From the establishment of diplomatic ties in May 1951 to the present day, Pakistan and China relations have transformed into an iconic brotherhood which is unprecedented in the contemporary history of International Relations. Apart from diplomatic support, trade agreements, defence cooperation, cultural exchange programs and the placement of Pakistan in China’s BRI, the geopolitical, geo-economic and geostrategic transformations in the region also contributed to deepen and strengthen the relations between China and Pakistan.
Pakistan became the first Muslim country to recognize China and established its diplomatic ties with China in May 1951. China and Pakistan relations witnessed no conflict in their journey of nearly seventy years. Instead, the cooperation in trade and more importantly in the security domain exponentially increased over time. According to a former ambassador of Pakistan to China, Mr Riaz Mohammad Khan, Pakistan and China have been remarkably consistent to forge close ties with each other despite the unusual and decisive changes in the International Political system.
During the Cold War, multiple factors contributed to deepening the ties between China and Pakistan. Sino-Indian rivalry, the US and Soviet aid to India during the Sino-Indian war, the Indo-Pak conflict, cooperation in security and military affairs and China’s support to Pakistan in the 1965 war against India had a significant impact on China-Pakistan ties. Moreover, Pakistan’s role to bridge relations between China and the West especially the US and China’s support to Pakistan in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) are pertinent to mention for diplomatic cooperation between these two nation-states.
Moreover, China has been providing economic assistance to Pakistan in terms of grants and loans for years. The high-profile projects of China include the construction of Karakoram Highway (KKH), the Heavy Mechanical Complex (HMC), Nuclear Power Plants, Machine Tool Plant, Gwadar Port and Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT). Furthermore, the manufacturing and development of JF-17 and Al- Khalid tank is an amazing joint venture of China and Pakistan. However, the cultural exchange programs have also contributed to further strengthen the relations between two nations at the government as well as individual level.
On the diplomatic front, Pakistan and China have always supported each other at all International forums/institutions/groups such as UNSC, SCO, FATF and NSG. For example, China used its veto against Bangladesh to block Bangladesh’s entry into the United Nations as Pakistan had not recognized Bangladesh. Moreover, China has always supported Pakistan’s stance on the Kashmir issue. Similarly, Pakistan supports the “One China” policy and firmly stands with China on this national issue.
China has been concerned about its Malacca Dilemma and it also needed to explore new avenues to sustain its economy and further enhance the economic sphere. Therefore, China unleashed its Belt and Road Initiative in 2013 which would connect over sixty countries through land and sea routes and increase economic connectivity and interdependence between the countries along the Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road. The placement of Pakistan in the BRI and the flagship project China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has opened up another arena of increased economic cooperation between China and Pakistan.
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was established on 22 May 2013. Under this mega project, China is investing in the energy sector, for infrastructure development and Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in Pakistan. The projects under CPEC are divided into short, medium and long term projects. All the projects would be completed by 2030. CPEC is a win-win situation for both China and Pakistan. For China, CPEC is offering the shortest route to have access to the Persian Gulf which is providing a lifeline to the Chinese Economy as China imports 80% of its oil from the Gulf. It would also help China to bypass the Strait of Malacca to reach the markets of the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Moreover, it would enhance the economic and strategic connectivity of the region with China.
According to a Chinese scholar, Li Xiguang, “The CPEC, the hub of OBOR, links the belt in Central Asia and the road with the Indian Ocean. The region around the CPEC has seen the rise of previous world cultural centres. This is the same area where the ancient world influenced China and China also influenced the world. The ancient Silk Road civilization encompasses countries that include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Iran which have been portrayed in Yu Gong as parts of Suifu and Yaofu. With these countries, China needs to maintain regional relationship and political alliances. Constructing a civilizational sphere across OBOR is reshaping China’s geopolitical and geo-civilizational sphere of influence. Though the Silk Road is an economic zone, it is more a cultural zone.”
For Pakistan, CPEC is a ray of hope for its shambling economy and to fulfil its dream to have economic prosperity in the country. Lack of infrastructure development, energy crises and economic crisis have been major issues in Pakistan along with the wave of terrorism in the previous years which have badly affected all segments of society in Pakistan. Pakistan has largely defeated the menace of terrorism in most of the areas and now peace has been established across the country. Due to CPEC, the other issues are also being addressed. The energy sector has shown unprecedented growth in recent years and consequently, the economic conditions have improved significantly. Under, CPEC, the infrastructure development drive is going-on across the country. The expansion of motorways is one of the significant examples in this regard.
Moreover, the Gwadar port has the potential to become a regional economic hub. The use of the Gwadar port by Central Asian States (CARs) would significantly assist Pakistan to exploit the full potential of the port which will also enhance the connectivity of Pakistan with CARs and bring tremendous opportunities for Pakistan’s economic growth. It is rightly stated that CPEC is a ‘game-changer for Pakistan. It would bring peace and prosperity not only for Pakistan but also for the entire region as the economic interdependence and connectivity would increase at a significant level.
Even though massive fake propaganda has been launched against CPEC especially from the Indian side and the Western media outlets, but it couldn’t affect the progress of CPEC projects and the further engagements between China and Pakistan. Both, the countries have agreed to expand the sphere of CPEC; the next phase of CPEC would venture into seven areas: a) enrichment; b) expansion, c) financial and insurance services; d) eco-tourism; e) agriculture; f) joint ventures in education; and, g) industrial development.
Generally speaking, China and Pakistan’s brotherhood has defeated all the challenges and emerged as an iconic brotherhood in the contemporary world. China and Pakistan have strong state-to-state and people-to-people connections based on mutual interests and respect. The friendship between China and Pakistan stood strong against all odds. The assistance to each other in the fight against COVID-19 is another glaring example of the manifestation of iconic brotherhood between China and Pakistan. For example, after the outbreak of coronavirus, China urgently needed protective suits, safety goggles and medical masks. The government of Pakistan sent 84,500 N95 Masks, 279,000 Surgical Masks, Suits 8500 and Goggles 2400 to support the Chinese struggle against Coronavirus.
Similarly, later on, when the COVID-19 hit Pakistan, China sent 500,000 surgical masks and 50,000 N95 masks. China also sent a team of medical doctors to train and assist Pakistani doctors in the fight against coronavirus in Pakistan. Recently, the People’s Liberation Army has also donated vaccine to Pakistan Armed Forces. These doses of vaccination have been given to the government of Pakistan to contribute to the national vaccination drive. The support to each other in hard times reflect the iconic brotherhood and friendship of China and Pakistan as the Chinese quote says, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” The fight against COVID-19 has further strengthened the China-Pakistan brotherhood.
To cut the long story short, it can be said that China and Pakistan have enjoyed conflict-free and strong relations for a long period. Both countries have always supported each other through thick and thin. Now, The BRI and its flagship project CPEC have set a new direction for both China and Pakistan towards a “shared destiny.” This quotation truly and precisely explains the iconic brotherhood of China and Pakistan, “Pak-China friendship is higher than the Himalayas, deeper than oceans and sweeter than honey”.