Tuesday, October 20, 2020

In conversation with China’s outgoing Ambassador Yao Jing

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H.E Ambassador Yao Jing was China’s 17th Ambassador to Pakistan (2017-2020). During his tenure, CPEC strengthened and consolidated and moved into PhaseII. His ceaseless work, especially during Covid-19, won the hearts and minds of countless Pakistanis.

You arrived here in December 2017 and are now leaving after almost three years; what were your impressions about Pakistan when you first came here, and how have they changed over time?

I have spent almost three years during this term. What impresses me the most about Pakistan is that right now it’s on the right track; on its way to becoming a modern, progressive and developed nation, under the vision of “Naya Pakistan”.

Many reforms, restructuring and development projects are taking place. In the last three years, I saw a lot of initiatives being undertaken, like improvement in the ease of doing business. Moreover, I saw several new policies being introduced for the promotion of exports and the enhancement of manufacturing.

Read more: Here is all you need to know about new Chinese envoy Nong Rong

In the last three years, China has further emerged on the international scene, on the global trade market. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that was welcomed by the United States and other western countries in 2014-15 is now increasingly being seen as a source of concern by them. You have tensions in Ladakh with India too, how have these developments affected the Pakistan-China relationship?

You have touched upon a critical point; it covers both the global as well as the regional situation. These incidents have impacted and influenced our bilateral cooperation. For a long period, China and Pakistan have enjoyed a very close and strong partnership and friendship. And this relationship has endured changes in the global as well as the regional situation.

However, naturally, there is an impact of global developments on the bilateral relationship. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was made a part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by the Chinese President Xi in 2013. As far as the CPEC is concerned, we have no change: we are determined in moving forward with the mutually beneficial cooperation; we are determined towards improved regional connectivity, and we are determined for the prosperity of the two nations.

What has changed is that some western countries have started thinking of China as a major rival and enemy. I’m also wondering what changed their mind. They are having some misunderstanding about China’s development. They see China as a threat.

They see the development of China as an impediment to their interests. I believe this is a major reason for this misunderstanding. China has made it very clear that it’s going to adopt a path of peaceful development. We have committed to the maintenance of the current international institutions and regimes.

We are interested in mutual development and prosperity, as well as the sharing of technology, and whatever benefits we can offer to the international community. However, even then, some countries, including the superpowers, are perceiving China’s development as a threat. So, I think that this misunderstanding of China’s development is the key reason.

In 2013-14, I remember that the US ambassador to Pakistan, on the record, gave us a briefing that they welcome the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). What has changed in the last couple of years that the Americans are now becoming worried and insecure about the BRI?

I think that the major change comes from their misunderstanding of China’s development. Whatever we are doing today, we have been doing it for decades. Now, they think China’s development has become a threat to their interests. That is the reason their mindset places China in a rival and threatening position. However, this is not something that we desire. We want to avoid this.

Read more: The China that I Saw

Will China be doing something to reduce this misunderstanding and insecurity?

We are doing everything possible to try to remove this kind of misunderstanding. There are some new tendencies in international relations; unilateralism has increased. Everything is decided by the superpowers or the major countries, and you don’t have a say. Only if you follow their directions, you’re a good member of the international community.

For China, following the international system, international trade regimes and committing to the common development and prosperity of the international community is important. And that’s exactly what we are doing in Pakistan. For example, with Pakistan, there is nothing to hide or be shy of. It’s visible from the CPEC project.

CPEC is composed of individual, specific projects that are decided by mutual cooperation, discussions and consultations. Most of the executing companies are privatesector corporations. This is far from what the West falsely claims: it is a debt trap, and there is no transparency. Or if it’s some type of colonization or exploitation. All such mutual development initiatives — through our actions — demonstrate they are based upon goodwill.

How severe is the ban placed on TikTok and other Chinese companies by the US and India, and how do you see Trump’s statements hinting possible sanctions on Chinese companies and technology transfer?

This is a very unwise move by the United States and India, especially when we live in an interdependent world and a global market. As far as trade and technology transfer is concerned, this should be decided by the markets. If the markets need some kind of cooperation or collaboration, then unilateral actions won’t help.

