May 21st marks the 72nd anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the People’s Republic of China and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. It is high time to celebrate. A thousand-mile journey begins with the very first step. Nurtured by successive generations of leadership of our two great nations ever since 1951, the China-Pakistani relationship has grown into a time-tested, long-standing and all-weather strategic cooperative partnership.
Over the past 72 years, we have built exemplary fraternity on consensus, mutual respect and reciprocal support, rather than banking on parochial interests, short-term benefits or mere geopolitics. China always puts Pakistan on priority in its neighbourhood diplomacy and the two countries firmly support each other’s core interests no matter how the international landscape changes. This tradition has carried weight on the bilateral ties all along the way into today, and made tremendous contribution to regional security and world peace. It is not only a valuable asset for both countries, but also sets an example for state-to-state relations of different political systems and cultures.
Facing the choppy water and headwinds, China and Pakistan have acted in tandem and in solidarity. The last 3 years had seen both countries giving a helping hand to each other in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, the unprecedented flood calamity, and the evacuation effort of 200 more Pakistani diaspora by Chinese navy ship from the war-torn Sudan to Saudi Arabia. This year when Pakistan was handling the extraordinary financial and economic challenges featured by a paucity of foreign exchange reserves and daunting external debt repayment, China, to the best of its capacity, came firstly and immediately to loan, deposit and rollover, rendering much-needed assistance for Pakistan’s financial stabilisation.
This year also witnesses the resumption and regaining momentum of the high-level exchanges and visits. Since Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif paid his maiden official visit to China last November, the new Chinese Premier Li Qiang had held the first telephonic conversation with him. Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang made his inaugural visit to Islamabad in early May, co-chairing with Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari the 4th round of the Foreign Minister-level Strategic Dialogue. Both reaffirmed their unwavering resolve to further uplift the bilateral ties. Meanwhile, Pakistan army chief General Asim Munir visited the People’s Liberation Army headquarters to explore military cooperation. More visits will be seen in coming months.
This year, the Khunjerab Pass, a major land artery connecting China and Pakistan, has been reopened after an almost three-year hiatus, giving a momentous spur to the cross-border trade and travel activities. Number of flights between the two countries is also on the rise. China Southern Airlines is poised to resume its flight operations from Lahore to Urumqi on June 13, providing more relief to the China-bound travellers from Lahore and the Punjab. The Gandhara Art Exhibition at the Palace Museum in Beijing, an essential part of China-Pakistan Year of Tourism and Exchanges, has attracted many Chinese visitors whose numbers are more than expected. This May, the “Star Moon Road: Pakistan-China Contemporary Arts Exchange” was also successfully launched in Lahore Museum and University of Education Lahore.
2023 also marks the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative and consequently the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Under strategic guidance of the leadership of two countries, CPEC has become a lifeline and game changer for Pakistani socioeconomic transformation. While tackling the infrastructural and power supply deficits and enhancing industrial cooperation, the CPEC projects have created 236, 000 direct jobs and employed 155, 000 local people by the end of 2022. It has empowered human resources, boosted capacity building and improved the livelihood of ordinary Pakistanis. The 12th Joint Cooperation Committee meeting is scheduled in July. The new Gwardar International Airport will be in full operation coming September. More focus will be given to cooperation on industry, agriculture, science, information technology and renewable energy, and the ML-1 mega project is also set to pace up. Going forward, CPEC will remain on track and strive for high-quality development.
China is now embarking on the great cause of achieving national rejuvenation through Chinese modernisation, which will bring new opportunities to the development of our bilateral relations. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan once said, “It is only with united effort that we shall be able to translate our dreams into reality.” Affected by international spillover and coupled with the unfolding political developments, Pakistan arrives at a trying moment. Development hinges on stability and prosperity goes hand in hand with unity. A country’s better future requires taking all stakeholders on board. Pakistanis are resilient and capable of managing its own affairs. We sincerely wish Pakistan peace, harmony and growth.
History and the ground reality have more than once testified that our leaders have been leading from the front in making the difference felt on bilateral and global horizons, that China and Pakistan have always been standing with each other through weal and woe, in thick and thin, weathering all storms. It is the beauty of the all-weather friendship. 2023 will again showcase China’s commitment to further join hands with Pakistan in synergising our development strategies, deepening all-around cooperation, expanding cultural exchanges and people-to-people contacts, and achieving more progress for building an exemplary community of a shared future.
Long live China-Pakistan friendship!
The author is the Chinese consul general in Lahore.