The 2007 free trade agreement (FTA) between the People’s Republic of China and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan continues to favor the communist country, fueling its penetrating influence over its Muslim-majority neighbor, reveals a detailed analysis by current affairs magazine the Herald.
Titled Mother China: A ‘Chinese Revolution’ Sweeps Across Pakistan, the article published by the monthly Pakistani magazine notes that the FTA has facilitated a mass influx of Chinese goods, largely cheap counterfeit products, that are suffocating Pakistani businesses and manufacturers.
From an estimated $800 million in 2000, the value of the Pak-China bilateral trade skyrocketed, by nearly 20-fold last year, to about $16 billion last year.
The growth is “tilted heavily in China’s favor,” points out the Pakistani magazine, adding, “Even before the two countries signed the FTA in July 2007, the value of their bilateral trade had already increased to almost 7 billion US dollars… The two governments expect the value of bilateral trade to reach 20 billion US dollars by 2020…”
China, currently ranked to be the world’s second-largest economy after the United States and the largest trading country across the globe, became Pakistan’s biggest trade partner in 2013.
As it brings consumer goods, ranging from “high-end electronics to low-end toys, from replicas of art pieces to handbags, from sanitary ware to shoes and sunglasses, from cell phone accessories to kitchenware,” within the shopping budgets of average Pakistanis, China has strengthened its diplomatic, political, economic, and military influence over Islamabad, according to the Herald.
“The growth in bilateral strategic relations has given Beijing a salient – though silent – leverage over Pakistan’s military and political leadership that no other country – except Saudi Arabia — has had in the last three decades,” reports the magazine.
“Unlike our Western allies, the Chinese work rather quietly and Islamabad seldom disappoints them,” a Lahore-based analyst told the magazine on condition of anonymity, refusing to reveal his name.
There is a notion expressed by news analysts and opinion writers in Pakistan that has become doctrine among the country’s population: “China will take care of any trouble that Pakistan has ever had, or will ever have,” reports the Herald.
“The reality is a little less rosy,” the report adds. “Beijing has supported Islamabad but always with caveats attached and never in a way that would lead to a confrontation between China and the West,” namely the United States.
Andrew Small, a fellow with the Asia program at the U.S.-based German Marshall Fund who specializes in Pakistan and China relations, told the Herald that the United States “is actually quite pleased to see the major economic commitments that China is making through CPEC [China-Pakistan Economic Corridor], and other Chinese efforts, to encourage Pakistan to play a stabilizing role in the aftermath of American withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
In October, Gen. John Campbell, who was serving as the top commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan at the time, warned, “If we’re not there to provide influence, somebody else is going to be there, whether it’s Russia, China, Iran — you name it,” referring to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has reportedly welcomed China’s invitation to form a joint military coalition that would also include Tajikistan and Pakistan.
China and Pakistan have enjoyed a strong relationship for years, prompting some analysts to suggest that policymakers in Islamabad are beholden to China, arguably the strongest of the two countries in terms of its military and economic might.
“Pakistani military and political leaders pay visits to their Chinese counterparts as soon as Pakistan is faced with some internal or external crisis,” Small told the Herald.
Pakistan seemingly maintains a stronger relationship with China than with the United States, which has accused Islamabad of providing sanctuary to terrorist groups such as the Taliban.
Data collected by the Pakistan China Institute (PCI), a think-tank devoted to promoting the relationship between the two neighbors, shows that more Pakistani nationals are studying in China that they are in the United States.
“The number of Pakistani students studying medicine, engineering and other subjects in China has gone up to about 10,000; this is higher than the number of Pakistani students in the US,” Mustafa Haider Sayed, executive director of PCI, tells the Herald. “Similarly, more Chinese are traveling to Pakistan for work, studies and tourism than they ever did in the past. At the International Islamic University Islamabad alone, there are now 200 to 300 Chinese students.”
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