GVS: Ambassador Nong Rong, this is your first assignment in Pakistan. Pakistan and China are now celebrating the 70th anniversary of their relations. How did you see relations between our two counties before being posted to Islamabad, and how do you see them now from within Islamabad?
Amb Nong Rong: Over the past 70 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Pakistan, no matter how the international and domestic situations have changed, the two countries have always stood firmly together, shared weal and woe, and moved forward hand in hand. China-Pakistan relations are a model of state-to-state relations.
Although I came to Pakistan for the first time, I feel no stranger to Pakistan at all. When I was in China, the Chinese people affectionately called Pakistan “Iron Brother.” As the Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, I have made friends with many Pakistani politicians, think tanks, media, and entrepreneurs, etc.
I visited all four provinces of Pakistan. No matter whether I was in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, or Gwadar, I am overwhelmed by the hospitality and friendship of the Pakistani people. I am proud to see that China-Pakistan friendship is a national consensus across regions, classes, and parties in Pakistan.
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This makes me full of confidence in promoting China-Pakistan friendship! In my recent visit to Peshawar, I was shown a photo of Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai’s visit to Peshawar in 1956. He was warmly welcomed by people from all walks of life.
I am both familiar with and touched by this scene. Thanks to the careful cultivation of the leaders and the joint efforts of the people of the two countries, China-Pakistan relations have maintained a strong momentum of development.
During President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan in 2015, the China-Pakistan relationship was upgraded to an All-Weather Strategic Cooperative Partnership, which opened up new and broad prospects for the development of bilateral relations.
Looking back at the past 7 decades, we have written wonderful chapters together, and I believe that the next 70 years will be even more exciting!
GVS: Looking back at the history of the 70 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Pakistan, what do you think is the most striking feature of the China-Pakistan relationship?
Amb Nong Rong: I would like to quote the insightful comments from President Xi Jinping. During his visit to Pakistan in 2015, he pointed out that “the defining feature of our relations is deep political mutual trust, which means we always put ourselves in each other’s position when addressing related issues.” That is a very appropriate summary of China-Pakistan relations.
No matter how the international landscape changes, China and Pakistan have always rendered each other understanding, respect, support, and cooperation on issues concerning each other’s core interests and major concerns, and always given a helping hand when the other party faces difficulties. This kind of “back-to-back” ironclad brotherhood is very precious.
GVS: You have worked here for slightly over 6 months, and this is a tough period for the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What is your impression of Pakistan? How do you think Pakistan can benefit from China’s experience in fighting this pandemic?
Amb Nong Rong: I arrived in Pakistan during the pandemic, which did have a certain impact on me in performing my duty. But it also gave me an opportunity to witness the resilience of Pakistan and the special friendship between our two countries.
The pandemic is having a profound impact on the world. Each country is handling the pandemic according to its own national conditions. As for China, the whole nation united to fight and finally won the war against the pandemic under the strong leadership of the Communist Party of China.
In September last year, President Xi Jinping summed up the successful experience of China, which includes the great spirit of putting life first, being united nationwide, self-sacrificing for the good of the public, respecting science, and fighting for humanity. I think these experiences are helpful to the international community, including Pakistan.
At present, we see a severe rebound of the pandemic in the world. Pakistan is also facing a third wave of pandemic. Currently, China and Pakistan are working closely together on vaccine cooperation.
Pakistan is the first country to receive the Chinese, government and military, gifted vaccine. The Chinese companies are also working closely with Pakistan. Pakistan has actively participated in the vaccine phase III clinical trial cooperation with Chinese companies and made important contributions to the development and use of vaccines.
For example, the CanSino vaccine, of which Pakistan participated in the research and development, has been authorized for emergency use in many countries and has got very positive outcomes.
China and Pakistan will continue to carry out in-depth anti-pandemic cooperation, and China will continue to provide strong support and assistance to Pakistan until Pakistan overcomes the pandemic ultimately.
