Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks at the opening ceremony of the first China International Import Expo in Shanghai on November 5, 2018. Photo: AFP / Aly Song / Pool
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks at the opening ceremony of the first China International Import Expo in Shanghai on November 5, 2018. Photo: AFP / Aly Song / Pool

Imran Khan has concluded his first visit to China as prime minister of Pakistan. The four-day visit, which ended on Monday, was at the formal invitation of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

Khan was greeted in a very special Chinese traditional manner with the highest protocols. During his stay, he met with the top Chinese leadership including Li Keqiang, President Xi Jinping, Vice-President Wang Qishan, and Chairman Li Zhanshu of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, among others.

His visit has further cemented the traditional friendship between the two brotherly neighbors and strengthened the all-dimension cooperation further. A deeper understanding between the leaderships of the two nations was developed, which may play a vital role over the next five years during Khan’s term as prime minister.

A message of complete harmony, full consensus on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and pure friendship was conveyed to the rest of the world. Negative propaganda and misunderstandings have been clarified.

During Khan’s visit, 15 agreements or memoranda of understanding were signed covering various areas of mutual interest of collaboration. He also delivered a speech at the first ever China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai.

The Shanghai Import Expo will have far-reaching impacts on the trade and commerce of the region. Many countries organize export fairs, trying to increase their exports and earn foreign exchange. The Chinese, on the other hand, believe in win-win cooperation, which is based on Chinese wisdom.

The CIIE is a part of this cooperation. China is criticized for having a large trade surplus with most of its trading partners, but it is also one of the largest importers of goods. The value of Pakistan’s imports from China last year was US$14.5 billion, while it exported only $2 billion in goods and services. Imran Khan was poised to increase Pakistan’s trade with China, and his efforts were evident when he took Xi to the Pakistan Pavilion introducing Pakistani products.

Khan was accompanied by a 75-member trade delegation, consisting of leading businesspeople of Pakistan. The CIIE will be a great opportunity for Pakistan to boost its exports to China and narrow the trade gap.

However, it all depends on how well the Pakistani business community follows up. The private sector in Pakistan has to be aggressive and proactive to materialize this dream. Government’s role can only act as a catalyst in enhancing exports, but the groundwork has to be carried out by the business community.

Previous administrations’ poor governance led to a decline in exports, and furthermore, corruption and mismanagement discouraged investors. Considering the current situation in Pakistan, it will be rather difficult to achieve a major breakthrough in increasing exports. Although the Chinese side is willing to extend all possible support and assistance, it is still Pakistan that has to take up the challenges and overcome them. China can only offer a helping hand, and in the end, Pakistan has to stand up for itself.

It is expected that Khan may take some bold steps and strengthen institutions and appoint the right people for the right jobs. If the state institutions are reformed, they may be able to deliver something concrete; otherwise, this visit, like the ones before, will go to waste. Structural reforms, organizational reforms, policy reforms and even a change of mindset are the needs of the hour.

Imran Khan enjoys the popularity of the masses and he is in a position to make difficult and unpopular decisions without the fear of public backlash. The common man in Pakistan has faith in him and his agenda of reforms. People are willing to extend unconditional support to him, but at the same time having high expectations of him. Khan needs to form his own team, consisting of professional, capable, honest and strong personalities.

It is time for us Pakistanis to do our homework well. We need to know our strengths and weaknesses, exploit our strengths and overcome our weaknesses. Pakistan is a blessed country with an abundance of minerals, fertile land, a good climate, natural beauty, and talented human resources, and our youth, which constitutes 70% of the whole population. We do have the potential to grow rapidly if we dare to strive for it.

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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