A friendship that transcends time and borders
Few relationships in the history of international relations have endured so long as that between Pakistan and China and even fewer have been described as "higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans". This description of the all-weather friendship is not just rhetoric; it is based on shared principles and interests, and forms the foundation of cooperation in diverse fields.
Since the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Pakistan in 2015 and the launching of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, economic and cultural activities between the two countries have increased manifold.
Although bilateral diplomatic ties were established in 1951, cultural and historical relations date back to almost 2,000 years. In the 7th century, during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Chinese monk Xuanzang travelled westward to seek the Buddhist Sutra, and his book Great Tang Records on the Western Regions mentions the names of areas which are now in Pakistan, and is a testament to his fond memory of the land and the people of those areas.
In modern times, the first official Pakistani delegation visited China on Jan 4, 1950, just three months after the People's Republic of China was founded. Since then our relationship has evolved into one of the most enduring in modern history. Pakistan was among the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with China, and it provided China with an air route leading to the rest of the world during one of the most difficult times for China.
Pakistan also supported China in regaining its legitimate seat at the United Nations, and it is proud of playing a vital role in facilitating former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger's secret visit to China in 1971, which laid the groundwork for a visit by then US president Richard Nixon. Besides, Pakistan strongly supports the one-China policy and China's sovereignty over the Tibet and Xinjiang autonomous regions, as well as other issues concerning China's core interests.
China has always more than reciprocated Pakistan's gestures and support. Beijing has supported Islamabad on a wide range of issues, such as Pakistan's recent membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Thanks to the Belt and Road Initiative, Pakistan is going to become the hub of regional trade and connectivity. The CPEC, a flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative, has opened a new era of cooperation, with Chinese investments pouring into Pakistan, and several mega projects being launched in the fields of power generation and transmission. And basic infrastructure such as motorways, railways, airports, seaports, oil and gas pipelines, and optical fiber linkages are being upgraded and strengthened.
In fact, Pakistan has already begun reaping the dividends of the CPEC rail and road infrastructure projects. The CPEC investment and its spinoff effects have created thousands of jobs and added 10,000 MW to Pakistan's national grid, ameliorating the chronic shortage of energy in the country. Moreover, bilateral trade has reached historic levels and the number of Pakistani students in China has increased to 24,000.
Relations between the two states are not just limited to political and economic spheres. Pakistan and China signed the Cultural Cooperation Agreement in 1965, which has evolved into the Executive Programme of Cultural Exchange, with both countries vowing to cooperate in the fields of arts and culture, education and research, broadcasting, media, publications, sports and youth affairs.
Pakistan-China relations are perhaps the best example of cooperation between two countries having different social systems, cultures, traditions and ideologies. The five principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-aggression, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence have made the two sides what they are today.
Pakistan and China settled their borders in the early days of their diplomatic relations in 1963, which has greatly contributed to their long, enduring partnership, and to peace and stability in South Asia. And since the potential of economic and cultural cooperation is still huge, the two sides ought to increase people-to-people exchanges, promote tourism by easing restrictions and turn the CPEC into a "China-Pakistan Cultural Corridor", in order to further strengthen their friendship.
And since their friendship will certainly strengthen, China and Pakistan must work more closely to build a brighter and prosperous future.
The author is deputy director of the External Publicity Wing, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Islamabad, Pakistan.