Pakistan: Khan’s China visit raises eyebrows over dependence on Beijing

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Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is visiting China this week to attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympicsand meet with Chinese leaders.

A spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign office told media on Friday that Khan‘s visit would reinforce the all-weather strategic cooperative partnership between the two countries, in addition to advancing the objective of building a closer China-Pakistan community with a shared future in the new era.

Khan’s trip is the first in nearly two years. However, some people are skeptical over the reasons his visit.

Although Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi claimed last Thursday that the visit was aimed at expressing solidarity with Beijing, as some countries have boycotted the event and met with Chinese leaders, sections of Pakistani media asserted that Islamabad is eyeing a $3 billion (€2.6 billion) loan from the country, in addition to pinning hopes on the Chinese investment that it wants in six sectors.

English daily Express Tribune reported a few days ago that the government was considering requesting that China approve another $3 billion loan, which could be kept in China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE), so as to boost its foreign exchange reserves.

Pakistan seeks investment in six industries

Islamabad is also seeking Chinese investment in the industries of textiles, footwear, pharmaceuticals, furniture, agriculture, automobile and information technology. The newspaper further wrote: “The government is expected to tell the 75 Chinese companies that it could provide access to trade routes to the Middle East, Africa and the rest of the world, offering greater incentives in the shape of reduction in freight costs.”

Pakistan heavily relies on China for economic assistance and cooperation. The communist country has already pumped billions of dollars into the nation, under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Islamabad completed a number of energy and infrastructure projects under the CPEC.

Economist Kaiser Bengali believes that Pakistan is now 100% dependent on China for financial and economic assistance. The immediate purpose of the visit is to seek the loan from Beijing, which reflects Pakistan’s growing reliance on China, he told DW.

“While the conditions of the IMF are made public, China keeps the terms and conditions of loans and projects secret, which leads to suspicions,” he said.

Many nationalists in Pakistan’s western province of Balochistan are skeptical of the Chinese investment, which they say does not benefit the residents of the region which houses the Chinese-run strategic Gwader port.

The residents of Gwader recently erupted in protest against the scarcity of pure drinking water, complaining that Chinese investment did not help them get drinking water or improve the province in other ways.

Some Baloch nationalists fear that if Pakistan defaults on Chinese loans, the communist country will seek mining contracts in the mineral-rich province at an extremely discounted rate, or possibly take over the port.

Bengali believes that such suspicions were caused by the secrecy surrounding Chinese development projects and the terms of the loans.

During the Cold War, the US was the main ally of Pakistan, supplying the South Asian country with weapons and military training. Islamabad also joined western military alliances to counter communism.

Strained ties with West

The country’s ties with the US remained somewhat strained during the 1990’s, but it again became Washington’s ally in the War on Terror after the September 11 attacks. However, following the US pull-out from Afghanistan, the South Asian country is now looking to the East for strategic alliances.

Talat Ayesha Wizarat, a Karachi-based expert in international relations, said Pakistan is heavily dependent on China because the West did not turn out to be a reliable friend of the country, abandoning Islamabad and hobnobbing with New Delhi, a common foe of both nations.

When the IMF offers loans, they attach a lot of strings, she told DW, adding that Western-backed monetary institutions even want to know the details of CPEC projects.

She claims that China does not add conditions to its loans. “It has already pumped billions of dollars into the CPEC but did not attach strings,” Wizarat told DW.

The US has no interest in the region after the pull-out, she said, adding that Pakistan would need Chinese assistance to bolster its economy, stabilize Afghanistan, promote trade in the region and consolidate its defenses.

Pakistan offers access to Indian Ocean

Wizarat opines that Pakistan can reciprocate Chinese help by allowing Beijing access to the Indian Ocean, supporting China at international forums and providing the shortest routes to the world’s second-largest economy.

Many human rights organizations have, however, accused China of committing flagrant human rights violation against the Muslims of Xinjiang, but the prime minister recently defended the communist country over the issue, accusing the West of adopting a double standard over the rights of Uighur and Kashmiri Muslims.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan co-chair Asad Butt told DW that this exposes the hypocrisy of Khan, amid reports that the Chinese government has been forcing Uighur Muslims to consume what is forbidden in Islam, and interning over a million people.

He added that Khan never uttered a word against the Chinese atrocities. However, Mustafa believes that the West is exaggerating the situation in Xinjiang. He believes that Beijing wants to modernize the region, and that there are always people who are opposed to such developments.

Edited by: Leah Carter

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