All-Weather Friendship:The Evolving Pakistan-China Relationship”

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By A.R Ansari

Pakistan and China’s relationship is often referred to as an “all-weather friendship” owing to strong political, economic, and military ties. This friendship has evolved over several decades, based on mutual interests and cooperation in the fields of economic development, military and defense, and infrastructure projects, cultural exchanges and people-to-people contacts have also grown, with an increasing number of Pakistani students studying in China and a surge in Chinese expatriates living and working in Pakistan. Despite the strong ties, there have been challenges in the Pakistan-China relationship like concerns about the terms and conditions of Chinese loans and investments under CPEC, owing to Pakistan’s growing debt burden and security concerns in the border region.

China has been a staunch ally of Pakistan at international forums, particularly on issues related to Kashmir. China has supported Pakistan’s stance on the Kashmir conflict and has shielded Pakistan from diplomatic isolation in the United Nations and other international organizations. China is holding its third Belt and Road forum in Beijing where representatives from over 130 countries are joining to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a massive infrastructure and economic development project initiated by China. It aims to create a network of roads, railways, ports, and other infrastructure that connects China to Europe, Africa, and other parts of Asia. CPEC is a flagship project of the BRI initiative- a collection of infrastructure projects that include the construction of highways, railways, pipelines, and the development of the strategic Gwadar Port.  The world has witnessed in 1979, one of the world’s highest and most spectacular international road connections Karakoram Highway as evidence of all-weather friendship, that connects Pakistan and China, making it one of the world’s highest and most challenging engineering feats. The Karakoram Highway holds strategic significance, providing China with access to the Arabian Sea via Gwadar, very essential for China’s energy and trade interests. The Karakoram Highway stretches for approximately 1,300 kilometers (810 miles) from Hasan Abdal near Islamabad to the Chinese city of Kashgar in Xinjiang. The Karakoram highway is subject to harsh weather conditions, especially in the winter, and has faced issues such as landslides and road closures due to natural disasters.

 Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, visit to China sets the stage for a new era for CPEC projects, particularly in the acceleration of the Thakot-Raikot section- a critical segment of the Karakoram Highway, known for its sharp bends and limitations. It is poised for an overhaul, of state-of-the-art tunnels, for reducing travel time and enhancing safety. The road classification will be advanced from Class 4 to Class 2, signaling an upgrade in its quality and the permitted speed limit will be increased, promising swifter and more efficient travel. This development extends beyond mere travel enhancements. It holds the potential to revolutionize cargo transport, making it more efficient and cost-effective. The improved road network will support heavier cargo loads, streamlining the transportation of goods with greater ease and efficiency. The Karakoram Highway looms as a prominent highlight of this historic partnership. It signifies more than just a road; it’s a symbol of friendship, cooperation, and a shared vision for a brighter, more interconnected future.

The Highway Research & Training Centre also stands as one of the pivotal projects, prominently taking center stage as the primary highlight of Prime Minister Kakar’s visit. A promising Joint Research Program is envisioned with the Government of China from 2023 to 2027, aiming to foster collaboration and innovation in various domains of highway engineering. A formal memorandum of joint research extension will be finalized and entered into during the PM’s visit to China. This program aims to foster collaboration and innovation in various domains of highway engineering. This extension is poised to be a cornerstone of the cooperation in the road infrastructure while the National Highway Authority is a vanguard of such cooperation. It is agreed to construct the Highway Research and Training Center spread over 530 acres by a Chinese Contractor/ Consultant under a Chinese Grant of Rs.15 billion. It includes infrastructure, a Test track, and indoor and outdoor lab equipment which will be handed over to NHA for operation after completion and required training. Various research Projects in Reclaimed Asphalt, Bridges and Tunnelling, training and degree courses in China, development of engineering design manuals and standards for Pakistan are some of the key target areas of this project.

Pakistan-China relationship is poised to continue evolving, adapting to the ever-changing global landscape. With a shared commitment to deepening ties and fostering enduring peace, this friendship remains a cornerstone of stability in a rapidly shifting world.Pakistan and China are not just strategic allies but genuine friends, encouraging a legacy of collaboration that continues to shape the future. The Pakistan-China relationship serves as a compelling case study of how nations can accomplish prosperity and progress through resolute partnership, surpassing borders and generating a conduit to a happier future for all.