India stopped some of the APP and investments. I think this is against the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules and the international trade regimes. I believe the Indian economy must be suffering from this kind of state intervention in the market. From a wider perspective, China and the US are the two leading economies of the world, and they are contributing to each other.

There are some new tendencies in international relations; unilateralism has increased. Everything is decided by the superpowers or the major countries, and you don’t have a say. Only if you follow their directions, you’re a good member of the international community

China provides numerous goods to the United States. They save a lot, and we benefited from their investors. This is a fair market-driven framework and phenomenon. Due to political reasons and misunderstanding, countries are intervening in the trade market. This will not only affect the countries involved in the confrontation, but the global economy will suffer too.

Recently, the Chinese foreign office announced that Arunachal is part of China, not India. Is this a new stance or a reiteration of an old position?

This is a traditional position. We have had this border dispute for a long time, and the border was never officially demarcated or finalized. We have three sectors of the disputed border: East, middle and western sector. Ladakh is in the western sector, and South Tibet is in the eastern sector.

In 1980, they unilaterally announced that this is (south Tibet) the state of Arunachal and China made it very clear that it doesn’t recognize it. Last year, in August, they (India) announced that Ladakh was to become a part of the ‘union territory’.

Once again, we made it very clear through a public statement, we do not recognize that border and treat it as a disputed area. This kind of border dispute between China and India has a long history, and I hope that India respects this history and adopt, negotiate and seek a solution.

Read more: Forever friends: Enduring Pakistan-China relations

There were six corridors in the Belt and Road Initiative, we generally hear about the CPEC, but what’s the update on the other five corridors?

Six corridors are in the initial stages of design. Of course, they are major economic corridors under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). But the CPEC is the only corridor that is bilateral — between China and Pakistan only. There are other multilateral corridors like the China-Central Asia, ChinaASEAN and the BCIM – Bangladesh China India and Myanmar.

The BCIM is in the initial stages because it depends on the four countries to prepare their national report, decide what they are going to contribute and what kind of joint project or corridor could be established. But due to the positions being taken by some of the members, this initiative is moving quite slowly.

Are you satisfied with the progress of CPEC and what has been achieved so far?

Of course! I think that CPEC started much earlier than I arrived (late 2017). When I arrived, for CPEC, it was already high time. For me, from the past three years, I can say that I am very satisfied with the progress of CPEC. The four initial areas of cooperation: Gwadar port, infrastructure, power sector and industry cooperation have been consolidated.

After discussions with the government of Pakistan and its different departments, we have expanded to eight areas; four new joint working groups have been added including agriculture, social, science and technology sectors as well as international coordination. And this is an even bigger achievement. In the agriculture sector, we are working on irrigation and have started engaging private and public corporations.

In the social sector, we are working on poverty alleviation and health. For technology, there will be a wide-ranging technology transfer to Pakistan from China. So, I shall say that CPEC, based on the consolidation of the previous achievements, is entering a new stage of further expansion and delivery.

H.E Yao Jing

What do you exactly mean when you mention international coordination and cooperation?

We (China and Pakistan) are responsible members of the international community. We believe projects like CPEC can boost regional development and connectivity. Under international cooperation we will be having discussions on how CPEC can provide a platform for cooperation; for example, right now, the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan has reached a very critical stage, so Afghanistan being an important country in the region, can be welcomed to participate in CPEC.

We are going to inaugurate the first Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in KP province in Rashakai. The Chinese and Pakistani sides collaborated; together we worked out some business incentives: if you invest there, you receive tax incentives or so, and we are ensuring the presence of facilities like water, gas, roads etc.

So now if you see this SEZ, it is open not only for China or Pakistan, if other countries are willing to invest, we will be more than happy. Through the CPEC, after mutual consultation, we can open a lot of opportunities for regional partners and the international community.

You have served as China’s ambassador to Afghanistan, do you think China can help build trust between Pakistan and Afghanistan?

Both Afghanistan and Pakistan are important neighbours of China.When I was serving in Afghanistan and Pakistan signed an MOU signed for cooperation on the Belt and Road initiative (BRI), Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani, when I met them, expressed their enthusiasm for Afghanistan to become a regional hub of connectivity and cooperation.

They were very interested in railways because Afghanistan is a landlocked country and can benefit from it. They can be a hub and a bridge of regional connectivity. I see very promising prospects for China, Pakistan and Afghanistan as partners for regional partnerships and connectivity.

