Pakistan Reader# 284, 31 January 2022
Abigail Miriam Fernandez
On 28 January, the Foreign Office announced a three-day visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to China during 3-5 February.
During his visit, PM Imran would attend the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics and also meet with the Chinese leadership. The FO Spokesman Asim Iftikhar said, “The visit will reinforce the all-weather strategic cooperative partnership between our two countries, and further advance the objective of building a closer China-Pakistan community with a shared future in the new era.” Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi stated that the visit was mainly aimed at expressing solidarity with Beijing as some countries have boycotted the Winter Olympics 2022.
Prime Ministers do not visit another country, just to show solidarity for a sporting event. There should be an agenda, and a set of issues to be discussed. What issues are likely to be discussed between Pakistan and China during Imran’s visit? What are the current issues between the two countries?
Pre-visit briefing for Imran Khan
In preparation for his visit, PM Khan was briefed about the status of discussions with China on future cooperation projects. According to the PMO’s office, the PM was updated on the ongoing talks with Chinese officials on “concrete plans for enhancing cooperation in the fields of investment, trade, information technology and exports.” Additionally, he was also informed about issues of concern to Chinese authorities, including security and pending payment of IPPs.
PM Khan had last visited China in October 2019. Since then, several things have changed.. During the last two years, China has bailed out Pakistan in times of financial crisis, the CPEC project continues to progress, and Beijing has also helped facilitate the relations between Russia and Pakistan to a certain extent. Conversely, Pakistan has benefited from its “all-weather friend” and has facilitated China’s aim of reaching out in Afghanistan.
Thus, there is a lot that PM Khan and President Xi Jinping would have to discuss. During the visit, the following are the matters that will likely be discussed:
1. The Money Matters: Pakistan has its eyes on a USD three billion loan, and further direct investment from China
The topmost priority during the visit would be economic. According to an official from the Minister of Finance, the Pakistani government was considering requesting China to approve another loan of USD three billion in China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE deposits). Currently, Beijing has placed USD four billion in SAFE deposits and totally around USD 11 billion with Pakistan in the form of commercial loans and foreign exchange reserves support initiatives. Additionally, China has been the highest contributor of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and invested USD 306 million in the first half of 2021-22. During the last fiscal year, Pakistan had paid over Rs26 billion in interest cost to China for using a USD 4.5 billion Chinese trade finance facility to repay the maturing debt. Thus, with the dependency high, there could be agreements signed on the same.
Meanwhile, Pakistan is seeking to have Chinese investment in six priority sectors, particularly the textile, footwear, pharmaceutical, furniture, agriculture, automobile, and information technology sectors. Additionally, Pakistan has put forward to China the cheap labour in the country and has offered the option of relocating struggling Chinese industries. Thus, the agreements or MoU could be signed in these areas.
2. CPEC: The slowdown and the need to push the pace
While there have been reports of the CPEC projects slowing down, PM Khan has claimed that the projects have made rapid progress on the development of Gwadar Port and Special Economic Zones which would benefit the entire region. Additionally, the FO claimed that the 27 projects under CPEC were at various stages of implementation and preparation, adding that the CPEC range has expanded to include agriculture, science and technology and IT cooperation.
Additionally, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said, “It (CPEC) has seen new progress against all odds since Covid-19 broke out, giving a strong boost to economic development and livelihood improvement and winning high praise from all sectors in Pakistan.”
With CPEC being an important aspect of the Pak-China relations, the two leaders would most likely discuss the project and ways to build the project further.
3. Defence Talks: Military cooperation and sale of defence equipment
During the last two years, Pakistani and Chinese defence forces have conducted several military exercises. Additionally, Pakistan has purchased defence equipment and technology from China. In January 2022, the Pakistan Navy on Monday inducted the PNS Tughril, the first of four Types 054A/P frigates developed by China. Similarly, on 27 January, the Pakistan Air Force briefed FM Qureshi on Chinese assistance for its modernisation project stating. A note read: “In the context of the forthcoming visit of the Prime Minister of Pakistan and the Foreign Minister to China, Chief of the Air Staff shared the PAF modernisation programme through smart inductions and collaboration in the domain of cutting edge niche technologies with Pakistan’s time-tested friend China.” Thus, the topic of defence cooperation and the sale of defence equipment and technology would be on the table for the two leaders to discuss.
Additionally, the two leaders would discuss the security situation surrounding the attacks on Chinese persons and investments in Pakistan. This issue is a matter of concern as it could cause a rift in the relations.
4. External Relations: Afghanistan, US and Russia
On the agenda would be Afghanistan. With the US largely out of Afghanistan, China is seeking to extend its influence in the country. Conversely, Pakistan has always been a key player in Afghanistan. Given this dynamic, China can use the assistance of Pakistan to achieve its goal of expanding into Afghanistan. Thus, Afghanistan would definitely be on agenda, given the development in Afghanistan.
Given the state of affairs the US currently has with China and Pakistan, it would be in the interest of the two leaders to deliberate in the matter. However, this does not imply that China would push Pakistan to choose a side, nor would the latter choose to do that. Rather, the two leaders would talk about the perspective of supporting each other at the global level. Meanwhile, given the growing Pak-Russia relations, there have been speculations of a meeting between PM Khan and President Vladimir Putin, however, Kremlin spokesperson said, “I would like to reiterate that there are no bilateral meetings on President Putin’s schedule, except for full-scale talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping.” However, this shows the level of engagement between China Russia and Pakistan. Thus, on the external front, the two leaders would have much to discuss.
To conclude, PM Khan’s China visit has importance on economic, military and external relations, and not just show of solidarity.
A commentary published by him in the Global Times, ahead of his visit read:“For us in Pakistan, relations with China are the cornerstone of our foreign policy enjoying support across the political spectrum. I can say with great confidence that our people fully understand the real value of this friendship and enthusiastically contribute to its splendor and glory. No wonder special metaphors have been coined to illustrate its depth and intensity; the expression Ba Tie only reserved for Pakistanis in China is one such example.”
Imran Khan, “China-Pakistan relations a journey of friendship: Pakistani PM,” Global Times, 28 January 2022
“PM Imran’s China visit to reinforce strategic ties: FO,” Dawn, 29 January 2022
“PM Imran given briefing on his Feb 3 visit to China,” Dawn, 27 January 2022
“‘West’s Olympics boycott’: PM Imran Khan’s visit aims to express solidarity with China, says Qureshi,” The News International, 27 January 2022
“PM to visit China early next month,” The Express Tribune, 6 January 2021
Baqir Sajjad Syed, “CPEC progressing well despite all odds, says FO,” Dawn, 22 January 2022
“China quashes disinformation about CPEC slowdown,” The Express Tribune, 21 January 2021
“FM Qureshi briefed on Chinese assistance for PAF’s modernisation project,” Dawn, 28 January 2022
Shahid Iqbal, “Foreign direct investment increases 20pc in July-December,” Dawn, 19 January 2022
“Pakistan Navy inducts 1st Type 054A/P frigate developed by China,” Global Time, 24 January 2022
“No Putin-Imran Khan bilateral meeting in Beijing,” Wion, 29 January 2022