May 21, 1951, was a defining moment in the history of Pakistany. On this day, Pakistan formally established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. With continuous growth and development over the past seven decades, Pakistan-China relations have reached a height rarely seen in the contemporary history of relations between states. As iron-cast brothers, the two countries have always stood together in difficult times and have established an “all-weather cooperative strategic partnership”.
The two countries are linked by geography and history, and belong to the same Asian family. In ancient times, many Chinese monks and ascetics such as Fa Xian and Xuan Zang crossed the Himalayas and came to famous Buddhist seminaries in Pakistan to learn Buddhist traditions and teachings.
The meeting between Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Bogra and Premier Zhou Enlai during the Bandung Conference in 1955 was the first contact between the two leaders at the highest level, which deepened the ties between the two countries and paved the way for the successful exchange of visits between Prime Minister Hussein Shahid Suhrawardy and Premier Zhou Enlai. The signing of the border agreement in 1963 was an important milestone in bilateral relations, which greatly enhanced mutual trust between the two countries and laid a solid foundation for forging of a closer partnership. Shortly thereafter, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), a state-owned airline, launched its China service, becoming the first airline of a non-communist country to operate a service in China.
Great leaders of China such as Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai have played a key role in strengthening ties between the two countries. Successive leaders and people of the two countries have continued to make invaluable contributions to to strengthening of the ironclad relations. Over the past 70 years, we have established unshakable friendly relations around the principles of mutual trust, mutual support, and mutual understanding.
In 1971, Pakistan facilitated a secret visit to Beijing by Henry Kissinger, then Assistant to the President of the United States for National Security Affairs, which initiated the normalization of U.S.-China relations and changed the course of history.
The two countries overcame the challenges of the Cold War and a complex geopolitical environment to expand cooperation in multilateral institutions. Pakistan became a strong supporter of the restoration of the People’s Republic of China’s legal seat in the United Nations in 1971.
The two countries support each other on issues of core interest to each other. Pakistan adheres to the “One China” policy and supports China on issues related to the border, Hong Kong, the South China Sea, Taiwan and Tibet. China has always stood by Pakistan in supporting our key strategic, economic and developmental priorities.
China has played an important role in the Jammu and Kashmir issue and has consistently supported Pakistan’s just and principled position. China stressed that the dispute is “an objective fact established by the UN Charter, relevant Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements between Pakistan and India”. And that “any unilateral change in the status quo in Kashmir is illegal and invalid”. Pakistan has likewise firmly supported China’s position on the China-India Boundary Question, thereby becoming a supporter for legitimate causes fostering regional peace and stability.
High-level engagement is an important feature of the relationship between the two countries, through which both sides take each other into confidence on issues of common concern. Prime Minister Imran Khan visited China in 2018 and 2019 to further consolidate and deepen bilateral ties. I have also visited China several times. We look forward to hosting President Xi Jinping in Pakistan this year, and hope that this visit will make a seminal contribution to further reinforcing the time tested partnership between Pakistan and China.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has praised China’s tremendous achievements highly and wants to learn from China’s model of poverty reduction and development, and his own reform agenda resonates with President Xi Jinping’s thinking on governance.
Pakistan supports President Xi Jinping’s great “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which has become a pivot for connectivity and global growth. As a flagship project of the Belt and Road, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will become a model for quality development of the Belt and Road, and accelerate economic integration and regional connectivity. All political parties in Pakistan recognize the indispensable and important role of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor for Pakistan’s national development and have reached a full consensus on supporting the construction of the Corridor.
At present, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has successfully completed the first phase of construction and is entering the second phase of high-quality development, which will focus on industrial, agricultural and socio-economic development. We hope that the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) under the Corridor will add dynamism to Pakistan’s industrialization process and in turn stimulate greater development of the Pakistani economy. We encourage Chinese entrepreneurs to invest in these SEZs.
Immediately after the outbreak of the novel corona virus pneumonia in China, Pakistan dispatched necessary medical supplies to China to support its fight against the epidemic. Pakistan’s President Dr. Arif Alvi visited Beijing in March 2020 to express solidarity with the Chinese government and people.
When the epidemic spread in Pakistan, China provided us with assistance generously. President Xi Jinping gave special instructions to send a team of anti-epidemic medical experts to Pakistan and to deliver more than 60 sorties of relief supplies to the Pakistani side. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army also sent a team of medical experts to help us contain the epidemic.
Pakistan supports President Xi Jinping’s declaration that “China’s vaccine will be a global public good when its development is completed”. The Pakistan-China vaccine cooperation is progressing very well, and the Phase III clinical trial of the Convivox vaccine in Pakistan has just been completed. The Chinese government has provided 500,000 doses of the national vaccine to Pakistan to protect the lives of its frontline medical workers, for which we are deeply grateful. The Pakistani people will always remember this fraternal gesture.
China is Pakistan’s largest trade and investment partner. Over the years, bilateral trade between Pakistan and China has grown considerably, but both sides still need to work to bring out the full potential of trade. China has a huge market demand for agricultural products, dairy products, poultry, aquatic products and meat products. Pakistan and China are working on a comprehensive Action Plan for Agricultural Cooperation.
China is one of the world leaders in the field of science and technology. We hope to deepen our cooperation in cutting-edge areas such as artificial intelligence and cloud computing.
We have developed strong defense cooperation, including high-level military exchanges, institutionalized defense and security dialogues, joint exercises, personnel training, and cooperation in military industry and trade.
People-to-people exchanges between the two countries have made positive progress and are a promising aspect of our relationship. Currently, more than 28,000 Pakistani students are studying in China and will benefit greatly from the country’s advanced education system. Seven pairs of friendship provinces and 13 pairs of friendship cities have been established between the two countries. The establishment of 7 Pakistani study centers and 11 Urdu specialization departments in different universities in China and 4 Confucius Institutes in Pakistan are playing an active role in promoting cultural understanding between the two countries.
On this special occasion of the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Pakistan and China, we celebrate the historical ties between our two countries, pay tribute to the veteran leaders for their contribution to establishment of a special friendship and solemnly pledge our resolve to build on the achievements of 70 years. Pakistan is planning a series of events spread over the year to commemorate this historic year in a befitting manner and to inspire the younger generation to better understand the vitality, depth and historical importance of Pakistan-China relations.
The 21st century calls for a new paradigm to meet new challenges and opportunities. Pakistan and China share a common vision and are committed to changing the destiny of the region we live in, moving beyond conflict and ideological dogmatism to work together for peace, development and prosperity.
As President Xi Jinping said in his speech to the Pakistani Parliament during his visit to Pakistan in April 2015, Pakistan-China relations are “higher than mountains, deeper than the oceans and sweeter than honey”.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that Pakistan remains firmly committed to building a closer China-Pakistan community with a shared future aimed at further reinforcing our dep-rooted ties.
(The author is the Foreign Minister of Pakistan)