The China that I Saw

A Pakistani diplomat shares his experience living in an ever-changing China; admiring the Confucius discipline and devotion inculcated by the culture which the society has embraced over millennia, and which is behind its enormous economic progress, to the sense of tranquillity in every nook and cranny of China that enables a stable society to focus on the real matters on hand.


I was posted to Beijing as Political Counselor in 2012. In a diplomatic dinner, I met one of the African Ambassadors stationed in Beijing for several years. In my own curiosity to understand, what was the perspective of an African Ambassador on China’s economic development, I asked the Ambassador, how did he see China changing? His answer was succinct and profound: he said, “China changes every minute”.

The answer kept me thinking about China’s miraculous economic development. The second question that came to my mind was how and why China was able to sustain the level of development unknown in human history before. We read a lot of economic theories telling us what it really takes for economies to develop.

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These theories explain both the macro and microeconomic principles that remain critical in the economic development of a country or a region. However, my experience of serving in China tells me something wholly different and deepens my faith in the dictum that “seeing is believing”. All economic theories have to be implemented in a certain cultural, political and social context.

While the intellectual community, development practitioners and economists believe that the key to China’s economic growth lies in its model of economic development, a remarkable mix of capitalism and state intervention, to me the culture of China played a critical role in its spectacular economic development. China is now the world’s second-largest economy. The figures on China’s economic prowess are just staggering.


China’s GDP was $14.3 trillion in 2019, with a share of 18.72 percent in the world’s economy. The country has natural resources with an estimated worth of $23 trillion, 90% of which are coal and rare earth metals. China also has the world’s largest banking sector assets of around $40 trillion, with $27.39 trillion in total deposits. It has the fourth-largest inward foreign direct investment and the eleventh-largest outward foreign direct investment.

China has the world’s second-highest number of billionaires with a total wealth of $996 billion. Of the world’s 500 largest companies, 129 are headquartered in China. It has the world’s largest foreign-exchange reserves worth $3.1 trillion. Just to give the foretaste of the scale of transformation that China witnessed, once a small fishing town, Shenzhen, after four decades of reform and opening-up, has gradually become a global hardware center and a hub for scientific and technological advances.

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Skyscrapers appear commonplace, and the population has surged past 13 million. Very few people remember today that, historically, China was one of the world’s foremost economic powers for most of the two millennia from the 1st until the 19th century. One of the most amazing things about Chinese culture is a sense of discipline and devotion that society has embraced over millennia. The Confucius principles of self-discipline, hard work, and patience in the face of adversity have been deeply ingrained in the minds and character of the Chinese people.

I realized that deference to authority, enshrined in DNA of Chinese society, played a pivotal role in the state-led model of development and prosperity. The Communist Party of China (CPC), the party that led to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on 1st October 1949, prides itself on being one of the most meritocratic institutions in the world.


In my own interactions with the Party leaders and looking at the system of public governance, I got a sense that the leadership of the Party was selected through a rigorous process of evaluation and demonstrable performance. Traveling within China, I had a very distinct feeling that the CPC is indeed a people-centered party.

China had passed through a major turmoil in the first half of 20th century, and one of the major challenges for the CPC was to alleviate poverty in China and put the country on the path of economic development and cohesion. The party was very devoted and keen to meet the aspirations of its billion-plus people and has brought nearly 800 million people out of poverty within the last three decades.

Such a massive poverty alleviation program would not have happened without CPC envisaging thoughtful, long-term, pragmatic, and socially inclusive policies for the Chinese people. One of the most amazing things I noticed, during my stay, was that the basic amenities and infrastructure were in place everywhere, even in the most remote of the places.

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In absolute economic or commercial terms, it was hard to imagine that prohibitively expensive infrastructure will have been built for the poorest of the poor to meet their most basic needs. Even in Tibet, the rooftop of the world, I was struck by the very impressive infrastructure of hospitals, roads and public facilities spread across the capital city of Lhasa.

The other element that impressed me was a great sense of equanimity in nook and corner of China. Very often it was a great delight to see teeming thousands enjoying their weekends or long holidays playing in gardens, watching movies, or going to theatres.

The traditional small tea shops, exuding the gentle aroma of Chinese tea, people playing majiang in the streets with perfect poise women, frolicking dogs, beautiful children bicycling and Ferraris and Audis traversing the roads make China look heavenly and utopian. During my five years of working in China, rarely did I notice any violent act happening around me.

This year the Chinese nation is celebrating the 71st anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, which was a seminal event in history

Another takeaway that struck me was the country’s ability to preserve and promote its 5000 years old culture. China borders 14 countries, and it is one of the most diverse countries in the world. While Hans constitute the majority, China has 56 ethnic minorities harmoniously living in diversity. I have visited some of the most beautiful and historic mosques and shrines in China meticulously preserved by the Chinese authorities.

China has very distinct and diverse geographical regions with unique characters and their own rich cuisines. Southwest of China is one of the most scenic and beautiful regions of China having inescapably beautiful regions such as Tibet, Xinjiang, Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou, to name a few. I have a deep personal association with the region as I had the honor to serve their as Pakistan’s Consul General and the stint left indelible impressions on me.

The Consulate General oversees Pakistan’s relations with the Southwest of China. The capital of Sichuan, Chengdu is known the world over for its beautiful pandas. Chengdu city has a GDP of nearly 250 billion dollars with world-class infrastructure built around it. Chengdu also happens to be the production base for JF-17 Thunder. The fighter aircraft is being developed as a joint venture between the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and the Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Corporation Limited.

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A small team of the PAF is based in Chengdu to assist in co-developing and to produce the aircraft. Over the years, China has made incredible strides in improving its educational institutions as well as its S&T sector. China now boasts of having some world-class universities and is leading the research in AI, cloud computing, and Big Data. Nearly 28,000 Pakistani students are studying in various universities in China.

These students will serve as great assets for Pakistan and China as they will build stronger bridges between the two countries. Many Pakistan Study Centers and Urdu Language Departments have been established in various universities in China. These Study Centers are important intellectual bastions for promoting education and research ties between the two ‘iron brothers’.

Pakistani universities are signing MoUs with universities in China to expand cooperation in various areas. Pakistan has also established sister-province relations with seven Chinese provinces and sister-city relations with thirteen Chinese cities. Pakistan and China celebrated 2019 as the Year of Sister-city and Sisterprovince relationship.

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Tourism in China has boomed because of its abundant tourist attractions and enhanced tourist environment. More and more foreign tourists are finding China as an ideal travel destination. We need to promote tourism between both countries. This year the Chinese nation is celebrating the 71st anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, which was a seminal event in history.

Next year Pakistan and China are celebrating 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between both the countries. We are planning to hold those celebrations with traditional zeal and zest, bringing the great people of Pakistan and China even closer to each other and further strengthening our eternal ties.

The writer, an Oxford graduate, is Director General (China), Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the views expressed in the article are his personal views.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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