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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Analyzing PM Shehbaz’s visit to China

The premier left for Beijing on Monday and is among the first few leaders to visit the neighboring country following the historic 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) that elected Xi Jinping as general secretary of the party.

For a few days, the news was circulating that the Prime Minister of Pakistan along with a high-level delegation including Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is paying a visit to China. But what is unique about it? Some analysts call it a visit of great strategic interest while others look at it from different other dimensions calling it a crucial visit. There is no doubt that geopolitics is going through immense pressure and tense phases but the matter is, is it the first time the Pakistan Prime Minister is visiting China? The simple answer is no. Then what makes it unique?

There are a couple of reasons that make the trip unique such as 1) The current Prime Minister has visited China several times as Chief Minister but this time he will visit for the first time as Prime Minister of Pakistan. 2) Timing of the trip in terms of geopolitics makes it crucial and significant but one has to consider a constant delay in the visit due to COVID-19 restrictions. In normal circumstances, any new Prime Minister often pays visits to China within weeks of taking charge of the office but due to COVID the current Prime Minister was unable to do so. 3) Building a strong partnership between ‘Iron Brother’ to complete the remaining CPEC project activities. 4) Pakistan Government’s keenness to roll over $7 billion in Chinese loans.

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Well, all the above four points are legit enough to make this trip unique and important

But what should the Prime Minister do over this trip to make it beneficial for Pakistan?

1) The Prime Minister of Pakistan will become one of the first leaders to visit China following the historic 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. The 20th National Congress approved President Xi’s third term as China’s President in a departure from the country’s Constitution that earlier restricted the President’s tenure to two terms. The Prime Minister should wish President Xi Jinping on securing his position as Head of the Communist Party for the third time and further strengthen ties with its old friend.

2) After witnessing recent floods and their atrocities the Prime Minister of Pakistan should discuss climate change and its impact on Pakistan’s economy, life and individual well-being. Where one-third of the country is badly affected by climate change-related floods but when we look at Pakistan’s contribution to climate change it is minimal. Hence the Prime Minister should discuss the cost of carbon emissions by other countries including China and its impact on economically fragile countries like Pakistan.

3) Keeping in mind the changing global politics it becomes crucial that all states take appropriate measures at the right time to secure their countries both from within and outside. Due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the world will face both food and energy security. The Prime Minister of Pakistan should discuss these important aspects with President XI Jinping to find alternate means and solutions to the upcoming crisis.

4) When Pakistan was going through an immense foreign exchange reserves crisis, China deposited $4 billion in the State Bank of Pakistan to build its foreign exchange reserves. Along with that, the Chinese Commercial Banks provided $3 billion as a loan. Both of which make $7 billion in total are due to return in the current financial year. The Prime Minister should use this trip as an opportunity to request the Chinese Government to roll over these billions of dollars. The Prime Minister should highlight the economic hardship the country is facing due to the fragile economic situation and seek help from China to help and support Pakistan to shore up its depleting foreign reserves.

5) The CPEC project has slowed down from almost all fronts during the last four years. The Prime Minister should look into the issue more seriously and try to accelerate its pace because the CPEC project is of high significance to both China and Pakistan. Pakistan committed to China to establish 9 Special Economic Zones that are still in the pipeline. The Prime Minister should discuss a way forward to bring it to fruition. The work on Special Economic Zones needs to be accelerated which will bring economic prosperity and infrastructure development programs in various parts of Pakistan. It will ultimately help the country in resolving its economic hardship.

Read more: Doors open for talks: PM Shehbaz forms committee for PTI long march

The second phase of CPEC has already started

Among the key areas in the second phase include agriculture, human capital development, industrialization etc. Will Pakistan invite Chinese agriculture experts on how to improve wheat and cotton production? Until a few years ago Pakistan used to produce 13-14 million bales of cotton and Pakistan used to import 1½ million bales of cotton for its domestic requirements. Cotton production has declined to 6½ to 7 million bales in the last several years – thereby widening the gap between domestic requirements and the production of cotton bales. Pakistan will require to import 6½ to 7 billion bales of cotton for which billions of dollars will be required. Can Pakistan afford to pay so many billions for cotton imports?

Similarly, the per capita availability of wheat was 145 kg per person per annum in 2010. Instead of increasing, the per-capita availability of wheat has declined to less than 120 kg. But, what went wrong with wheat and cotton production? The Prime Minister of Pakistan should invite Chinese agriculture experts to not only find out the reasons but how to enhance yield per acre of major agriculture crops.

Read more: Power-hungry politicians’ using youth for partisan agenda: PM Shehbaz

All of the above are doable suggestions. But given the changing geo-strategic environment where the US has changed the rule of engagement to the new mantra “either you are with us or against us” since the War on Terror but more so after Russia Ukraine War, how far will the visit of the Pakistani Prime Minister set an impact? Will the world power let it happen?



Dr. Farah Naz is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Government and Public Policy at the National University of Sciences and Technology. The views expressed by the writers do not necessarily represent Global Village Space’s editorial policy