The 8-point joint statement released after PM Imran Khan’s maiden China visit and spread over nearly 2,900 words says it all about how the Chinese mind works; meticulous, insightful, far-sighted, penchant for detail, deliberately cautious and measured.
It also underscores that the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Good-neighborly Relations signed in 2005 remains the foundation of the All-Weather Strategic Cooperative Partnership.
It encompasses nearly all social, political, and economic dimensions of the bilateral relations. It also touches most of the current simmering regional and international issues including Afghanistan and the US sanctions on Iran.
Those familiar with the Chinese mindset and their cultural norms a little better most others know that Chinese officials and politicians are as much averse to verbosity and chest-thumping as to public trumpeting of critically sensitive issues. They love to pursue strategically important objectives quietly instead of making noises over media. Inherent in their culture is not to embarrass their friends. Nor do they like to be embarrassed by their close partners and friends. Also, Pakistan is not the only country in need of help and Beijing would like to do things in a way that doesn’t raise expectations of other developing countries for the same issue.
This response clearly reflects the caution mode that reckless, uncalculated and uninformed comments by our ministers forced the Chinese leadership into. And the obvious loser could be the country and not cabinet members.
Does the Khan visit and the ensuing joint statement bear any lessons for Pakistani politicians, military and bureaucrats, most of whom keep acting like care-free dons, unmindful of the sensitivities of a close friend like China, and ill-prepared when it comes to the substance of bilateral cooperation.
Earlier, our entire DMG-led machinery under Nawaz Sharif got exposed when they failed to deliver the basic framework several months after the launch of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor in early 2015.
Eventually Chinese officials came to their rescue and took the planning in their hands. Why? Because the real power in Pakistan rests with the DMG bureaucrats and not professional technocrats picked up on merit.
A Pakistan run by bureaucrats who – even in this age – wait for the driver to open the car door for them, and expect the peon to carry their brief case to and from the office, is certainly out of step with the demands of smart and efficient governance.
The fact that the gentleman who served under Ishaq Dar, was rewarded with the headship of the State Bank, and continues to enjoy the closeness of a revolutionary Finance Minister Asad Omar is a telling commentary on the British-era bureaucracy’s hold on governance.
Reaction from an old Chinese friend based in Beijing, who knows Pakistan better than most of us, is quite instructive. I asked him for his interpretation of the joint statement and he responded with the following crisp response:
“No agreement on financial issues. Chinese leaders gave him (PM) the highest welcome. Imran Khan is trying to adjust his attitude towards CPEC…., China may continue to do more on CPEC but the speed may slow down.”
Hopefully, the Chinese leadership stands true to its commitment of support towards the All-Weather-Friend sooner than later. It has already done a lot but wouldn’t like to embarrass Pakistan by publicly stating what it has done sofar (as a bailout assistance) and will do in immediate future to ease Islamabad’s financial woes. Bilateral trade in yuan itself is a huge concession in view of Pakistan’s $13 billion trade deficit with China.
Yet the carefully drafted joint statement – to the backdrop of lofty rhetoric by Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari and controversial statements by some ministers of the current cabinet – should ring alarm bells and guide the Pakistani government into a more sober, cautious, professional and hard-working approach in its dealings with China. No lunch is for free. Nor MUST we take financial handouts for granted. Nor are bail-outs limitless. We must pull up our own socks before stretching hands for help.
Why should others bear the cost of our own indiscretion and incompetence?