KARACHI: Pakistan’s leaders love using laughably outrageous metaphors in describing the country’s relationship with China, yet the truth is that this so-called alliance means almost nothing positive for the Pakistani economy.
All of Islamabad – indeed all of Pakistan – appears to be bending over backwards in laying out the red carpet to welcome Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. But the fact of the matter is that China will give Pakistan almost nothing, and this two-day trip is really only being made by the Chinese premier to avoid slapping Islamabad in the face completely, after having made his first trip abroad a three-day visit to India, in a key signal about the real shifts in Chinese foreign policy.
Pakistanis love to proclaim China as our “all-weather friend. In his last visit to China, former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani described the relationship as “higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, stronger than steel and sweeter than honey.”
On this trip, Premier Li described the relationship as “a tree, now exuberant with abundant fruits”.
This was not him being poetic. It was delivering a message that nobody in Pakistan seems to have gotten: that China’s ties with Pakistan are not some eternal alliance of friends, but a strictly utilitarian relationship in which Beijing uses Islamabad occasionally to scare the living daylights out of the United States and India to get what it wants in its negotiations with Washington and New Delhi, and then abandons Pakistan once that transaction is completed.
A look at the numbers suggests that the Islamabad-Beijing relationship has had very little benefit for Pakistan as whole.
In the 12-year period between July 2000 and June 2012, net foreign investment in Pakistan amounted to about $29 billion, according to the State Bank of Pakistan. Of that, just $0.8 billion came from China, and nearly all of that was China Mobile’s investment in Zong.
China’s investment in Pakistan is less than that of tiny Netherlands, which invested $1.4 billion during that time. The supposed “Great Satan” – the United States – invested the most in Pakistan: $7.7 billion, or more than a quarter of all foreign investment in the country. There is only one major Chinese company with actual investments in Pakistan: China Mobile. The number of major US companies investing in Pakistan? More than 30.