The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation is taking place at a time of profound change globally. To be attended by global leaders, heads of states and governments, intellectuals, businesses, and ranking figures from a wide spectrum, the Summit provides a wonderful forum to discuss ways to boost cooperation, build cooperative frameworks and share cooperation outcomes. It represents an effort to pool varied opinions and thoughts for an intellectually stimulating and mutually beneficial outcome.
‘Connectivity of people’, the theme I will be taking up for my talk is so close to my heart. The idea of integration of the people resonates with my emotions while representing the finest illustration of deep-rooted people-to-people relations – China-Pakistan’s everlasting and ever soaring friendship.
The globe, and universe as well, has been the charter of curious men and women; who transcend territories and boundaries. In doing so, they imprint new pathways around the global landscape. Enterprise was, and is, at the heart of human circulation.
Indeed, it was Zhang Qian, an imperial Chinese envoy who established the fabled Silk Road some 2000 years ago. Resolute beings crisscrossed this route to trade silk – the most precious commodity of the time. It defined commerce of men and ideas, commodities and articles, and became the conduit of communication – interlocking distant lands and seas.
Statesmen who marshal a new era punctuate the march of time. President Xi Jinping’s defining vision of One Belt One Road (OBOR) is epoch making. It is rooted in ancient but represents the prescient – sprawling network of physical connectivity; social and cultural collaboration; economic cooperation, diplomatic and political agreements. Spanning more than 60 countries, OBOR is a web of motorways and railways, waterways and airwaves, pipelines and gridlines, to circulate ideas and experiences, men and material, money and manufacture – indeed all elements of progress and development.
Globalization diffused political boundaries. It was spearheaded by the developed economies – the rest embraced it varyingly. Today, when many societies turn inwards and doubt the rationale and scope of globalization, People’s Republic of China has commanded the unfinished agenda of globalization. But this global vision is more humane and mutual; it relies particularly on collaboration than competition. It does not only mind the interest of multinational, but predicates too on the ordinary and her aspirations. Thus, a new globalized complex is emerging – networked people. This could only be possible from a society which has people at its heart – people-to-people then is not only between countries - it extends from the neighbourhoods to the distant habitats.
China has articulated OBOR which is the path of increased connectivity through diplomacy, agreements, trade and economic cooperation. While global trade talks have stagnated, China seeks new trade routes and refurbishes old ones, helping developing countries restore physical and human infrastructure.
It is forging people-to-people partnerships – based on mutual respect and wellbeing. The Chinese concept of ‘Shared Prosperity’ accepts that the community of all people is ‘One Community’. This Community cannot be prosperous with some winning and many losing – certainly the pristine principle that must eternally define local, national and international development agenda.
Traditional government-to-government relations were exclusively through political and diplomatic means. Information & Communication Technology has demolished this exclusivity and transformed the essence of inter-state relations: general public – scholars, opinion makers, celebrities, entrepreneurs and ordinary citizens are directly exchanging across borders. There are many layers that now shape the way people think about other countries. People’s connectivity is thus becoming more and more important in formulation of relations between countries. This is of course also the most resilient basis for inter-state relations.
People-to-People connectivity is genuine empowerment of the people – it transfers power from elite to ordinary citizens. China has entered a new era of people-to-people diplomacy through which it hones the advantages of cultural exchanges with other countries.
As President Xi Jinping aptly remarked, “we should strengthen inter-civilisation exchanges and mutual learning” and “people-to-people diplomacy represents the most profound force in promoting such exchanges and mutual learning” (2014).
Pakistan has embraced the historic OBOR Initiative wholeheartedly. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is an unprecedented package of co-operation and development between China and Pakistan through this Initiative. As we breathe here, Ladies and Gentlemen, breathtaking progress is being made in the implementation of CPEC in Pakistan. More than USD 50 billion worth of projects are underway from Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang province to Gwadar, a deep-sea port in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. With transparency, efficiency and effectiveness, the building blocks of CPEC are being installed. These are not mere words - roads and highways, power plants and ports, are at advanced stages of completion. Industrial cooperation and long term plan of CPEC is at final stage of negotiations. CPEC surely is the fastest manifestation of OBOR. It is an economic hallway benefitting both countries through promoting bilateral connectivity in trade, energy and industrial cooperation, integrated transport and IT systems, tourism and human resource development. It is reshaping the geo-economic landscape and is a game-changer not only for Pakistan but the entire region. The Chinese people, leadership and government, have shown unprecedented and historical commitment to the restoration of Pakistan’s economy. These massive investments are reinvigorating Pakistan’s economy which has stabilized due to the prudent and sound policies of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Government. Our Government took bold decisions to address the triple peril of extremism, economy and energy. On all three fronts, visible and verifiable progress has been achieved. And China has been our partner in this turnaround. We shall, forever, be indebted to our Chinese friends, who have stood by us in our hour of maximum need. Our Government too discharged its duty with utmost commitment, diligence and sense of purpose. And with the same gusto, I have the honour to steer the course for Punjab during these momentous times. It has been both a privilege and a responsibility. When we commenced, the impediments in Pakistan were daunting. With single minded focus and resolve, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Government has been able to meet the commitment and expectation of our Chinese friends. Punjab, today, is recognized as the province in Pakistan which implements CPEC projects with unparalleled speed and determination. Thousands of Chinese now reside in Punjab and are participating in our development efforts. Highest attention is paid to their security and comfort. Many delegations and businesses from China regularly visit Punjab to work with us. We are very proud of this trust and confidence. CPEC is also transforming the way Pakistanis look towards their brotherly neighbour. Chinese presence in Pakistan is now evident at a personal level too: in markets and daily life – in culture and the arts industry. Pakistan’s film industry, for the first time, has cast a Chinese hero in a new movie which came out last month. Our youth is fast learning Chinese language to interact and engage with their new neighbours and friends. People are connecting for prosperity and wellbeing. Connectivity of people is indeed foundational to lasting prosperity and peace. It is the only winning option.