Strengthening cooperation with China the national consensus in Pakistan: ambassador
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Published: Feb 27, 2024 10:37 PM


Editor's Note:

China and Pakistan share a strong and enduring friendship that dates back to the 1950s, and the China-Pakistan relationship is a shining example of strong bilateral ties based on mutual respect and shared interests. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is also a flagship project under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that aims to enhance connectivity and trade between the two countries. How will the CPEC develop in the next decade? How does Pakistan envision the development of ties with China? Global Times reporters Xie Wenting and Chu Daye (GT) spoke with Pakistani Ambassador to China Khalil-ur-Rahman Hashmi (Hashmi) on these and other crucial matters.

Pakistani Ambassador to China Khalil-ur-Rahman Hashmi Photo: Courtesy of Pakistani Embassy in Beijing

Pakistani Ambassador to China Khalil-ur-Rahman Hashmi Photo: Courtesy of Pakistani Embassy in Beijing

GT: As the new Pakistani Ambassador to China, what are your priorities? What has impressed you most about China so far?

The topmost priority for me is threefold: a) to further deepen the all-weather strategic cooperative partnership between our two countries; b) to solidify the bonds of friendship between our two peoples; and c) to implement the consensus reached between the leadership of our two countries. 

This is my second tenure in China, and I've been thoroughly impressed by the progress made by China in the last 15 years. The first thing that struck me when I landed in Beijing in November last year was the massive improvement in air quality. However, air quality is just one aspect of the very well-rounded development in diverse sectors including human, social, technological, and economic development. All these facets have witnessed steady and positive development. That's what has impressed me the most.

GT: In what new areas do you hope China and Pakistan can further enhance cooperation?

I believe cooperation between Pakistan and China is already very multi-dimensional, covering almost every area. For example, we have just completed 10 years of intense and multidimensional cooperation under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is the pioneering project of President Xi's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The first phase of CPEC was primarily focused on two things: infrastructure (including transport infrastructure) and energy. Both these areas are key ingredients for any economy to grow rapidly. The first decade of CPEC has laid important ground for fast-tracking development. Moving forward, it will be important to prioritize industrial cooperation and industrialization, including through promoting special economic zones and attracting and facilitating new investments. We welcome Chinese enterprises and businesses to invest in diverse sectors such as agriculture, mining, information technology, textiles, engineering, and electric vehicles.

GT: Will changes in the Pakistani government impact bilateral relations between China and Pakistan?

Over the 73 years, Pakistan-China relationship has become very solid and assumed unique characteristics in terms of inter-state relations. Ours is a relationship that is not affected by internal developments in either country or regional and international events. That is why we refer to it as an ironclad relationship that has stood the test of time. In Pakistan, there is a national consensus across political parties and various segments of society on further strengthening our bilateral ties with China. 

With the recent elections, a new government is being formed, and I am confident that it will play its role in further bolstering our strategic cooperative partnership with China.
Islamabad Photo: PTDC

Islamabad Photo: PTDC

GT: Could you elaborate on Pakistan's plan for the next decade of development within the CPEC? 

I would use three terms for next phase of CPEC: connectivity; infrastructure, and industrialization; and agriculture. 

Connectivity is a multidimensional concept including but not limited to physical, digital, and people-to-people connectivity. One tangible outcome in terms of physical connectivity is the optimization of the Mainline-1 railway project. 

As for industrialization, we are looking at the prioritization of certain sectors. Currently, there already is the prioritization of four special economic zones. I personally visited one of these zones in Pakistan (Rashakai Special Economic Zone in Kyhber Pakhtunkhwa province) recently. We are taking steps to speed up operations so that more companies can come and invest. We are also establishing a free trade zone at Gwadar.

Agriculture is another area receiving a lot of focus these days. We would be looking at collaborating on projects related to seed technology, drip irrigation techniques and induction of modern agricultural machinery. 

GT: Could you provide us with some details regarding the progress of the Mainline-1 project?

We are making steady progress. China Railway Administration completed a technical study in late of the Mainline-1 project. They have assessed the project to be commercially feasible. The project can sustain itself and will pay off in the long term. 

Our two sides are now looking at the next steps, including formal approval within our own system, following procedures, and then finalizing the financing agreement.

GT: What is your opinion on the efforts made by certain Western media outlets to portray CPEC as a so-called "debt trap" for Pakistan?

For me, I see it as no more than propaganda or political opinion, and not facts. 

It is important to see things in perspective. The industrial development - infrastructure, energy, road infrastructure, and port infrastructure development - entails huge investments. Developing countries find it extremely difficult to mobilize financing for such projects. It has always been the case that developing countries seek different means of financing. What has happened is that over a period of time, these big projects were done through the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and similar organizations.

Unfortunately, the funding available within these organizations has decreased and the gap has been filled by China. So, instead of criticizing China, China should, in fact, be appreciated because it has made that financing available again to so many countries in the developing world.

