The joint statement released at the end of the visit by Prime Minister Imran Khan to China last week was one of the most detailed and comprehensive such statements that I have seen in this relationship, at least since CPEC got going. It is a mark of the massive shift that CPEC, as well as the larger body of Pakistan-China relations, is about to undertake.
In 2003, Pervez Musharraf visited China and the two countries issued the Joint Declaration on Directions of Bilateral Cooperation, in which language began to appear pointing towards “mutually beneficial economic and trade cooperation”.
In 2005, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Pakistan and the two countries signed the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Good Neighbourly Relations, as well as launching the talks on the first Pakistan-China Free Trade Agreement (FTA). These three treaties and agreements form the core of the relationship around which everything is now developing. What was being discussed in that meeting back in 2003 sounds very much like a precursor to what eventually became the CPEC long-term plan.
The treaty of friendship signed in 2005 was a standard one that China was signing with all other countries in its region. It simply outlined that China and its neighbours will respect each other’s sovereignty, refrain from using economic pressure against each other, and will respect and work with each other within the UN Charter. Every joint statement issued by China and Pakistan since then has reiterated these principles.
There is one thing that is new in the latest one. “The two sides agreed that JCPOA is an important outcome of multilateralism and a good model of negotiated settlement of complex issues through dialogue and diplomacy,” says the latest joint statement.
Clearly, China is concerned about the rising belligerence being shown towards Iran by the United States. The language can even be read to suggest that China views with concern the possibility that Pakistan may veer too far into the Saudi Arabian orbit, and become too enmeshed in the diplomatic push by the kingdom to isolate Iran in its own region.
The Pakistan-China FTA was signed in 2006, and the next joint statement came in 2008, as an economic crisis was engulfing the country. In 2011, this was followed by the creation of the rupee-yuan swap agreement. This was the background to the beginning of what we now call CPEC that has become the lens through which all Pakistan-China relations are now viewed. CPEC built on this past history, but it is not where these priorities originated. They were formally incorporated in the long-term plan that was finalised by both parties in November last year.
Since then, Pakistan has been in the grip of political uncertainty and held a general election. A new government emerged from this election, and in its early days promised greater transparency, greater disclosure, of all CPEC agreements, as well as a review and possible change. None of that happened. The visit to Beijing was a sobering moment for Imran Khan, whose body language appeared diminutive, fidgety and nervous through it all. At the Shanghai Expo, he even read his speech from a piece of paper, something he and his followers had berated Nawaz Sharif for doing as if it were a sign of weakness.
The Chinese stage is too heavily adorned with agreements, treaties and all manner of understandings to be changed significantly now. The momentum behind the relationship is virtually unstoppable. One feels that inexorable momentum in the pronouncements emerging from the Chinese side. The latest joint statement does not herald a new era in Sino-Pak relations, but it certainly shows that gears are changing, and many of the terms of the long-term plan are now ready to be activated.
By arrangement with Dawn