Q: President Musharraf visited China recently. How do you look at the visit?
A: As you know, with China, Pakistan has strategic relationship that is quite old, time-tested and very consistent. I can assure you that even if we are sitting ten years from now, this relationship would have only been further cemented.
But China of today is not the China of Chairman Mao’s time, when the basis of our relationship was rather idealistic. Just one word sums up the change in China towards free market liberalism that began under Deng Xiaoping and has picked up momentum under his two successors, and that word is ‘pragmatism.’
Chinese foreign policy is driven by economic interest, and that is why we can expect China to be more cooperative rather than confrontational when it comes to its ties with the US or the EU or, even, for that matter, India. The same should be the context for the Chinese relationship with us. Therefore, our ties today are essentially based on compatibility of mutual interests, whether they pertain to Gwadar Port, the issue of energy or the question of combating extremism. We are geographical contiguous to China. We need China, and China needs us.
Q: Do you see any irritants in this relationship, and what is the scope of their resolution?
A: Well, the Chinese have been extremely concerned about the extremist problem in Xinjiang province that borders our northern areas. The ethnically Uighur Muslim extremists there have been receiving support from extremist organizations in the region. Now whether this irritant is minor or major, the good thing is that a sea-change has taken place in Pakistan: that we have a civilian government now, meaning we will have greater national capacity to credibly overcome this irritant.
Q: What should the new government do to further consolidate our relations with China?
A: As I have already said, we have to overcome Chinese concern over the issue of extremism. Secondly, regarding the Free Trade Agreement with China, we have to stabilize our economy and seek Chinese help for the purpose; otherwise, unlike the Indian economy, our economy will not be able to afford the impact of cheep Chinese products that flood our market. And, thirdly, we have to seek Chinese help in overcoming the gigantic energy problem. It is important to secure an agreement with China on more civilian nuclear power plants. Two of them, Chasma I and II, are already there. There has been an understanding on building a few more with the Chinese help. However, for this, not only do we need to multiply our efforts to secure the final agreement with China; we need to do a lot of lobbying in the Western world for the purpose to overcome its deep concerns over the proliferation issue.