Iron Brothers

Pakistan-China friendship is the stuff of legends and envy of other nations. Over the decades, as Pakistan-China relationship blossomed, Government leaders, writers, poets and analysts of both countries have been searching for phrases that would aptly describe the depth and breadth of the bond between two brotherly nations. Last month, when General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, met President Xi Jinping in Beijing, at the latter’s special invitation, the Chinese President said Pakistan was a time-tested friend and an “Iron Brother”

Other expressions have been used by the people of the two countries characterizing Pakistan-China friendship as higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, sweeter than honey, stronger than steel, and dearer than eyesight. Yet another formulation says the two countries ‘are as close to each other as lips are to the teeth’. 
The list does not end there. China and Pakistan are “good neighbors, close friends, trusted partners and dear brothers”. They are all-weather and time-tested friends signifying that the two countries “will always move ahead together come rain or shine”. Such popular hyperbole and sentimental balladry describing state to state relations, which are considered to be based on changing interests, amuses other nations but they also ponder over the secret of the longevity and resilience of the all-round cooperation between Pakistan and China. 

While authorship of most of the expressions quoted above can be attributed to either Pakistani or Chinese leaders who used them during their visits to each other’s countries, the epithet “Iron Brothers” comes from the masses which was nurtured, evolved and popularized by passionate “netizens” in China. In fact, the netizens affectionately use the word “Batie” (Iron Bothers) in China to refer to Pakistan.

Pakistan and China aspire to work for peace, stability and prosperity in their own countries and in the region. They have no aggressive designs against any other nation or nations. It is a benign partnership. 

General Zhang Youxia, Vice Chairman of China’s powerful Central Military Commission, during General Bajwa’s Beijing visit, underlined that military ties between Pakistan and China were the “backbone” of their relations. Within the overall framework of the all-weather strategic cooperative partnership, this “backbone” aims at regional peace and security and encompasses joint exercises by the two armed forces, military trade, joint production of military platforms, and training. 

President Xi Jinping, as the President of the state and Chairman of the Central Military Commision, is also Commander-in-Chief of China’s mighty People’s Liberation Army. His meeting with Pakistan’s Army Chief gave two critical messages, namely, China would continue to support Pakistan as its strategic partner; and those opposing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), designed to develop peace and development, will not succeed. 

The Chinese President acknowledged the professionalism of Pakistan’s Armed Forces and their contribution to regional peace and stability. This appreciation is in sharp, and pleasant contrast with the intermittent demonization of Pakistan and its Armed Forces by some neighbours and extra-regional powers. Significantly and rightly, General Bajwa highlighted Pakistan’s sacrifices in the pursuit of peace and dispelled authoritatively, any misgivings by stating that the CPEC would succeed against all odds and Pakistan’s Armed Forces will ensure its security. 

There are many misplaced and myopic apprehensions about the burgeoning Pak-China bonds but the fact is that, objectively speaking, this relationship is a bellwether for friendly ties, peaceful co-existence and win-win cooperation between any two countries. Pakistan and China have different cultures, socio-economic structures and political systems, and yet the two countries work collaboratively and cohesively. The relationship should thus be a model bilateral relationship for other countries to emulate for creating a global community of shared future. 

Pakistan and China aspire to work for peace, stability and prosperity in their own countries and in the region. They have no aggressive designs against any other nation or nations. It is a benign partnership. 

Pakistan and China are Iron Brothers because they respect and support each other’s sovereignty, political independence, national dignity and territorial integrity; and stand by each other for the defence of their core national interests and to address their respective concerns. Both countries have helped each other in securing their border and boosting capacities to fight terrorism. Both work together to ensure security of their joint economic undertakings. 

The two countries have stood by each other in times of duress and national catastrophes. China was there to extend its all out help after the 2005 earthquake and 2010 floods in Pakistan. Pakistan spared no effort to provide relief assistance following the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in China. 

In the international forums, Pakistan and China work very closely. Pakistan has been in the forefront in multilateral forums to support China’s principled positions on human rights, Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang. China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has helped Pakistan on a broad range of issues; and has protected Pakistan’s rights in different regimes concerning non-proliferation, nuclear security and nuclear trade. 

In the region, Pakistan has always heeded China’s sincere and prudent advice for resort to dialogue and diplomacy to resolve outstanding issues with India, especially Jammu and Kashmir. Regrettably, India has totally spurned such counsel, which it considers interference in its internal affairs. 

With diligence and persistence, Pakistan has involved China in Afghan peacemaking and reconciliation efforts. Pakistan believes that China’s role in the quest for peace and stability in Afghanistan will be constructive and productive. Fortunately, the Afghan Government, Taliban and the United States agree on this point. 

It is axiomatic that peace and development move hand in hand. The transformative mega-project of CPEC, a sheet anchor for peaceful development in the region, further cements the ties between the iron brothers. The CPEC leverages the unique, continuous economic geography of the two countries and works as a catalyst to take Pakistan’s economy to higher levels of productivity in the infrastructure, energy, industrial, agricultural and services sectors. Early harvest projects are being completed at a total cost of $19 billion and have created more than 70,000 new jobs in Pakistan. This trend will grow. CPEC’s Long-Term Plan (2018-2030) underwrites continuing commitment of both sides and expanded investment up to $62 billion. Again, this project is not meant to hurt a third country or region. In fact, when completed, the project would enhance regional connectivity, become a platform for sustainable development and benefit nations far and near. 

The strong ties between China and Pakistan are special and unique, but they are not exclusive or exclusivist. Both countries – China as the second largest global economy and Pakistan an aspirant to become the next Asian Tiger – are part of the international mainstream. The existing ascendant powers should not read anything negative in the partnership between China and Pakistan. Pakistan has its own sets of alliances and ties with Western and Islamic countries; and so has China worldwide and in its neighbourhood. Such relationships can overlap and co-exist. We look towards a future that eschews confrontations and builds cooperation that would benefit the entire humanity. 

I close this piece with an excerpt from President Xi Jinping’s statement made to Pakistan’s Parliament in April 2015: “Strong wind reveals the strength of grass, and genuine gold stands the test of fire." Pakistan-China relationship is strong, genuine and enduring. 

The writer is the President of the State of Azad Jammu & Kashmir, former Ambassador to China and Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations in New York and Geneva.
E-mail: [email protected]



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