GVS: The CPEC project is in phase II now. Western media and some other people argue that things are going slowly compared to Phase-I and that cooperation in the agriculture and social-economic sector of Phase-II seems very low-key by comparison. Does it mean that the peak of CPEC is over?
Amb Nong Rong: Since its inception, the CPEC construction has received extensive attention from all walks of life in Pakistan. CPEC has brought investments of $25.4 billion into Pakistan, with 46 projects completed or under construction. The CPEC has added 5,200 megawatts of power, 886 kilometers to the national core transmission line, and 510 kilometers of highways. These are some of the important early phase goals achieved.
The CPEC has entered a new stage of enrichment and expansion. Under the structure of the JCC, eight joint working groups (JWG) on Gwadar, Energy Cooperation, Transport Infrastructure Cooperation, Industrial Cooperation, Socio-Economic Development Projects, Agriculture Cooperation, Science and Technology Cooperation, International Cooperation and Coordination have been established.
Gratifying progress has been made in all areas, and more focus is given to areas of industry, agriculture, people’s livelihood, science and technology, and so on. Both sides are committed to the smooth operation of completed projects, the steady advance of projects under construction, and active new cooperation.
In agriculture, for example, the two sides have proposed a cooperative action plan covering eight aspects. In terms of science and technology, the two sides will continue to implement the Science and Technology Innovation Action Plan and make continuous progress in the construction of joint laboratories, cooperation in science and technology parks, and technology transfer.
The CPEC cooperation is in line with the Pakistani government’s policy of shifting to geo-economics, and we believe that the CPEC will provide more impetus to Pakistan’s development. The Chinese government has a firm determination to promote the development of CPEC.
On specific projects, the two sides will have a full consultation and respect the laws of the economy and market. China is willing to maintain close communication with the Pakistani government and welcomes all sectors of Pakistan to actively participate in the cooperation.
GVS: As you had experience in trade and commerce before taking office as the Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, your posting means a great shift towards trade, commerce, and investments. Are we making some progress in these areas? What are China’s priority areas of investment in CPEC SEZs like Rashakai, Dhabeji, and Allama Iqbal Industrial City?
Amb Nong Rong: China actively supports the efforts to strengthen cooperation between the two countries in the fields of economy, trade, and investment and is willing to focus on strengthening policy alignment, improving the cooperation environment, and building cooperation platforms.
China will, together with Pakistan, strengthen cooperation in SEZs under the framework of CPEC and encourage Chinese companies to invest in Pakistan. The Rashakai SEZ is the first industrial park implemented under CPEC and has attracted great attention from leaders of the two countries.
It is jointly developed and constructed by China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Economic Zone Development and Management Company (KPEZDMC). It covers an area of 1,000 acres and will be implemented in three phases. The planned investment amounts to 128 million US Dollars.
It is of great significance in actualizing the high-quality development of CPEC, stimulating the regional economic vitality, and attracting more people to participate in the construction of CPEC and share the development benefits.
At present, the Rashakai SEZ is in a critical period of construction and investment promotion. On April 19, I paid an on-site visit and attended a special meeting to coordinate project development, preferential policies, implementation of work plans, and mechanism establishment.
The Rashakai SEZ is open to companies from China, Pakistan, and the world to develop machinery manufacturing, household appliances, food processing, leather, and textiles, cultivate industrial clusters.
It is planned to create a manufacturing center for the Pakistani domestic market and a trade distribution center radiating to Central Asia. Meanwhile, China also maintains close communication and coordination with Pakistan on cooperation in other industrial parks.
It is believed that with the joint efforts of China and Pakistan, cooperation in industrial parks will make more positive progress.
GVS: You once served as a mayor and a provincial minister in China. What do you think Pakistan can learn from China in city management and urban development?
Amb Nong Rong: China and Pakistan can learn from each other in urban development and management. Urban development and management is a set of systematic projects involving all aspects of social management, economic development, and improvement of people’s livelihood. In my opinion, it is the most important to do well in the following aspects.
