Third Pakistan-China Think Tank Forum focussing on the ‘Decade of CPEC’ held in Beijing.

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Islamabad, “The transformational China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project of President Xi Jinping’s visionary Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), remains at the core of Pakistan-China relationship and is pivotal to Pakistan’s future economic progress and prosperity.” This was stated by Ambassador Sohail Mahmood, Director General, Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI), while addressing the Third Pakistan-China Think Tank Forum, convened in Beijing on 21 July 2023, as part of the series of commemorative events being held in connection with completion of 10 years of CPEC.

The 15-member Pakistan delegation visiting China participated in the Seminar jointly organised by ISSI and the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), at the CICIR headquarters in Beijing.

Led by Ambassador Sohail Mahmood, the delegation includes diplomats, leading academics, researchers, and media persons.

Following the plenary, the separate sessions of the Seminar, titled “Decade of CPEC: Review and Outlook”, were moderated by Dr. Talat Shabbir, Director China-Pakistan Study Centre (CPSC), ISSI; Dr. Hu Shisheng, Director, Institute of South Asian Studies, CICIR; and Dr. Lou Chunhao, Executive Director, Institute of South Asian Studies, CICIR.

The speakers at the event included Ambassador Zhang Maoming, Deputy Director-General, Department of Asian Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), China; Head of the Pakistan Delegation Ambassador Sohail Mahmood, Director General, ISSI; Prof. Dr. Attaullah Shah, Vice Chancellor, Karakoram International University, Pakistan; Dr. Wang Xu, Executive Deputy Director, Centre for South Asian Studies, Peking University; Ambassador Babar Amin, Former Ambassador of Pakistan to Norway and Australia; Dr. Mukesh Kumar Khatwani, Associate Professor, University of Sindh; Dr. Wang Shida, Deputy Director, Institute of South Asian Studies, CICIR; and Dr. Fouzia Hadi Ali, Associate Professor and Director, Regional Integration Centre, University of the Punjab.

Ambassador Zhang Maoming, Deputy Director-General Department of Asian Affairs, in his keynote address during the plenary extended felicitations to ISSI and CICIR on organising the 3rd Pakistan-China Think Tank Forum. Amb. Maoming emphasised that Pakistan and China are good neighbours, good friends, and good brothers. He underlined that regardless of the dynamic of international politics, China and Pakistan always firmly support each other. He added that President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had agreed to continue to deepen bilateral strategic cooperation between the two countries.

Amb. Maomimg underscored that the China-Pakistan friendship is deeply rooted in the hearts of the two peoples. China extended its support to Pakistani people in the last year’s floods, supported Pakistan in its temporary financial problems, and helped in evacuating the Pakistani nationals from Sudan.

Amb. Maoming noted that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the pilot project of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This year marks the 10th anniversary of both the CPEC and BRI. He recalled that during President Xi Jinping’s 2015 official visit to Pakistan the “1+4” Cooperation Structure was setup. Over the past 10 years, CPEC has made a lot of progress and also attracted certain risks and challenges; however, regardless of the challenges, the Chinese side is committed to optimally realising the full potential and ensuring high-quality development of CPEC.

He added that in the second phase of CPEC, China was resolved to enhance cooperation in the fields of agriculture, mining, science and technology, and information technology. He said that China wishes to make CPEC a demonstration project of high-quality development and contribute to progress and prosperity of Pakistan and countries of the region and beyond.

Amb. Maoming said that the Pakistan-China Think Tank Forum is an important outcome of the first China-Pakistan Foreign Ministers Strategic Dialogue with the aim to integrate the resources of think-tanks and provide intellectual support for the CPEC. He stressed the importance of conducting relevant studies and appreciated the efforts of ISSI and CICIR in this regard.

He affirmed that the Chinese side will support Pakistan in an unwavering manner. China would consistently support strategies for modernisation and high-quality development in Pakistan. Among other things, consideration should be given to further align the development strategies and to enhance Pakistan’s exports to China. Both sides should also continue to work together to address security challenges. Amb. Maoming also stressed the importance of countering motivated propaganda against CPEC by highlighting the accomplishments of CPEC for the international community.

DG ISSI Ambassador Sohail Mahmood, in his keynote remarks, underlined the importance of the first in-person session of Pakistan-China Think Tank Forum. He said that ISSI valued its institutional relationship with CICIR and wished to further deepen mutual collaboration.

Amb. Sohail Mahmood reaffirmed that friendship with China is the cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy and the two countries’ time-tested strategic cooperative partnership is based on strategic mutual trust and commonality of views. The two countries support each other on their respective issues of core interest including Pakistan’s steadfast support to China on ‘One-China’ policy and Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and South China Sea. For its part, Pakistan appreciated China’s consistent support for Pakistan’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, security, and economic development as well as its principled stance on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.

Amb. Sohail Mahmood said that the ‘Decade of CPEC’ is the practical manifestation of the growing strategic relationship between Pakistan and China. CPEC has contributed enormously to Pakistan’s economic growth, helped improve transport infrastructure, address energy deficit, and promoted socio-economic development. The second phase of CPEC is focusing on agriculture, industrialisation, SEZs, mining, science and technology, and Information Technology.

He added that the decision to extend CPEC to Afghanistan and the potential for its further westward movement to Central Asia would help advance the key shared objectives of connectivity and regional economic integration.

