. In fact, these initiatives demonstrate that China is ready to shoulder its responsibilities as a major country and enhance international cooperation with the aim of building a community with a shared future for mankind.