The first is industrial development. It is needed to plan, cultivate, and establish key industries for urban development, which is very important to attract population, bring vitality and promote economic growth, employment, taxation, and residents’ income through the industry. It, in return, will inject endogenous impetus into urban development.
The second is to improve infrastructure. In response to the needs of economic development and people’s livelihood, it must speed up the construction of urban infrastructure such as urban transportation, electricity, tap water, sewage treatment, internet, pipelines, and so on to attract investment and provide a quality living environment for its citizens.
The third is to strengthen public services. It is needed to speed up the construction of public service systems such as education and medical care, continuously improve people’s living provisions, and promote equal access to basic public services, so that urban residents can enjoy the benefits of urban development fairly.
The fourth is to improve city management. It is needed to further improve law enforcement and strengthen urban security management so as to create a good public environment for urban development and people’s lives and promote harmonious and healthy urban development.
The Lahore Safe City and Orange Line projects are successful examples of cooperation between China and Pakistan in urban development and management.
GVS: Pakistan’s PM, Imran Khan, repeatedly says that China brought hundreds of millions out of poverty in the last 40 years, and Pakistan needs to learn from China in “poverty alleviation.” How can China help us?
Amb Nong Rong: In the past 40 years, 700 million people in China have been lifted out of poverty. It is a big achievement in human history. China and Pakistan have broad room for cooperation in poverty alleviation, and China is ready to share its experience with Pakistan without any reservation.
I think we can arrange seminars of the Communist Party, the Chinese government, and enterprises of China to share China’s experience and practice in poverty alleviation with Pakistani counterparts.
China will continue to work with Pakistan to advance the CPEC cooperation and help Pakistan to realize its industrialization, informatization, and agricultural modernization at an early date and lift more people out of poverty.
GVS: Tensions between China and the US have indirectly affected Pakistan as well. How does China view this?
Amb Nong Rong: The world is undergoing profound changes unseen in a century. China and the United States should transcend the so-called “unavoidable conflicts between an emerging power and an established power,” transcend the differences in ideology and social system, transcend the cold war and bloc confrontation mentality, and actively explore the path of peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation between the two countries.
This will benefit both the international community and the region. The new administration of the United States, in shaping its ‘China policy,’ has not stepped out of the shadow of the previous administration. Nor has it gotten rid of its misperception about China.
China has maintained communication with the US while firmly defending its own interests. As all-weather strategic cooperative partners, China and Pakistan have always firmly supported each other on issues related to their core interests and maintaining close communication and coordination on international and regional issues.
China and Pakistan are just forces for regional peace and stability. We are committed to upholding and practicing multilateralism and building a community with a shared future for mankind. This is the right path in line with the historical trend. The future of China-Pakistan cooperation will be brighter and more promising.
Just as Pakistan requested the US not to look at Pakistan-US relations through the lens of a third party, we are opposed to some countries interfering with and undermining China-Pakistan relations out of a Cold War mentality. We will firmly safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of China-Pakistan cooperation.
GVS: Recently, China signed the $400 billion deal with Iran on several projects. What do you think this will bring to CPEC and the Belt and Road Initiative?
Amb Nong Rong: In January 2016, China and Iran issued a joint statement on the establishment of a comprehensive strategic partnership, in which the two sides agreed to reach a comprehensive cooperation plan.
On March 27, during his official visit to Iran, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif jointly signed the plan, which focuses on bilateral cooperation in economic, cultural, and other fields, and mapping out the prospects and path of long-term cooperation.
It does not include specific quantified contracts or targets, and it is not targeted at any third party. Both Pakistan and Iran are important cooperative partners of China.
China is committed to working with Pakistan, Iran, and other countries in the region to continuously strengthen development strategy alignment and coordination, and explore deeper regional economic and trade cooperation, so as to achieve common, coordinated, and sustainable development, and build a community of shared future for development and prosperity.