Towards a win-win partnership | Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif

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The Belt and Road Summit is taking place at a time of profound global change. The summit – which will be attended by global leaders, heads of states and governments, intellectuals, businessmen, and high-ranking figures from a wide spectrum of fields – provides a wonderful forum to discuss ways to boost cooperation, build cooperative frameworks and share cooperation outcomes. It represents an effort to pool varied opinions and thoughts together for an intellectually stimulating and mutually beneficial outcome.

The connectivity of people, a theme which I will be taking up for my talk, is close to my heart. The idea of the integration of people resonates within me. It represents the finest illustration of deep-rooted people-to-people relations: China and Pakistan’s everlasting and ever-soaring friendship.

The globe and the universe as well, has been the charter of curious men and women who transcend territories and boundaries. In doing so, they imprint new pathways around the global landscape. Enterprise was, and is, at the heart of human circulation.

It was Zhang Qian, an imperial Chinese envoy who established the fabled Silk Road some 2,000 years ago. Resolute beings crisscrossed this route to trade silk – the most precious commodity of the time. The route defined the commerce of men, ideas, commodities and articles and became the conduit of communication as it interlocked distant lands.

Statesmen who marshal a new era punctuate the march of time. President Xi Jinping’s defining vision of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative is epoch-making. It is rooted in the ancient but represents the prescient – a sprawling network of physical connectivity, social and cultural collaboration, economic cooperation and diplomatic and political agreements. Spanning more than 60 countries, the OBOR initiative is a web of motorways, railways, waterways, airwaves, pipelines and gridlines to circulate ideas, experiences, men, material, money and manufacture – all elements of progress and development.

Globalisation diffused political boundaries. It was spearheaded by the developed economies and the rest of the world embraced it varyingly. Today, when many societies turn inwards and doubt the rationale and scope of globalisation, the People’s Republic of China has commanded the unfinished agenda of globalisation. But this global vision is more humane and mutual. It relies particularly on collaboration instead of competition. It does not only mind the interest of multinationals but also predicates on ordinary people and their aspirations.

As a result, a new globalised complex is emerging: networked people. This could only be possible from a society which has people at its heart. People-to-people contact not only exists between countries but also extends from the neighbourhoods to the distant habitats.

China has articulated the OBOR project, which is the path of increased connectivity, through diplomacy, agreements, trade and economic cooperation. While global trade talks have stagnated, China seeks new trade routes and plans to refurbish old ones, helping developing countries restore physical and human infrastructure.

It is forging people-to-people partnerships based on mutual respect and wellbeing. The Chinese concept of ‘shared prosperity’ emphasises the idea of one community. This community cannot be prosperous with some winning and many losing – the pristine principle that must eternally define the local, national and international development agenda.

Traditional government-to-government relations were exclusively achieved through political and diplomatic means. Information and communication technology has demolished this exclusivity and transformed the essence of inter-state relations: scholars, opinion makers, celebrities, entrepreneurs and ordinary citizens are directly exchanging across borders. There are many layers that now shape the way people think about other countries.

People’s connectivity is therefore becoming more important in formulating relations between countries. This is, of course, also the most resilient basis for inter-state relations. People-to-people connectivity involves the genuine empowerment of the people. It transfers power from the elite to the ordinary citizens. China has entered a new era of people-to-people diplomacy through which it hones the advantages of cultural exchanges with other countries.

As President Xi Jinping aptly said in 2014, “we should strengthen inter-civilisation exchanges and mutual learning” and “people-to-people diplomacy represents the most profound force in promoting such exchanges and mutual learning”.

Pakistan has embraced the historic OBOR initiative wholeheartedly. CPEC is an unprecedented package of cooperation and development between China and Pakistan through this initiative. Breathtaking progress is being made in the implementation of CPEC projects in Pakistan. More than $50 billion worth of projects are under way from Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang province to Gwadar, a deep-sea port in Balochistan. With transparency, efficiency and effectiveness, the building blocks of CPEC are being installed. These are not mere words. Roads and highways, power plants and ports, are at the advanced stages of completion. Industrial cooperation and the long-term plan of CPEC are at the final stage of negotiations.

CPEC is the fastest manifestation of the OBOR initiative. It is an economic hallway that benefits both countries by promoting bilateral connectivity in trade, energy and industrial cooperation, integrated transport, IT systems, tourism and human resource development. It is reshaping the geo-economic landscape and is a game-changer not only for Pakistan but the entire region.

The Chinese people, leadership and government have shown unprecedented and historical commitment to the restoration of Pakistan’s economy. These massive investments are reinvigorating Pakistan’s economy, which has stabilised due to the prudent and sound policies of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government.

Our government took bold decisions to address the triple peril of extremism, the economy and energy. On all three fronts, visible and verifiable progress has been achieved. And China has been our partner in this turnaround. We shall, forever, be indebted to our Chinese friends, who have stood by us in our hour of maximum need. Our government also discharged its duty with utmost commitment, diligence and sense of purpose.

And with the same gusto, I have the honour to steer the course for Punjab during these momentous times. It has been both a privilege and a responsibility. When we commenced, the impediments in Pakistan were daunting. With single-minded focus and resolve, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government has been able to meet the commitment and expectation of our Chinese friends.

Punjab, today, is recognised as a province in Pakistan which has implemented CPEC projects with unparalleled speed and determination. Thousands of Chinese people now reside in Punjab and are participating in our development efforts. The highest degree of attention is paid to their security and comfort. Many delegations and businesses from China regularly visit Punjab to work with us. We are proud of this trust and confidence.

CPEC is also transforming the way Pakistanis look towards their brotherly neighbour. The Chinese presence in Pakistan is now evident at a personal level within our markets, culture and the arts industry. Pakistan’s film industry, for the first time, has cast a Chinese hero in a new movie which came out last month. Our youth is fast learning the Chinese language to interact and engage with their new neighbours and friends. People are connecting with each other for their prosperity and well-being. The connectivity of people is the foundation to lasting prosperity and peace. It is the only winning option.