A map shows the route of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Wanishahrukh
A map shows the route of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Wanishahrukh

Before independence in 1947, Pakistan was a British colony. After independence Pakistan became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The long colonial years naturally made a considerable mark on our society in Pakistan. This influence was very vivid in our education, social etiquettes and other systems of life.

Pakistan’s best minds and the elite were all going to the UK or other European countries for higher education. Pakistan’s major source of remittance was from the diaspora settled there. And back home, The Beatles vibe was hitting the airwaves.

Then came the 1980s, and US funding began funneling through Pakistan under the umbrella of the Afghan war. America was far superior in terms of technology and standards of living than any other nation in the world. Billions of dollars were coming into Pakistan in the form of aid and foreign direct investment. Pakistan’s youth preferred an American education as it would guarantee prestige and a good livelihood. American companies and non-governmental organizations preferred graduates from the US. This influence still exists, or did until the very recent past.

When we talk about Pakistan’s elite or decision-makers, people around the age of 50 and up tend to be pro-British, while the middle-aged elite are pro-US. Meanwhile youth generally have deep suspicions of both of these countries because of their historic and recent roles in Pakistani affairs. Pakistan has faced a lot of international meddling in domestic affairs. Its rulers were dictated to by their foreign masters and implemented their agendas.

Under this scenario, let’s talk about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It is really an opportunity for Pakistan. Chinese investment amounting US$62 billion has poured into Pakistan. Most of the mega-projects in the power and infrastructure sectors are being executed by Chinese companies.

A huge number of Chinese are visiting Pakistan. According to one of the latest reports there exists a potential for 500,000 Chinese tourists to visit Pakistan annually. Most of our luxurious hotels are full of Chinese guests. Major shopping malls and branded shops are receiving Chinese customers. A number of Chinese restaurants have been opened in the recent past, offering special Chinese foods. Some shops are using Chinese-language signboards, and Chinese are even appearing in our advertisements. There will be an even more visible Chinese impact in Pakistan in the days to come.

Currently people sitting in the government, or in decision-making positions, are pro-West (US or Europe). They cannot understand China. So-called China experts are graduates of institutions in the US, the UK or other Western countries and are influenced by the West – they look at China through Western optics. This is a total disaster

The West has its own point of view about China that is not based on facts. Today China has become the second-largest economy, and has merged as geopolitical power of the world. By reading a few books or articles written by Western authors on China, one may not understand China at all.

Traveling to China a few times and interacting with Chinese people in English through interpreters, one cannot understand the depth of Chinese society, culture, or politics. China is a unique country, and very different from the West. One cannot apply Western values or philosophy to understand China.

China galloped through the journey of its development in just three decades, while the West spent a century to reach that stage. China’s rapid development experience is no less of a miracle, but it did not occur by mere chance but rather by perfectly calculated governance.

There must be something for us to learn. We need to understand China, the Chinese language, its culture, traditions, history, soft power, system of government, social system, political system, economy, education, science and technology, agriculture, health, policies, and reforms.

Unfortunately, most of our decision-makers in Pakistan know little about China. While they interact with the Chinese, their approach is based on their prior experiences with the West and the Middle East; thus they cannot win over the hearts and minds of Chinese people, and in this way cannot gain the maximum achievable. In spite of our traditional friendship with China, and full support of the Chinese top leadership, we are unable to get the full benefits we are supposed to from the CPEC.

Fortunately, we have a thriving lot of young Pakistanis who graduated from Chinese institutions. The first batch of Pakistani students went to China for higher education in 1974. What started as a handful of students has now turned into a vibrant society of 20,000 China-educated Pakistanis, who have received education in every outstanding field.

They understand Chinese language, culture, traditions, ethics and society. They can be the best negotiators for the best interests of Pakistan in the CPEC. Seeing them dealing with CPEC-related issues will be appreciated from the Chinese side too.

Every year, around 5,000 Pakistani students in China are expected to graduate and return home. This will be the best human resource to be utilized in CPEC-related jobs.

Pakistan’s civil-service structure should be amended and reformed to take in these China-graduated experts for key positions of CPEC-related administrative and executive jobs. For example, the Planning Commission is the focal agency regarding CPEC, but there is not a single person in it who understands China well. It must hire a team of China experts in all sections and departments. The Board of Investment is lacking China experts as well, as is the Ministry of Water and Power – the list goes on and on. All these ministries and departments could benefit from the expertise these China graduates possess.

I hope the relevant authorities will take notice and take appropriate action in this regard. CPEC is a real opportunity for Pakistan; let’s trust our young people with the project’s future. We need to conceive it well, plan it well, negotiate it well, and manage it well.

Zamir Awan

Professor Zamir Ahmed Awan is a sinologist at the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) Chinese Studies Center of Excellence, Islamabad, Pakistan. Posted to the Pakistani Embassy in Beijing as science counselor (technical affairs) from 2010-16, he was responsible for promoting cooperation between Pakistan and China in science, technology, and higher education.

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