Pakistan and China cooperation has reached space, even higher than sky: Pakistani planning minister
Published: Jun 07, 2024 08:12 PM
Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistani minister for planning, development and special initiatives, speaks during an interview with Xinhua in Islamabad, capital of Pakistan on May 23, 2024. (Xinhua/Ahmad Kamal)

Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistani minister for planning, development and special initiatives, speaks during an interview with Xinhua in Islamabad, capital of Pakistan on May 23, 2024. (Xinhua/Ahmad Kamal)

Editor's Note:

From June 4 to 8, 2024, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif made an official visit to China. This was Sharif's first visit to China since being re-elected as Prime Minister this year. He was accompanied by several members of the Pakistani cabinet and businessmen. Ahsan Iqbal (Iqbal), Pakistani minister for planning, development and special initiatives was among the delegation.

Due to his strong promotion of cooperation under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Ahsan Iqbal is known as "Mr. CPEC." In an exclusive interview with the Global Times (GT) reporters Xie Wenting and Bai Yunyi in Beijing, Iqbal said that over the past decade, the CPEC has transformed Pakistan's energy and infrastructure landscape, greatly advancing the country's socio-economic development. He emphasized that in the next phase, the focus of CPEC cooperation will be on industry, agriculture and information technology. In the interview, Iqbal cited the recent successful launch of a Pakistani satellite into space using a Chinese rocket as an example, saying, people used to say that the relationship between Pakistan and China was higher than the Himalayas. "Now we are also cooperating in space technology... Our cooperation has reached space, even higher than the sky." He also touched on the issue of safety regarding Chinese people and projects in Pakistan. 

GT:How do you evaluate the changes brought to Pakistan by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) over the years?

Iqbal: The CPEC has been a flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative. Over the last 10 years, it has immensely contributed to the socioeconomic development of Pakistan. Through the CPEC, Pakistan has added more than 8,000 megawatts of power to its energy grid. More than 500 kilometers of motorways and 800 kilometers of highways have been constructed.

A fiber optic cable has been laid, creating an information highway between China and Pakistan. Additionally, numerous new energy projects, including solar and wind renewable energy projects, have been established. Pakistan was able to productively use a coal deposit that had been buried for 70 years. It is only through the CPEC that we were able to mine and utilize it to produce the cheapest power in the country. In the process, thousands of Pakistani workers and engineers have received training in new technologies. There is now more business-to-business cooperation, and special economic zones are being set up.

In the second phase of the CPEC, our focus is to develop more industrial cooperation to promote special economic zones and provide incentives to Chinese companies to relocate with a low cost of production in Pakistan. 

We also aim to promote cooperation in the agriculture sector, as China is a leader in science and technology application in agriculture. We want to modernize our agriculture sector, as well as the IT sector, including information technology and artificial intelligence. We are establishing working groups to foster more cooperation in these fields. 

Likewise, there is more emphasis on people-to-people exchange and cooperation. The CPEC has brought Pakistan and China closer together. While we had a relatively weak economic partnership in the past, the CPEC has established a strategic economic partnership, completing Pakistan's strong political, economic, and people-to-people relationship with China. This makes our relationship unbreakable. 

Pakistan and China have been time-tested friends, with our relationship always advancing. Just as it used to be said that our friendship was higher than the Himalayan mountains, now we are also cooperating in space technology. Recently, with China's help, we launched Pakistan's largest satellite. This space cooperation elevates our friendship beyond the skies.

GT: Pakistan is currently facing significant economic challenges. Will those economic difficulties pose a challenge to the construction of the second phase of the CPEC? 

Iqbal: The challenges we are facing in terms of economic hardships are temporary because Pakistan has very strong fundamentals. It has a strong agricultural sector, strong industrial base, and abundant mineral resources. 

Therefore, we hope and believe that we will be able to turn around Pakistan's economy.

Unfortunately, we faced a very bad climate disaster in 2022, which caused a $30 billion loss to Pakistan's economy. These setbacks were significant, but our economy is now recovering. The stock market has set a new record, surpassing a 76,000-point mark, which has never happened in the history of the country. This demonstrates that both local and international investors have complete faith and confidence in the economic policies of the present government.

GT: What new and concrete progress on advancing the CPEC does your side expect to reach with China during this visit?

Iqbal: We hope to start the second phase of CPEC. Under this phase, we envision five corridors: a growth corridor, a livelihood-enhancing corridor, an innovation corridor, a green corridor and an open corridor. Through these five corridors, the footprint of CPEC will expand in various fields. We hope that CPEC will also be able to bring other countries in the region together. It will become a major initiative for shared prosperity in the region.

GT: Many are concerned that while the CPEC and other Chinese economic projects in Pakistan have made significant progress, they have also been concerns over terrorism threats. What measures will the Pakistani government take to protect Chinese personnel and enterprises in Pakistan? 

Iqbal: Pakistan is taking extra precautions for the safety and security of Chinese citizens, and we have a special dedicated army force of more than 11,000 people to protect Chinese workers. The terrorism attacks are conducted by groups that are enemies of Pakistan, China and CPEC. Through such covert actions, they want to stop and sabotage CPEC. However, we will not let anyone hinder the progress of CPEC because they cannot defeat the spirit of the people of Pakistan and China.

Just a few days ago, I was attending a meeting of Chinese companies in Islamabad, where a senior manager, who was from the same company where the incident happened, shared a touching story. He had just arrived that morning from Beijing, and he recounted how his wife and daughter expressed fear for his safety. They asked him if he should go, and he replied, "Pakistan is my second home, and I will fulfill my duty." We deeply respect and salute the spirit of our Chinese brothers who consider Pakistan their second home. Similarly, Pakistan is indeed their second home, and our relationship is unbreakable. Such terrorist actions, which are enemies of CPEC, will never be able to halt its progress or shake the resolve of the Chinese and Pakistani people to move forward.