‘Iron friend’

Monday marks Pakistan’s 70th anniversary. And China and Pakistan have enjoyed a strong relationship for more than 65 of those years. Global Times (GT) reporter Wang Bozun spoke to the Pakistani Ambassador to China, Masood Khalid, ahead of the celebration to discuss the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and bilateral relations.

GT: Security issues have always been considered major challenges to implementing the CPEC. What security measures have the Pakistani government taken?

Khalid: Roughly 30,000 Chinese work in Pakistan. It’s the responsibility of the Pakistani government to provide requisite security protection. As such, the Pakistani government has raised a special force including more than 15,000 soldiers who provide security to Chinese working on CPEC projects throughout Pakistan. In addition, our four provinces are raising their own protection forces. As said, we will continue to do our bit and make security improvements. At large, I think Pakistan’s security situation has improved.

Masood Khalid, Pakistani ambassador to China Photo: Li Hao/GT

In the last two years, we have cracked down on terrorism, militants and their outlets in Pakistan to a great extent. If you look at the figures, you will find terrorist incidents in Pakistan have been considerably reduced.

GT: Besides security issues, what other challenges are there?

Khalid: All mega-projects face challenges. Challenges come naturally. The Belt and Road initiative is a big initiative involving nearly a hundred countries and has to pass through many different countries, territories, cultures, systems, economies and taxation regimes. These could be considered challenges.

But I think the larger picture should be kept in mind: This initiative is for the greater good of humanity of the global community and of the participating countries.

There are similar challenges with the CPEC. In 2013, when Premier Li Keqiang visited Pakistan, both countries decided to launch the CPEC.

But after that, both sides had to undergo long sessions with experts and officials, which took about two years in order to reach consensus. We discussed how to implement the plan, how to finance it and how to translate it into reality … You can say this was challenging.

Principally, we divided the corridor into four main cooperation areas: energy, infrastructure, Gwadar Port development and industrial park and economic zone establishment. Alongside, we also worked on educational and cultural corridors to promote people-to-people connection.

GT: We have heard there are debates in Pakistan regarding which provinces should participate in the CPEC and how it should be implemented. Can you talk about these debates?

Khalid: Debate is a natural thing in the democratic and political system we have in Pakistan. But I don’t think it’s a cause for concern.

There are provinces which need development more than others, such as Balochistan, so they are keen on the benefits of the project. But all provinces will benefit.

GT: Pakistan has just elected a new prime minister. In your opinion, how might the leadership change impact CPEC and China-Pakistan relations?

Khalid: There is no change in policy. There is a new prime minister, but the Pakistan Muslim League is the same ruling party. The new PM has clearly stated that the projects will continue and increase. So there is no doubt or ambiguity on that account.

GT: More Chinese companies are becoming interested in making investments in Pakistan. What is the size of the investments, and what sectors are firms most interested in?

Khalid: A figure released last year in Pakistan showed Chinese investment in 2016 was more than $1.8 billion, which will continue to grow.

But if you put everything together, the cumulative investment figure crosses more than $50 billion, but this depends on when projects start and finish. Currently, projects starting in different sectors could be worth around $45 billion.

Their investments are primarily in energy and infrastructure. But now, there is a trend of small and medium-sized Chinese enterprises in textile, cement, energy and food sectors emerging in Pakistan – we offer a good market for these areas.

GT: What advice do you have for those companies?

Khalid: I would like to advise that they seriously look at Pakistan’s entire market potential.

Firstly, consider our geographical location of being near the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.

The concept behind the CPEC is linking Gwadar with Kashgar, enabling Chinese exports to go straight through Pakistan to Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa and with lower cost and shorter time.

Secondly, Pakistan is rich in natural resources, which remain untapped. Labor is at low cost and more Pakistanis are learning Chinese.

Also, incentives, facilities and tax exemptions are granted by the Pakistani government to foreign investors.

If you combine these factors, I think Pakistan offers good business environments for Chinese.

GT: There has been an increasingly popular buzzword, “Batie,” which describes the unique relationship between China and Pakistan. What do you think of this Chinese expression?

Khalid: This is a beautiful word. Friendship with China is the cornerstone of our foreign policy. We are close friends, strategic partners, and this friendship has evolved over the last 65 years. In fact, our cooperation is growing, which is a positive sign for the two countries.

There is mutual respect and mutual interest. We believe that our friendship is true, selfless and kind and has withstood the test of both good and bad times.

For example, in 2005, Pakistan was hit by a big earthquake. Subsequently, freights appeared from China to give help and assistance. After the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, Pakistanis and the government helped our Chinese friends.

These examples signify that, if China is in need, Pakistan is there to help in whatever way we can, and vice versa.

So I truly respect the definition of “Batie,” it means “iron friend.” I think we have established a good foundation for our bilateral relations. Our friendship will grow as we move along.

Photo: Coutesy of the Embassy of Pakistan

GT: What message would you like to send to China on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Pakistan?

Khalid: The 70th anniversary is important to Pakistan. It’s a developing country and has faced many challenges, but it has overcome past challenges successfully.

We highly value our relationship with our friends. Pakistan and China serve for regional peace and stability. We welcome our Chinese guests on this occasion and a strong message of unity will be sent to the world.

GT: Some Indian media outlets have published a map of China that excluded Tibet and Taiwan and also suggested that China is working with Pakistan to corner India. What is your comment on that?

Khalid: We also suffer from this mischief by the Indian media from time to time, it’s unfortunate.

I think the entire world recognizes Taiwan and Tibet are part of China. I don’t think stirring controversy is the right approach because this causes instability within bilateral relations and also in the region.

The Pakistan-China relationship is not against anyone; it is for peace, progress, stability and regional development. Peaceful co-existence is our mutual policy. But if a neighbor is aggressive, we, as sovereign states, must defend our territories.

Source: Global Times

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