Later this week, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan will take his first official visit to China. As Pakistan’s neighbour and most important all-weather ally, the visit is of incomparable importance as Pakistan stands on the verge of fulfilling the next stages of inspiring new projects throughout the country, many of which have been jointly initiated with China. Furthermore, international pressures as well as domestic challenges that have arisen over the last year mean that China is well placed to offer Pakistan the kind of sustainable economic assistance required to rectify problems that previous Pakistani governments failed to address. With this in mind, here are the goals that can be achieved during Imran’s inaugural visit to China:
Securing a loan
Last week Saudi Arabia gave Pakistan a one year loan of $3 billion with an addition $3 billion offered in the form of deferred payments for oil. The agreement was made on the same day that Imran Khan attended the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh. This itself is demonstrative of the no nonsense approach that Imran takes when dealing with important multilateral issues. Imran Khan’s positive meetings with the Saudi leadership along with his statement that Pakistan is willing to play a role as a mediator in regional conflicts including the war in Yemen, indicates that far from Saudi offering a “sympathy loan” to Islamabad, rapidly emerging geopolitical trends and Pakistan’s own economic development makes Pakistan a crucial partner for Riyadh.
The $10 billion that Saudi Arabia has invested for the purposes of building an oil refinery in the Pakistani port city of Gwadar makes it clear that not only is Gwadar fast becoming one of the most important hubs for global trade but that in integrating Saudi investment into the city that represents the southern terminus of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Saudi Arabia is attempting to utilise the decades of good will between itself and Pakistan in order to become more immersed in the win-win relationship stemming from direct participation in the Belt and Road Initiative.
The IMF has already made it clear that as expected, all of Pakistan’s current internal and bilateral projects will be scrutinised from the overtly American perspective of the IMF’s top officials. As such, Chinese officials are well aware that Washington could use its influence on the IMF to meddle in the progress of multiple CPEC related and other regional Sino-Pakistani projects. This gives China a clear incentive to help its neighbour whose current account deficit has widened due to the economic mismanagement of previous Pakistani governments.
Beyond this, a Chinese investment in Pakistan in the form of a loan should also be described as an investment in China. As China and Pakistan have shared interests in seeing that the full extent of neighbourly cooperation bears the sweetest possible fruits, China requires an economically stable Pakistan in order to realise this win-win goal. Imran Khan’s optimistic spirit and his domestic war on corruption itself mirrors that which Xi Jinping has engaged in for the benefit of the Chinese people. While no nation wants to throw money away, China knows that Pakistan has the potential to be a great economic power and that as such, a loan to Pakistan would represent an effort to help Imran Khan bring his nation back to economic solvency while the unwise practices of his predecessors that were ultimately bad for Pakistan and its partners are now a thing of the past and as such encouraged investor confidence from many quarters. Thus, a Chinese loan to Pakistan should be viewed as an important investment in a mutually sustainable future based on transparency and a neighbourly opposition to all forms of degrading corruption.
Taken in totality, there remains an opportunity for Imran to secure a loan from China which when combined with the existing Saudi loan could help Pakistan to avoid the IMF all together.
Fight fake news about Belt and Road/CPEC together
Those with an interest in retarding the progress of Belt and Road and CPEC specifically have launched an all out disinformation war about the current healthy state of China-Pakistan relations. This disinfo war itself is part of a wider drive among certain malicious actors to drive a wedge between China and its partners in the Ummah (global Islamic community). It also serves as an outgrowth of America’s zero-sum attitude to Belt and Road that is expressed in non-factual media reports across several journalistic markets.
When Pakistan’s Foreign Minister addressed the United Nations last month, he presented Pakistan as a champion of the multi-national Belt and Road initiative that is sometimes described as merely a Chinese rather than multilateral initiative. In standing beside Xi Jinping, Imran Khan has the opportunity to not just expose the lies but attack the sources of the lies regarding malicious anti-CPEC stories while showing the world that Pakistan and China remain positively jointly committed to win-win relationships that will transform not just Pakistan but multiple Asian and African nations through enhanced connectivity and economic modernisation in the wider Afro-Eurasian space.
A rounded perspective on Xinjiang
Unlike some of Imran Khan’s predecessors, Imran Khan has shown himself to be deeply in touch with the charitable, austere and compassionate roots of Islam. As such, Imran Khan has vowed to revitalise the dream of national father Muhammad Ali Jinnah to transform Pakistan into an Islamic welfare state.
While mostly non-Muslims and non-Chinese continue to write absurd stories about life in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, particularly where the welfare of Muslims residents are concerned, Imran Khan is well placed to dispel this rumour by publicly relating how Chinese and Islamic values are neither incompatible nor mutually exclusive in practical terms.
As Xinjiang province borders Pakistan, there is all the more reason for Imran Khan to express feelings of unity as a means of dispelling attempts to divide the Ummah from its natural Chinese friend and partner.
New economic initiatives
The spirit of Naya Pakistan (new Pakistan) has been felt not only by Pakistanis but by much of the wider world. Chinese officials have already expressed how it is Beijing’s desire to tap into this spirit of forward thinking to work on new mutual projects that will transform the lives of multiple people in both nations, thus offering the Pakistani and Chinese people a future based on sustainable development through deeper and wider cooperative efforts.
While many Pakistanis are squarely focused on the loan that they hope to secure from a partner like China, Imran Khan has been wise in reminding Pakistanis not to be consumed by the negative legacies of the past. While the mistakes of the past must be dealt with, Imran Khan has also encouraged Pakistani’s to dream positive and healthy dreams for themselves and their country. This attitude is similar to the Chinese Dream that is encouraged through the people-centred initiatives detailed in Xi Jinping Thought. Because of this, it is clear that the only thing more constructive than two neighbours dreaming big is dreaming big together.
More cultural exchange
Prioritising visits by Chinese tourists to Pakistan and Pakistani tourists to China is a vital way to secure the best possible future relations. Additionally, musicians, artists, sportspeople and great minds from both countries ought to present their talents to those on the other side of the border in order to demonstrate that the benefits of a modern win-win partnership have the ability to foster enlightened human development as well as economic and infrastructural development.
A commitment to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation
Pakistan’s membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation gives the country a seat in an important organisation that can help bring further peace to Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, help to foster peace within Afghanistan and work to fight terrorism across multiple states. Iman Khan’s own views that extremism must be fought through a combination of proactive security measures and the draining of the swamp of economic destitution in which extremism foments is itself not dissimilar from the methods China has used to rid Xinjiang of extremism.
Furthermore, the regional government that PTI first formed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2013 helped to pioneer education and social welfare as means of lifting people out of both poverty and the related trap of extremism simultaneously. As China continues to do the same in Xinjiang in accordance with Chinese characteristics, both countries can share and pool their experiences in fighting extremist threats that continue to dominate issues at the level of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Such an exchange of methodology can help the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to become a more potent force for security in the region.
Iman Khan’s visit to China will be an important moment where a dignified and forward looking Pakistani leader will be able to make the most out of a decades long all-weather friendship with the most important economic superpower in today’s world. So long as the meeting is guided by the optimistic spirit of Naya Pakistan, both countries will be able to achieve much on a win-win basis.