As China hosts the winter Olympics in Beijing next month amid a boycott by the US and its Western allies, "iron brother" Pakistan will be there to show solidarity. The term "iron brother" was used by President Xi Jinping in relation to Pakistan-China friendship, during a phone call to Imran Khan last October.
Prime Minister Imran Khan will be in China for the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics. During his three-day visit Imran Khan will meet with the top Chinese leadership and take forward the traditional military ties as well as the growing economic relations between the two countries. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is at the centre of the Xi Jinping’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aimed at spreading China’s global influence.
Since the CPEC, Pakistan has forged closer links with China. In the early days, China and Pakistan were together for military and strategic considerations. With India a common foe, it was but natural for the two to work together against New Delhi to promote each other’s strategic interests. But the relationship was given a further boost since President Xi Jinping took office and Pakistan became the centre piece of China’s BRI projects. The money pumped in by Beijing in infrastructure projects around the China-built Gwadar port in Balochistan was to have transformed the face of Pakistan’s backward but mineral rich province.
But the work has slowed down in the last three years, mainly due to the pandemic as well as bureaucratic red tape and Pakistan’s inability to pay back some of its debts to Chinese companies. Security concerns are also a major problem. There has been a spate of attacks on Chinese engineers and workers working in Balochistan. Last year there were two major attacks, including on a Chinese workers bus near the Dasu hydel power project in July and an attack on the Serena hotel in Quetta in April where the Chinese envoy was staying during a trip to the provincial capital. Luckily, he was not in the hotel during the attack. The Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
Security is a major sticking point for China. It is perturbed over the security situation and targeting of its workers in Balochistan. Pakistan’s military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has time and again reassured China that the he was committed to extend full security to Chinese workers in Pakistan.
Nong Rong, China’s ambassador to Pakistan met army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Wednesday ahead of the Imran Khan’s visit to Beijing. The Inter Services Public Relations(ISPR), said in a statement after the meeting that Chinese Ambassador Nong Rong discussed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), regional security, measures to enhance bilateral cooperation and other matters of mutual interest. The envoy thanked the General for ``the special measures taken for the provision of safe and secure environment to CPEC projects in Pakistan”, the ISPR further said that the envoy reaffirmed the need for timely completion of the remaining projects.
Pakistan is going out of its way to placate China over the terror attacks that killed Chinese citizens. Imran Khan’s government has decided to compensate the families of ten Chinese nationals who lost their lives near the Dasu site. The government will pay compensation ranging from $4.6 million to $20.3 million according to Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper. Though the government had no legal obligations to do so, it is a kind of peace offering to China ahead of Khan’s trip to Beijing.
While all is well with Pakistan’s relations with China, Islamabad is keen to repair ties with the US, once a firm friend of Pakistan. In fact it was Pakistan that facilitated the secret trip of then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to Beijing in 1971.
But in the last 20-years, since the US troops were in Afghanistan, relations between the former friends had soured. Americans believed that Pakistan’s army was playing a double game, seeming to side with the US and NATO troops while at the same time keeping its lines to the Taliban open and helping them to attack foreign forces. Moreover, the army was being paid handsomely for its efforts. The downslide that began had steadily gone from bad to worse, despite the fact that Pakistan helped to get the Taliban to the negotiating table. It has been a year since President Joe Biden took office, but has not bothered to call Imran Khan, though he has spoken to most world leaders by now. A piqued Khan refused to attend Biden’s Democracy Summit in November, despite an invitation.
Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi who was to visit New York for an UN event and then go on to Washington to meet Biden administration officials, has been forced to cancel his visit thanks to the Omicron surge in the US. Qureshi has repeatedly tried to catch the attention of the State Department officials. He has said several times that Pakistan no longer wants a transactional relationship with the US. With geo-economics the new buzz word, popularised by General Bajwa, Qureshi now wants a shift from geopolitics to geo economics in its relations with the US. Another concern in the Pakistan establishment is the on going tension between China and the US. It does not want to be caught in the cross fire. ends