111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

The Chinese experience

I recently led a delegation of the Regional Peace Institute (RPI) at an international conference on peace and disarmament in China. The theme was cooperation between China and South Asia. A large number of delegates from South Asian countries were invited. Out of 100 delegates invited almost one-third were from Pakistan – indicating the importance that China attaches to Pakistan.

The delegations also include those from the PML-N as well as a delegation of parliamentarians of a large number of opposition MPs and civil society representatives.

Pakistan’s relationship with China evokes a lot of romance among Pakistanis. We have grown up hearing that ‘the friendship between the two countries is higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans and sweeter than honey’. Whereas there is a lot of goodwill on both sides, including in the higher echelons of the Communist Party as well as the government, Pakistan will be making a huge mistake if it did not truly understand the nature of changes taking place in China.

On more than one occasion I was quietly asked about terrorism in Pakistan. They are concerned about its impact in areas bordering China. It is no secret that extremists from Xinxiang have found sanctuary in Pakistan’s tribal areas. It would be foolish to believe that Pakistan’s relations with China (as indeed with the rest of the world) will not be impacted by such developments. The Chinese concern about conditions in Pakistan was made known to me only in some one-on-one conversations.

The leadership in China acknowledges not just the strategic importance of Pakistan but also the positive role that it played in the early days of the founding of the People’s Republic and in bringing China and the US closer to each other. Were the conditions in Pakistan to be more stable, China, which has graduated to a higher industrial and technological level, could facilitate the transfer of basic industry to Pakistan.

We must recognise that a new and sophisticated generation of young Chinese is taking over; they are much more amenable to the attractions of soft power. Pakistan has a lot to offer in this direction but for various reasons has fallen far behind other countries like India and Bangladesh. Pakistan must show its softer face through creative expos, conferences and cultural events. A liberal visa regime for artists, poets, writers and musicians would greatly benefit our relationship. China is showing its soft face by focusing on the export of its culture, cuisine, calligraphy, cinema, art and fashion.

There is a feeling among some circles in Pakistan that the India-China relationship will remain hostage to border disputes between the two countries. In the South Asian region, China’s economic engagement has been most intense with India. Their trade is equal to almost US$70 billion and is expected to touch $100 billion within a few years. Furthermore, it is also true that unlike the Line of Control between Pakistan and India there has been no bloodshed (since the 1962 war) on the Line of Actual Control (LOAC) between China and India. This is despite the fact that the LOAC is not demarcated.

At least in the think tank community in China there seems to be no desire to increase tensions with India. Their entire focus seems to be on economic development and, in response to a question by some delegates on China-India ties, the two Chinese panellists, one a former diplomat and the other a former general, said there was no such thing as a ‘zero sum game’ between nations with competing interests.

I found my Chinese interlocutors more interested in stabilising conditions in Pakistan and between India and Pakistan. I found nothing surprising in this since I had heard nothing different even as foreign minister. In fact, as early as in 1996, President Jiang Zemin gave similar advice to Pakistan publically during his official visit.

A new opportunity for Pakistan, and for other countries that neighbour China, has arisen. While China’s economy has been growing at an astonishing rate, it is now shifting its focus on relatively less developed border areas which are bringing it closer to South Asia. Xinjiang borders Pakistan and Afghanistan while Tibet has contiguous borders with Nepal, Bhutan and the north-eastern part of India. Yunnan is contiguous to Myanmar. Pakistan should take advantage of this policy to benefit economically through linkages with areas where China is going to invest heavily.

Pakistan and China have agreed recently to develop an economic corridor from Gwadar to Kashgar. Pakistanis are very good at signing MoUs and then forgetting all about them. I hope that this does not happen with this project, which envisages connectivity through road, pipelines, and fibre optics and railway linkages and will actually become a ‘game changer’ if implemented.

Educational reforms in China have shown remarkable results. A large part of their focus is on the quality of education, education in rural transformation and social inclusion. Curriculum reform in China has not been about updating and repacking educational content but on how to deal with a rapidly changing world.

Important lessons to learn from the Chinese experience are the focus of its leadership on economic development above all other considerations and continuity of policies. Starting with Premier Deng Xiaoping in 1978, his reforms and economic policies were continued by president Jiang Zemin (June 1989–Nov 2002) and prime minister Zhu Rongji, (March 1998–March 2003) in incremental reforms through encouraging the private sectors, reduction of trade barriers and opening up of the economy which enabled China to join the World Trade Organization in 2001.

Even further, it helped China to grow its trade given its focus on exports-led growth. Chinese leadership put greater focus on continuity while responding to the changes in international economic situation with long-term vision reflected in their five and ten year plans.

No wonder, when the new leadership takes over in China for 10 years, they give their own priority. President Xi Jinping has given the people a new vision in the form of the ‘Chinese Dream’ which also spells out the means to translate that dream into a reality in the form of the policies for the next 10 years. Here is an important lesson for Pakistan where our leaders specialise in undoing and discrediting everything that the previous government may have done.

It is not just the Chinese experience but also the experience of many South East Asian countries, which have achieved remarkable growth rates and development by a continuity of policies. Apart from economic progress and infrastructure development, China has succeeded in lifting 500-600 million people out of poverty. Unfortunately, India and Pakistan today house half the world’s population living below the poverty line.

Pakistan and China are bound together by unique fraternal ties that have withstood global and regional upheaval but it is not often understood that ‘nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.’

The writer, a former foreign minister,is the chairman of the Regional Peace Institute and the PTI’s senior adviser on international relations.

Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, "The Chinese experience," The News. 2013-11-02.
Keywords: Economics , Pakistan foreign relations-China , Economic relations , International trade , Economic development , Economy-China , Civil society , Terrorism , Extremism , PM Zhu Rongji , President Xi Jinping , President Jiang Zemin , Pakistan , China , Asia , Bangladesh , PMLN , RPI , LOAC