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Here’s What To Expect From PM Khan’s Third Visit to China

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Ejaz Hussain analyses the bilateral and regional issues that are likely to be discussed between Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chinese officials during the former’s third visit to China. 

Prime Minister Imran Khan will begin his visit to China on Monday. In November last year, he participated in the China International Import Expo whose second phase will be held later this year.

Imran’s first visit to China was a lackluster in terms of concrete results owing to CPEC-related controversy generated by one of his economic advisers. However, the second visit melted some ice in terms of signing of various memoranda of understanding on bilateral economic exchange and expansion of the CPEC. Since the Khan government was engaging the IMF simultaneously, its focus and attention drifted away from economic projects that were already signed with the Chinese government under CPEC.

The latter, thus, witnessed stalled growth where the work on, for instance, the construction of Rashakai Economic Zone ─ which was bilaterally prioritised out of the nine agreed-upon Special Economic Zones (SEZs) ─ remained a dream due to multiple factors. The reasons ranged from corporate disagreement over shares to availability of foreign funds. Some other energy projects especially in Balochistan register slow development due to political and institutional reasons.

However, this never means CPEC has been abandoned by Pakistan and/or China as some experts and certain international media projected. CPEC is the part and parcel of the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) which is principally supported by Pakistan among a galaxy of nation-states from across the world.

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Nevertheless, the slowing down of certain projects and non-initiation of work on SEZs is what Imran Khan is supposed to discuss at length with his Chinese counterpart. Moreover, bilateral economic cooperation beyond CPEC, i.e. free trade zone, may also be taken up during bilateral discussion.

In addition, Pakistan’s business community and the government officials from the concerned ministries would have the opportunity to explore areas of mutual interest that can be further deliberated at the upcoming CIIE, to be held in Shanghai.

Besides CPEC, the situation in Afghanistan is likely to be discussed during the visit. Afghanistan currently stands at a crossroad. The US wants to pull out but the Taliban are not agreeing totally to what the former wants.

Similarly, China does not wish chaotic fallouts of the US withdrawal in disagreement with local and regional stakeholders, especially Pakistan. The latter, on its part, would like to engage the US in Afghanistan in a manner where India can be countered not just in Afghanistan but also in Kashmir which is under curfew by the Narendra Modi government for last two months.

Hence, Kashmir is very likely to be highlighted during bilateral meetings. Indeed, it seems PM Khan is continuing his government’s policy to internationalise Jammu and Kashmir. He first did it at the recently-held UNGA session and this China visit offers another forum to underscore the significance of Kashmir for regional (in)stability.

Since India also accorded a ‘state’ status to Ladakh – which China views differently in territorial terms – there is convergence of interest between China and Pakistan as far the Kashmir question is concerned. Since President Xi Jinping is scheduled to visit India right after his meetings with his Pakistani counterpart, Khan’s presence and dissemination of Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir to the Chinese audience carries immense communicative and discursive significance.

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Realistically arguing, however, China may not be in a position to push India on Kashmir beyond diplomatic rhetoric given growing bilateral economic dependency between Delhi and Beijing. Indeed, their bilateral trade has surpassed 100 billion US dollars; neither sides wishes to lose market and trade returns.

Indeed, given India’s tariffs troubles with the US recently, it has little options but to stick with whatever choices it already has regionally.

Last but not the least, both China and Pakistan need to accord due space to climate change issues in their MoUs and communiques. Climate crisis is a reality. The Trans-Himalayan glaciers are melting gradually, with catastrophic consequences for China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India along with other regional economies.

It is time to act at the government level by allocating funds for scientific inquiry, establishment of climate centers and, consequently, preparation and implementation of pro-climate strategies.

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