Prime Minister Imran Khan has paid a four-day visit to China during the first week of February at a time when misperception about stagnation in the bilateral ties between Islamabad and Beijing was prevailing in the media. This misconception emerged due to the slow pace of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. The apparent objective of this visit is to show solidarity with its old friend by witnessing the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing amid America’s diplomatic boycott of the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics. The visit was also significant in the backdrop of the growing tension between the US and China.
However, the visit seems to dispel the misconception about any impasse in the bilateral relationship between Pakistan and China. Whether the Chinese concerns have been dispelled or not? This will be discussed in the following lines. However, it is significant to mention that the Pakistan-China bilateral relations are time-tested and they have reached the stage where both countries cannot keep themselves from each other keeping in view their shared objectives of peace and stability in the region.
To what extent this visit has achieved the objectives?
This was the second visit of the Prime Minister to China because he paid the first visit as Prime Minister in 2019. Due to the COVID-19 related restrictions and travel ban, the Pakistani leadership has not paid a visit to China for the last two years and this is unique in the context of the CPEC strategic partnership. During the recent visit of the Pakistan Prime Minister to China, the much-needed “Framework Agreement on Industrial Cooperation” has been signed which is considered as the milestone in the entire realm of relationships under the CPEC project.
This framework agreement will facilitate the transfer of industries and investment from China and other parts of the world to the Special Economic Zone (SEZs) in Pakistan. This agreement holds vital importance for the second phase of CPEC and its future course of action. Industrial cooperation is one of the 10 Joint Working Groups established under CPEC in 2016 and an MoU was signed in 2018 between Pakistan’s Board of Investment (BOI) and China’s National Development and Reform Commission as the representative leading agencies by their respective countries. As CPEC entered its second phase, the need for a comprehensive framework agreement became imperative.
Therefore, the elevation of MoU into a Framework Agreement is a timely step taken to ensure the utilization of the maximum potential of the cooperation between the two countries. The agreement also reaffirms prioritized development and operations of the nine Special Economic Zones with a primary focus on the early completion of Rashakai SEZ in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Allama Iqbal Industrial City project in Punjab, Dhabeji SEZ in Sindh, and Bostan SEZ in Balochistan. In addition to it, a consortium of three Chinese companies has expressed the desire to establish a $ 3.5 billion reprocessing park in Gwadar within two to three years and a $ 350 million textile cluster over 100 acres of land on Lahore-Kasur road.
CPEC project and a way forward
Pakistan has a very close relationship with China which has matured over the seven decades. The launch of a project like CPEC has added a solid economic dimension to the strategic relationship between China and Pakistan, which has further strengthened the long-standing bilateral relationship. Many external elements are working as spoilers to create confusion and misunderstanding between Pakistan and China and especially to thwart the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is crucial for the economic development of Pakistan. It is also a flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
For CPEC Investments, it is needed to simplify bureaucratic procedures to encourage investors. Fool-proof arrangements also need to be made to ensure the safety of Chinese personnel working on CPEC projects and to allay Chinese concerns. CPEC is a key component of the Belt and Road Initiative and one of the largest economic projects of the present day. The timely completion of it will not only strengthen Pakistan economically and strategically but will also manifest the Chinese concept of inclusive development.
Given this situation, it is prudent that the frequent consultations at the institutional level between Pakistan and China may work as a regular channel. And, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s announcement that he would pay a follow-up visit to China next month seems to be a step in this direction.
Dr. Tahir Ashraf is an author who writes extensively on global politics and holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur and teaches at the Department of International Relations, Bahauddin Zakariya University Multan, Pakistan. He can be accessed at email@example.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.