Read more: CPEC: Once a game-changer, always a game-changer?

We’ve recently created a new mechanism where Pakistan, Afghanistan and China at the Foreign Minister level hold trilateral dialogues. This will further have three subgroups: anti-terrorism, international consultation, and practical cooperation.

China has already started working with Afghanistan and Pakistan to provide such economic and development opportunities, and the CPEC is a ready platform. Three months ago, Pakistan’s government approved the idea of Gwadar to be used as a transit for goods of Afghanistan. So far, Pakistan is providing a good service for the transit transportation of Afghan goods.

Has the creation of the CPEC authority been of any help?

I think that the creation of the CPEC authority demonstrates the importance and expectations the Pakistani leadership attaches to the project. Of course, we have different joint working groups and different mechanisms, but CPEC authority provides one window service, for not only the Chinese embassy, Chinese governmental departments but also Chinese companies.

For me, previously, I had to visit different ministries, but now I can simply go to one authority, and they are actively helping us. I appreciate the work being done by CPEC authority, but this doesn’t mean that other ministries are not important; they are still the key, looking at broader projects. The CPEC authority helps us in operational and functional progress of the project.

Ambassador

Almost every political party in Pakistan takes credit for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, what’s your view on it?

According to my understanding, the different political parties in Pakistan are expressing their attention to the Sino-Pak relationship. The Chinese Communist Party and ten major political parties of Pakistan recently had a joint session where they expressed their support for the Sino-Pak relationship.

CPEC is a state to state cooperation; all the political parties and people of Pakistan, from all walks of life, are part of this cooperation. I believe this kind of support and understanding is very important for the bilateral relationship.

When is President Xi coming to Pakistan and how will you answer the speculations surrounding the postponement of the trip?

First, let me give a background of the visit. President Xi visited Pakistan in 2015. In the five years, we felt that as the relationship and global situation evolved, a high-level visit was required. Imran Khan delivered the invitation of President Xi’s visit to us in October, and President Xi happily accepted and said that he would visit Pakistan soon.

There were extensive preparations from both sides because this visit was considered very significant for our relationship. So, we began consultations for this very important visit. During this period since last October, a lot of things happened, like the Covid-19 and the timing was never finalized.

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It was at a very initial stage that date was floated, whereby he was scheduled to visit sometime in May, but both sides had yet to determine the feasibility of these dates. At this stage, the Chinese president’s visit to Pakistan is very much relevant and high on our agenda.

A regular summit and a mutual visit between the two leaderships is a key characteristic of our bilateral relationship. I think this visit will be taking place on our mutual convenience; the definite date was never decided. So, we can’t say there was postponement because it is an ongoing process. President Xi will visit as soon as possible.

When can Pakistani students and businessmen return to China?

For that matter, we are closely coordinating with the Pakistani government. Close consultation is being carried out with the foreign ministry and SAPM for Overseas Pakistanis Mr Zulfi Bukhari.

But Chinese educational institutions have not been opened for students of any country. However, we may take a position next week — even though we have controlled the pandemic, the number of overseas students is too big — so it depends on individual universities and their capabilities.

H.E Yao Jing Ambassador

We will take a position very soon, but in this regard, all the universities are in contact with overseas students to keep their studies and education as relevant as possible. China and Pakistan have established a bilateral mechanism to facilitate students and businessmen. I expect the physical participation by Pakistani students to happen very soon, possibly next week a decision in this regard will be reached.

Any message to the people of Pakistan as you leave this country?

It is a very emotional departure for me. I have been in the foreign service for 30 years. 11 of these years I have spent in Pakistan, in three terms. After finishing the set term of being an ambassador, it is very difficult for me to say goodbye.

I take Pakistan as more than a second home. I have a lot of friends and partners in Pakistan, but because of the current situation owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, I could not say goodbye face to face; however, I would like to take this opportunity to say goodbye to the Pakistani viewers.

Read more: EXCLUSIVE: Planning minister Asad Umar explains how CPEC focus has shifted

But my heart and mind will remain in Pakistan, wherever I am. My message is that I wish peace, prosperity and wellbeing for the whole nation and people of Pakistan. I believe that Pakistan will achieve this noble goal of peace, stability and dignity.

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