Wang Yi in Islamabad

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China transforms the region

China is the cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy. Both are iron brothers. The friendship goes on. It is the most stable inter-state relationship between any two countries. The relationship is free of coercions, doubts, and conspiracies. Ties are based upon principles rather than circumstances and needs. Mutual trust, equality, and non-interference in each other internal affairs closely drove them to build an ever-lasting and flourishing friendship.

Some would argue that they are not allies but friends. China reacted wisely during political upheavals in Pakistan, particularly when crisis emerged in the former East Pakistan in 1971. China also did not show its peculiar inclination toward a certain regime in Pakistan that was installed democratically or came through a military coup.

Traditionally, China avoided becoming an active player in Afghan reconciliation since the crisis erupted in 2001. However, now China wants to be active player in the post-withdrawal reconciliation process of Afghanistan. A trilateral dialogue was held among the foreign policy officials of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China in Kabul on Feb 9, where they pledged to make concerted efforts in achieving peace and stability in Afghanistan.

This is a significant development. Pakistan has an important role to play in Afghan reconciliation. China borders with Afghanistan and has been emerging as significant player. Both countries’ defence forces have been fully cooperating with each other to eliminate terrorism.

Within three days of this pledge in Kabul, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi undertook an official visit to Islamabad on 12-13 February, where he declared that China was ready to support the reconciliation of the Afghan government with all factions including the Taliban. He described Pakistan as the most important country in resolving the Afghan crisis. It was Wang Yi’s first-ever visit to Pakistan after becoming foreign minister in March 2013. He visited Afghanistan in February and India June last year.

Bilaterally, Pakistan and China have been forging a strong strategic and economic relationship. The building of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will be a flagship project and many more will come under it, benefiting the whole of Pakistan as described by Wang Yi. They agreed to expedite and vigorously work on (CPEC). Hopefully, the project would be inaugurated next month.

Wide ranging talks were held between Wang Yi and Pakistani leaders. In his discussions he assured to support sovereignty, territorial integrity, and unity of Pakistan. Wang Yi met with President Mamnoon Hussain who assured him of his country’s full support for the Afghan reconciliation process.

In discussions with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and adviser on national security and foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, Wang reviewed the whole gamut of relationship between the two countries. China backs Pakistan’s National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism. In Rawalpindi, he met with the army chief General Raheel Sharif, who has just concluded a visit to Beijing in late January. He briefed Wang Yi about the Operation Zarb-e-Azb in Waziristan. Wang Yi also met with the chief minister of the Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, in Murree and discussed projects related to CPEC and safety of Chinese workers in Pakistan. The project would transform the whole region as remarked by Wang Yi.

Following the sit-in protest in Islamabad that also put in dilemma the security situation around the capital, Chinese President Xi Jinping could not visit Pakistan in last September. The visit of Foreign Minister Wang Yi could be a milestone in this regard, which will pave the way for President Xi’s much-awaited visit to Islamabad in April.

Wang was the chief guest at the opening ceremony of the Pakistan-China Year of Friendly Exchanges held at the Pak-China Friendship Centre in Islamabad. He also inaugurated the opening of the Chinese Consulate-General in Lahore and the Confucius Institute at Faisalabad. A media agreement was made between the Chinese news agency Xinhua and Pakistan Today newspaper for exchanges.

The warm extension of ties between Pakistan and China is indicative of efforts at balancing South Asia when the United States and Japan have been increasing their muscle. Along with Pakistan, China opposes self-styled UNSC reforms and granting of permanent membership on the UNSC to India at a press conference jointly held by Wang Yi and Sartaj Aziz in the Foreign Office. Instead, China supports Pakistan’s stance of introducing reforms in the UN system.

Both Pakistan and China have been advancing their strategic, economic, and political ties in a difficult regional and global environment. Yet they are determined to further extend the range of their ties.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ISS or of the Government of Pakistan.