Pakistan’s ties with China have always been a cornerstone of its foreign policy. The two countries have consensus on global issues, support each other in global forums, and have repeatedly expressed their willingness to continue deepening their friendship.
China’s consul general in Karachi, Li Bijian, spoke to Geo.tv about this friendship, along with a range of other topics, including the recent terrorist attacks that killed Chinese nationals, progress on the corridor multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan economic (CPEC) and political change in Pakistan.
The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Excerpts:
Question: Do you see any change in Pakistan with the new coalition government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif taking office?
Consul General Li Bijian: I think the new government is really impressive. This is a coalition government, where several parties are working together during a very difficult time.
My perception and assessment so far is that the government is moving in the right direction and keeping its promises. I have met His Excellency Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on several occasions. I call it the “bulldozer prime minister” because it acts quickly. His way of working gives us the impression that he is a man of action, who always upsets those around him.
But the change of government is Pakistan’s internal political development, and China respects your country’s political system and the choices made by the people.
Let me add that I have been in Pakistan for several years now. The new government is facing many difficulties in terms of the political situation, so the new government must be very smart to control the situation. First you keep the kitchen clean, you tidy it up, then you move on.
Second, I think the coalition government should be accommodating and talk to opposition parties, get all stakeholders on board and move the country forward.
Political stability is essential. It is a prerequisite for the development of any country in the world, including Pakistan.
I see that first and foremost, to solve the current political problems, it is necessary for all parties to come together, to fight together (for the progress of Pakistan), because it is ultimately in Pakistan’s interest.
Q: Can Pakistan cope with the same economic crisis as Sri Lanka?
CG: I was talking to experts, politicians and other people, who are making a comparison between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. I told them that the situation in the two countries is quite different. Pakistan is, in fact, very unique in terms of economy.
First, Pakistan has a very resilient economic system. Second, it has a huge consumer market with a population of 220 million. This provides great support to the economy. Third, it has a very strong and robust private sector. Fourth, Pakistanis work very hard, despite the hot climate.
Finally, the new government has made tough choices, such as raising the price of oil and gas and cutting subsidies. The government also made a compromise with the International Monetary Fund, to obtain a bailout. This method, in the short term, will be very difficult for all parties involved. But in the long term, it will help Pakistan out of this difficulty.
Q: It has been reported that Chinese investors are facing problems under Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf government. Has the new government addressed these issues?
CG: We would like to express our gratitude to the current government and the previous government for their support in helping companies to carry out their activities.
As for the problems faced by some companies, a big problem was the pandemic. This is a common problem that all businesses face. Second, security. Recently, terrorist attacks have targeted Chinese interests in Pakistan, particularly Chinese companies and nationals. This made doing business difficult and sent the wrong signals to Chinese investors. The third problem is the economic situation that Pakistan is facing, which is not very encouraging. But businesses everywhere are feeling the heat and Pakistani businesses are also under pressure.
The Chinese economy is very large. China is also a big country, but we don’t want to dictate. I always encourage Chinese companies to talk to their Pakistani counterparts and find [solutions].
Moreover, this government is very cooperative and his Excellency [Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif] attaches great importance to bilateral relations and bilateral cooperation, especially the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. His Excellency has personally looked into the problems and difficulties faced by Chinese companies. He also made field visits.
Q: There have been talks between China and Pakistan regarding the terrorist attacks. What have they become ?
CG: It is very sad that this happened in Pakistan. Some Chinese nationals sacrificed their lives here, but you know, I think such a problem exists in many countries and Pakistan is not exclusive of that.
Security issues are very complicated. But to solve this problem, we completely depend on the Pakistani government, the establishment, the security and law enforcement agencies, to find better solutions, to strengthen their protection of Chinese nationals, Chinese projects and organizations. Chinese.
I would like to thank the Pakistani side for its efforts to resolve these issues.
Also, since the attack on the University of Karachi, the Pakistani government, from federal to provincial, has set up a mechanism. It is a unified integrated mechanism, to strengthen the security of Chinese interests here in Pakistan. Under this mechanism, the two sides cooperate to strengthen exit and entry control and to have data on the movements of Chinese nationals.
Here in Balochistan and Sindh, I am truly impressed with the steps taken by provincial governments to strengthen the protection of Chinese nationals and interests. Provincial governments are investing more funds to provide better equipment to police and law enforcement agencies. Under the direction of [Inspector General] Ghulam Nabi Memon, there is a very strong team and they even set up a special protection unit to protect Chinese nationals.
Q: Now let’s move on to Afghanistan. Do you see the situation there as an obstacle to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)?
CG: We want the country to come out [difficult time] as soon as possible and start the rebuilding process immediately [after the earthquake].
Afghanistan’s stability and peace are very important to all neighboring countries, including Pakistan, Iran and other Central Asian neighbors. I believe neighboring countries are now working with Afghanistan to promote cooperation and achieve peace and stability.
We will always welcome him [Afghanistan] be part of the BRI. We are also open and positive to the idea of extending CPEC to Afghanistan, in terms of transport, infrastructure, people-to-people contacts, financial cooperation as well as policy coordination.
Q: India’s treatment of minorities, especially Muslims, is criticized by the international community.
CG: I think South Asia is a very important region in world affairs. India and Pakistan are major countries in the subcontinent, and peace and stability in this region serve the interests not only of India, but also of other countries, such as Pakistan.
I call on all actors in the subcontinent to come together to solve their problems. We should talk, because through negotiations, through mutual consultation, we can solve the problems. It’s the only way to go. This is the only way that can bring peace, stability and development to all the countries of the subcontinent.
I understand that some problems are very difficult to solve. You can set them aside for now, focus on cooperation, and move on. Some problems are very complicated and related to the story, which you cannot solve in a few days.