Amb. Sohail Mahmood stressed that the two sides must continue to work together in defending CPEC against threats and challenges posed by forces inimical to Pakistan-China relationship. The security dimension is most important in terms of safeguarding the shared interests of both nations in the changing geo-strategic environment and optimally realising CPEC’s full potential for development.

He said that successful completion of 10 years is a major milestone and also a fitting juncture for planning for the many next 10 years of CPEC to come.

Amb. Sohail Mahmood said the leadership and people of Pakistan believe China and Pakistan are indispensable partners and that CPEC is pivotal to Pakistan’s future economic progress and prosperity. This is consistent with Pakistan’s pivot to geo-economics. He noted that in 2047 and 2049, Pakistan and China would be celebrating their respective centenaries and, as such, the two countries should craft a vision now for the next twenty-five years for their strategic partnership. The vision should also focus on how China’s tremendous technological transformation could be leveraged to advance Pakistan’s economic modernisation and development.

Dr. Fu Xiaoqiang, Vice President, CICIR, in his keynote speech highlighted that China attaches great value to its relations with Pakistan. He said that over the past decade, CPEC has secured many achievements by creating jobs, improving the energy sector, and adding over 500 kilometres to roads and motorways. The second phase of CPEC is focusing on agriculture, industrialisation and several other key sectors. He said that CPEC can be further developed on three models; a) on the model of BRI, b) on the model of international relations, and c) on the model of regional development and security. He highlighted that the security of this mega project needs to be closely monitored. He concluded by lauding the China-Pakistan friendship and its prospects for the region and beyond.

Dr. Talat Shabbir, Director, CPSC, moderated the Session-I entitled “Challenges now and ahead faced by CPEC.” He said that China and Pakistan are friends and strategic partners, and their mutual friendship is moving from strength to strength. The relationship includes economic and strategic ties. He articulated that China is the pivot of Pakistan’s foreign policy. He said that CPEC is a multi-billion dollar project and we stand together to celebrate the ten years of CPEC. Over the decade, we have achieved huge successes with regards to CPEC especially by building infrastructure and energy security under the CPEC. He said that now we have entered the second phase of CPEC and we have opportunities and challenges. He said that opportunities will drive the future and we have to recognise the economic cooperation, focusing on human resource development, people-to-people exchanges, strengthening the financial position particularly for Pakistan, and use dialogue for better communications. There are accomplishments that we must celebrate, and there are challenges to cope with, he concluded.

Prof. Dr. Attaullah Shah, Vice Chancellor, Karakoram International University, said that CPEC has huge potential and strengths. He argued that CPEC has to be pivoted upon three corridors including physical, research, and technological knowledge. He said that certain quarters have been engaged in maligning the BRI and CPEC. The intensifying major-power competition has added new dimensions to the international dynamics. In the backdrop of this, Pakistan and China need to cooperate and counter any moves against CPEC.

Dr. Wang Xu, Executive Deputy Director of Centre for South Asian Studies, Peking University, analysed the political, economic and foreign policy dimensions. Emphasising the importance of structural reforms of the economy, he also dilated on how Pakistan’s relationship with neighbouring countries could be leveraged to advance shared interests.

Amb. Babar Amin said that CPEC is a game-changer for Pakistan and it was announced before the BRI. He said that Covid-19 somewhat slowed down some projects; however, CPEC is the right step towards connectivity. He said that CPEC and BRI are together the pivot of regional peace and stability as they aim to connect South Asia, Western China, Central Asia, and the Middle East. He added that CPEC emphasises people-to-people connectivity. The 12th Joint Cooperation Committee was just held in Beijing to commemorate the decade of CPEC. CPEC is the best thing to happen to Pakistan in terms of economic development and social progress, he concluded.

Dr. Lou Chunhao, Executive Director of Institute of South Asian Studies, moderated the Session-II, entitled “Ways dealing with the above-mentioned Challenges.” Dr. Chunhao expressed his elation on the first in-person dialogue between CICIR and ISSI.

Dr. Mukesh Kumar Khatwani, Associate Professor, University of Sindh, said that CPEC likely will create 500,000 to 800,000 jobs in Pakistan by 2030. He said that in the regional context CPEC can be extended to Afghanistan, Iran, and Central Asia. He noted that there are challenges to CPEC and there is a need for capacity-building in Pakistan for CPEC projects to be fully realised. He emphasised political stability as well as need to combat poverty and unemployment by making full use of CPEC.

Dr. Wang Shida, Deputy Director of Institute of South Asian Studies, spoke about dealing with the challenge in the economic field. He said that there is a need to promote major internal reforms by removing existing restrictions for high-quality development. He also talked about how Pakistan and China could deal with the geopolitical challenge. He lamented that a few countries pursued a zero-sum game and some in the region opposed to CPEC were peddling narratives against it. Dr. Shida said that CPEC is an inclusive project that could extend to Afghanistan, Iran, and Central Asia. He said that China mediated between Iran and Saudi Arabia and in the backdrop of this, the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline could materialise.

Dr. Fouzia Hadi Ali, Associate Professor and Director, Regional Integration Centre, University of the Punjab, presented analytics and highlighted the challenge of narrative-building against CPEC and China-Pakistan bilateral relations. Dr. Fouzia said that most of the articles and literature against CPEC were published in the West and India. She did bibliometric analysis and presented the numbers as well and emphasised the importance of stronger narrative to show the benefits of CPEC.

The speeches and presentations were followed by an interactive question-and-answer session. The session concluded with a clear message of high hopes for the future of CPEC and unwavering Chinese support for Pakistan.