Original article by Arif Nizami in Pakistan Today can be found here.

The China that I saw last week is a far cry from the country that I had first visited with Prime Minister Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto in May 1976. At the time one of the few hotels in town was the Peking hotel where the Pakistani delegation accompanying the prime minister was put up.

Men and women, both were attired in Mao suits plying mostly on bicycles. There were only a few cars on the roads belonging mostly to communist party officials. The first premier of China, Zhou Enlai had died back in January the same year, while Mao Zedong the chairman and founder of modern China was gravely ill.

Bhutto was the last head of state or government who got an audience with Mao when he was suddenly whisked away from an opera performance in his honour to meet the Great Leader. A few months later Mao died and with that an era ended.

The pragmatist leader Deng Xiaoping who kick-started China’s reforms and orchestrated its open door policy was only rehabilitated after Mao’ s demise. Where China stands today as an economic giant and world’s leading power is largely thanks to Deng’s ‘three-step development strategy’.

The first step was to double the size of the economy and ensure food and clothing for all by the 80s. The second was to quadruple the size of the economy by the end of the century. This was achieved five years earlier in 1995. The third step is to increase per capita gross domestic product to the level of moderately developed countries by 2050.

The Chinese Communist Party’s 19th Congress held only last month has not only reasserted Xi Jinping’s leadership as the general secretary of the Chinese communist party but also elevated him to the level of Mao Zedong in the Chinese constitution.

China plans to be a moderately prosperous society and a modern socialist country by 2035 and a powerful one by 2050. Although what China has already achieved is a miracle by itself. But its leadership is not resting on its laurels.

Today Beijing and Shanghai amongst others in China are bustling cities. Their skylines perhaps are more majestic than most European and American megapolises. Well dressed Chinese men in business suits and women in modern western attire adorn the bustling streets.

The communist Mao era ostensibly is an era of the past. But these are only superficial comparisons. China remains a socialist society with a capitalist economy carefully calibrated by the state.

China’s successive leaderships surmised decades ago, that its growth not only in terms of its economic might but also its burgeoning security and defence imprint can only be insured through internal stability. That is why China remains a one party state where western norms of democracy are hardly applied.

Perhaps there is a tradeoff between goals of economic prosperity and western democratic concepts of freedom and human rights. The Chinese leadership has carefully chartered the country’s course – with a population of over a billion- towards prosperity. Maybe this would not have been possible without checks and balances.

Martin Jacques the journalist and academic in his seminal and best selling work eight years ago: ‘When China rules the World ‘, predicts that China would become a bigger economy than the US by 2027. According to him China was more a civilization than a nation state.

In a recent interview Jacques has asserted that. “Most people in the West could not conceive the West not occupying the dominance it has for the past 200 years.” Of course he strongly disagrees with Francis Fukuyama’s who in, ‘The End of History and the Last Man’, that was published by him in the early 90s argued that after the demise of the Soviet Union, western liberalism had triumphed over other systems.

A resurgent China has proved otherwise. Post the 2008 global economic crisis most western democracies seem to be on the decline. Concentration of wealth in the hands of the few has given rise to the phenomenon where ultra right wing parties in Europe are challenging western liberal values.

Luckily for Pakistan China is perhaps amongst the few countries that still view Islamabad as a close friend. Interacting with Chinese think tanks academicians and officials in Beijing and Urumqi, Pak China friendship being “high as the mountains and deep as the sea “, seems more than a mere cliché.

Many politicians across the board take credit for this phenomenon. Perhaps all of them deserve it to some extent, as Pak-China partnership transcends party lines. But perhaps the real credit for being the architect of these close economic and strategic ties goes to the late Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto who embarked on this journey when he was foreign minister under Ayub Khan in the 60’s.

The 1965 India Pakistan war was the first manifestation of close China-Pakistan strategic ties. It was Peking’s ultimatum to New Delhi well documented in CIA papers that forced India to desist from attacking East Pakistan.

Notwithstanding the OBOR (One Belt One Road) imitative and $62 billion worth CPEC (China Pakistan Economic corridor) Pakistan and China’s strategic and defence relation’s run even deeper. Even today China is the biggest bulwark against India’s hegemonistic designs in the region.

CPEC is the only show in town for Islamabad so far as foreign direct investment is concerned. Pakistan has been able to mitigate its endemic power crisis through manifest increase in capacity in record time through CPEC invested power projects.

The port of Gawadar is a showpiece of Pak- China economic and strategic cooperation. However the recent joint cooperation committee (JCC) of the CPEC recently met in Islamabad could not conclude agreements on development projects and special industrial zones.

It is a pity that a single person on our side is the ‘be all’ and the ‘end all’ of a mega economic and strategic initiative as crucial as CPEC. The project is not germane to the ruling party or one province. Hence the urgent need to broaden its decision-making process and base, especially to assuage the fears of the smaller provinces.

In the JCC meeting the Chinese team complained about lack of political stability in Pakistan. The present uncertainty is bound to affect CPEC as well as general economic progress. That is why our squabbling politicians should be getting their act together instead of grandstanding on petty issues.

The former prime minster Nawaz Sharif takes great pride in being the architect of CPEC. He for the sake of the country should tone down his rhetoric and empower his hand picked prime minister to run the economy unimpeded.

Arif Nizami