As I mentioned, infrastructure and energy are key ingredients that lay the foundation for sustainable economic growth, jobs, and livelihoods. Countries rely on grants, investments, and concessional loans for these projects. Concessional loans have low interest rates by definition. After investing in infrastructure and energy, the economy begins to grow. Industrialization cannot succeed without sufficient energy and transport infrastructure. As economic activity increases, more businesses and investors come in, generating more revenue. This revenue not only pays off the loans but also sets the stage for rapid economic growth.

GT: Given the security challenges in the region, including the spillover effect of terrorism in Afghanistan, how does Pakistan cooperate with China on security issues to ensure regional stability?

We have had very close cooperation and coordination consultation with China for many years on several levels. When it comes to security issues in the region, especially with respect to Afghanistan, we have a trilateral mechanism involving Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China.

 Pakistan and China also have special representatives on Afghanistan. There is a lot of consultation and coordination underway, as well as goodwill to help Afghanistan be economically viable. There is a willingness to help Afghanistan overcome its challenges in security and the economy among others. It is clear that without addressing the security challenges, which are exacerbated by groups like ISKP and TTP, it is very difficult to make the economy work, promote economic growth, create jobs, stimulate economic activity, or develop infrastructure.

The amount of money and effort spent on building infrastructure can be destroyed by these groups, as has been the case in the past. It is therefore important that relevant authorities in Afghanistan pay attention to the concerns that have been expressed by neighboring countries on security issues, because it is a common concern for their neighboring countries.

Fact Sheet of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor under the BRI Graphic: GT

Fact Sheet of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor under the BRI Graphic: GT

GT: What specific measures will Pakistan take to protect Chinese personnel and enterprises operating in Pakistan?

 The safety and security of Chinese persons in Pakistan continues to remain a priority for Government of Pakistan. We have established a dedicated division of security forces for protection of Chinese personnel, enterprises, and projects related to the CPEC. Of course, we are aware that there are detractors, countries and entities that seek to disrupt or damage Pakistan-China relations or economic cooperation. We have seen many examples before. It is a multi-dimensional issue where there are actors and entities both inside and outside of the country that we need to pay attention to, closely monitor their nefarious activities, and defeat them.

GT: We noticed the recent reports regarding the evidence of India's support of terrorist forces in Pakistan. What's your take on this?

We have shared concrete information and evidence about Indian involvement in previous years. I am referring to India's state apparatus, state agencies, and state operatives who have been involved in sabotage and terrorist activities directly targeting the CPEC and Chinese personnel in Pakistan. Much of this information and evidence has been shared with United Nations and many western countries over the years.

India's nefarious designs are exemplified by the case of a serving Indian Navy commander who was arrested by Pakistan in 2016, who confessed to planning, organizing, financing, and carrying out terrorist activities inside Pakistan at the behest of Indian authorities. This is just one example. There are other cases that substantiate Pakistan's consistent position about Indian involvement in acts of subversion and terrorism on Pakistani soil.

India has on record publicly opposed the CPEC; which is pioneering project of BRI, and a symbol of strong Pakistan-China partnership for sustainable development and shared prosperity. The Indians have an axe to grind here, but there is substantial evidence of their involvement in criminal and terrorist activities inside Pakistan.

GT: What steps are being taken to strengthen people-to-people ties between China and Pakistan?

People-to-people exchanges are a priority area of outreach between our two countries. For example, in 2023, my predecessor and the Embassy organized for the visit of a group of 15 Chinese tour operators to Pakistan. The idea was for them to identify potential packages for Chinese tourists to visit those places. There are different types of packages available, such as adventure tourism in the high mountains, cultural and heritage sites, and other attractions that may interest Chinese tourists. In 2023, 12 group tour operators from Pakistan also visited China for the first time and explored joint plans with their Chinese counterparts. 

Also in 2023, the Embassy organized a Gandhara exhibition at the Palace Museum. This exhibition showcased the ancient connection between Pakistan and China, highlighting the people who used to travel between both countries. This exhibition also emphasized the Buddhist connection between the two nations. Many artifacts from that area were brought and displayed at the exhibition. The exhibition has since traveled to Gansu and is currently in Shenzhen, where it will conclude in March this year. These are just two examples of our efforts. Moving forward, we plan to organize and focus more on engaging the youth in various forms.

We are also planning a fashion show and Pakistan cuisine or Pakistani food week this year. We want to showcase that spicy food is not just popular in Sichuan, but also in many parts of Pakistan. 

We would like to work more on showcasing similarities between the Yangtze River and the Indus River civilizations in our part of the world, as the two biggest rivers in our two countries. We know that rivers play a major role in the development of civilization. 

We are exploring the possibility of hosting exhibitions on various CPEC-related products. So all in all there are a lot of activities planned for this year and beyond to deepen cultural and people-to-people ties.