US, China asked to set aside differences to help climate

Published September 28, 2022
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari speaks during a session at a Washington think-tank, Woodrow Wilson Centre, on Tuesday. — Screengrab via Woodrow Wilson Centre website
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari speaks during a session at a Washington think-tank, Woodrow Wilson Centre, on Tuesday. — Screengrab via Woodrow Wilson Centre website

WASHINGTON: Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari urged the United States and China on Tuesday to set aside their differences and work together for improving global climate, a day after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken asked Pakistan to engage with China for restructuring its debt.

In a joint media briefing with his Pakistani counterpart a day earlier, Secretary Blinken said: “We talked about the importance of managing a responsible relationship with India, and I also urged our colleagues [Pakistan] to engage China on some of the important issues of debt relief and restructure so that Pakistan can more quickly recover from the floods.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin on Tuesday addressed this issue, saying that Beijing was already providing assistance for the flood victims and would also help rebuild thousands of homes in the affected areas.

He urged other nations to also do “something real and beneficial, instead of passing unwarranted criticism against China-Pakistan cooperation.” The Chinese government provided RMB 400 million worth of humanitarian assistance to Pakistan while China’s civil society is also “lending a hand,” he said.

Blinken asks Pakistan to engage with Beijing for debt restructuring; Wang Wenbin hits back over ‘unwarranted criticism’

Pakistan has discussed the possibility of restructuring its debt with creditors after the recent appeal by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres for “an effective mechanism of debt relief” and is believed to have brought it up during the first bilateral meeting between FM Bhutto-Zardari and Secretary Blinken.

The United States is so far the largest donor to the flood relief and rehabilitation funds, providing about $56 million since July. Washing­ton announced an additional $10 million for food security after the bilateral meeting.

The Pakistani foreign minister, however, urged the two world powers to cooperate, not fight, with each other over this issue. “Let me be absolutely clear. We will not overcome climate change. We will not save our planet. If China and the US do not work together on climate,” said Mr Bhutto-Zardari in his address at a Washington think-tank, Woodrow Wilson Centre. “Everything else can wait. Every other conflict. Every other dispute. We will all fight among ourselves if there’s a planet left to fight over,” he said.

The foreign minister recalled a recent statement by the UN chief, adding that helping the countries that were facing the consequences of the global warming “is about climate justice.” He earlier highlighted the fact that Pakistan contributes only 0.8 per cent to climate change but faced 24pc of its consequences. He urged the “great polluters to pause until we can survive” and “help the victims of their industrialisation get over this catastrophe”.

Commenting on his conversation with Mr Blinken, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said the two countries were already “broadening” their conversation. “We just don’t talk about Afghanistan, and we just don’t think about Afghanistan. We are talking about enhancing trade and economic cooperation, energy and agriculture, and education,” he said.

About efforts to improve relations with India, the minister said: “This is a very different India, Mr Modi is not Manmohan Singh, or even Mr Vajpayee,” reminding his American audience that Mr Modi was refused a US visa until he became the prime minister. “We want a manageable and responsible relationship with India,” he said, adding that he was not surprised by India’s reaction to the US decision to give $450 million to upgrade Pakistan’s fleet of F-16 aircraft. “Obviously, Indians are going to be upset, let them be, Kiya karein (what do we do),” he said.

The India-Pakistan conflict also echoed in the UN this week when Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif urged India to undo the illegal annexation of the occupied Kashmir and also to grant the right of self-determination to the people of the disputed valley.

In Washington, the foreign minister also underlined the change he saw in the US attitude towards Pakistan, adding that he was “not just surprised but absolutely impressed with the approach US has towards Pakistan now.”

The “good thing is we have been de-hyphenated by the US, previously it was Af-Pak or India-Pak but now it’s not”, he added.

Secretary Blinken in his meeting with Mr Bhutto-Zardari said, “We spoke, too, about the importance of meeting our commitments as democracies, upholding core values like respect for freedom of religion, belief, freedom of expression.”

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2022

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