OPINION> Commentary
Sino-Pakistan relations higher than Himalayas
By Asif Ali Zardari (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-02-23 07:33

Perhaps no relationship between two sovereign states is as unique and durable as that between Pakistan and China. On the Pakistan side of the Himalayas, the mighty range that separates the two countries, China is seen as a true, time tested and reliable friend that has always come through for Pakistan. That the Pakistan-China friendship is higher than the peaks of Himalayas is now a truism without exaggeration. I am certain that on the Chinese side a similar sentiment exists for Pakistan. It is a friendship rooted in the hearts and minds of the people of the two countries.

It is my privilege to visit China for the second time as Pakistani president. For me the Pakistan-China friendship is a beautiful legacy bequeathed by Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's legendary Foreign and Prime Minister and his daughter and my late wife Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, also a beloved Prime Minister of Pakistan.

The Pakistan Peoples Party and our family have had a three-generation relationship with China. From Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and then my late wife Shaheed Benazir Bhutto to my son and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the friendship continues into the future.

I cannot but feel excited whenever I visit China. It brings great pleasure to see a friend such as China prospering and progressing. Present day China is a shining star on the international scene. It represents a phenomenal renaissance of the ancient and great Chinese Civilization. The Chinese economic miracle is a lesson in sound management and solid governance. The manner in which China is developing its infrastructure is an inspiration for countries across the world. The Xining-Lhasa railroad, the Three Gorges Dam and countless other projects bear testimony to Chinese industry and vision.

The Pakistan-China friendship is a comprehensive partnership. China has been instrumental in helping Pakistan develop its civil and military infrastructure. It has helped Pakistan's economic development. Chinese assistance and enterprise has been invaluable in areas as diverse as construction of nuclear power plants to dams, roads and industrial estates. The port of Gwadar on Pakistan's Arabian Sea coast is a testament to China's friendship with Pakistan.

It is my sincere desire to further cement this relationship. There is no reason the two countries cannot grow even closer. China has become the economic engine of Asia. It is among the sheet anchors of the international trading and economic system. In the present global economic downturn, China is among the few countries that have the economic muscle to pull the world out of it.

China's trade with many of its neighbors is increasing at a dizzying pace. Pakistan needs to join this trend. I believe there is great potential for improvement in this vital area. Pakistan-China economic and trade relations must keep pace with political relations between the two countries. We have therefore placed economic cooperation and trade at the heart of this relationship. The two countries have a joint five-year economic plan to give predictability and to allow forward planning in various areas of economic cooperation. We also have a free trade agreement with China and hope to finalize a trade in services agreement shortly.

Our objective is to forge win-win partnerships in which both countries gain and which further contribute to the strength of the friendship.

Pakistan too can help in China's growth. The global economic downturn may have slowed things down but as the world emerges out of this recession and China resumes its breakneck growth, Chinese ports are going to get clogged. Given proper infrastructure, the Pakistani ports of Karachi, Port Qasim and Gwadar are nearer to the Chinese heartland than Shanghai and Hong Kong. Pakistan can also help channel energy supplies from the Gulf to China. Pakistan is also a sizeable country in its own right. Once we get our economic fundamentals right we can be a useful economic partner, a significant market and a profitable destination for investment.

However in the final analysis it is not just the material benefits of a relationship that determine its durability and longevity. The Pakistan-China relationship is much more than a strategic confluence of interests between two countries. The foundation of the relationship, which Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had the vision to pursue and cement, is that both countries firmly believe in the principles of sovereign equality, non-interference and bilateral cooperation. They share a close commonality of views on most international issues.

China is an anchor of stability and peace not only in Asia but the world. Its peaceful rise in a continent full of large countries each with a strong sense of identity, even destiny, bears testimony to the sagacity and wisdom of the Chinese leadership. Situated in the heart of Asia, bordering fourteen countries with Japan and the Philippines just across the Yellow and South China Seas, China is the glue holding the continent together - not only in terms of geography but in political and economic terms.

It is amongst the largest if not the largest trading partner of all the countries bordering it. Each of these countries has increasingly large stakes in China's economy and each in turn is benefiting from the traction generated by this enormous engine of growth.

China is therefore in a unique position to use these attributes to help its neighboring countries improve relations among and between themselves. For too long, Asia has been distracted by rivalries and conflicts between its many great countries. The time has come for Asia to show the world a different path where cooperation leads the way and where mutual respect and increasing bonds of trade and economic benefit help overcome hostility and suspicion.

As Pakistan grapples with the threat of terrorism, China can help in this area too. Pakistan is fighting terrorists not only for its own sake but for the entire region. We are determined not to allow the noxious fumes of this dangerous phenomenon and ideology to spread to other countries. Thousands of Pakistani citizens, civilian and military, have laid down their lives in this endeavor. Indeed terrorists have specifically targeted some of our Chinese friends who were working in Pakistan to drive a wedge between the two countries and peoples. The sacrifice of these Chinese citizens for Pakistan's cause is an abiding reminder to us Pakistanis of China's friendship with our country.

This time I will visit Wuhan and Yichang of Hubei province, and Shanghai to see for myself some of the engines that lie behind China's economic growth. I hope to learn and benefit from the opportunity. I hope that the coming days will help furnish better reminders of our enduring friendship and I hope my visit will serve as one more step in that direction.

Asif Ali Zardari is the President of Pakistan

(China Daily 02/23/2009 page4)