LED largely by a jubilant CPEC discourse in recent years, Pakistan-China ties have entered a review and rationalisation phase. The outcome of this process has yet to be seen, but it has already started to raise expectations on both sides.

On the eve of Prime Minister Imran Khanís visit to Beijing, many in Pakistan were anticipating maximum economic cooperation from China ó at least a six-billion-dollar package. This anticipation rested on their idea of the strategic significance that Pakistan has for the Chinese dream of comprehensive global connectivity for Chinaís economy. As it appears now, China is more concerned about the early completion of the CPEC projects under way. Perhaps it had not experienced any uncertainty about the fate of CPEC projects since the initiative was launched in 2013.

In fact, both countries have been caught in their own trap of CPEC sloganeering, with Ďgame changerí being a popular catchphrase. They are back to the basics now and trying to find ways for broader cooperation that takes them beyond CPEC.

The CPEC initiative came at a time when Pakistanís economy was under severe stress and its relations with the US were at a low point. Pakistan perceived CPEC as a groundbreaking project that would shift its economic and defence cooperation needs towards China. However, China was not willing to take Americaís place and, instead, wanted Pakistanís geo-economic cooperation to make its Belt and Road Initiative a success. In fact, these divergent motives were not properly thought through during the inception phase; nor had the two sides realised the future complications. While for China, CPEC was a tool to achieve its broader connectivity goal, Pakistan perceived it as an antidote to all its ills ranging from economic to geopolitical.

Both Pakistan and China have been caught in their own trap of CPEC sloganeering.

Domestically, the trade and investment atmosphere was made China-friendly. The government and bureaucracy even discouraged companies from other regions to invest in Pakistan. Initially, it proved an ideal equation for Chinese companies, but the demand to bring things into the public discourse and make them transparent annoyed them. In the regional and strategic context, too, Pakistanís dependence on China increased.

An interesting comment has been made that China wants a partner for its geo-economic ambitions but Pakistan is in search of another America.

Pakistanís strategic compulsions have been shaping its foreign policy orientation, including bilateral ties with China.

On the other hand, China has a global dream, which is linked to an ambitious idea of rejuvenation where it sees itself as a leader of global governance. The BRI is an instrument to fulfil this dream. Through geo-economic connectivity, China will develop its soft power, which will also help it to boost its geo-strategic and political advantages.

Soft power needs a soft image; a state with authoritarian traits cannot develop this image. However, China is trying to develop compatibility with global norms without compromising on what are its core principles. Renowned economist Dambisa Moyo, in her recent book Edge of Chaos: Why Democracy is Failing to Deliver Economic Growth ó and How to Fix It, has argued that systems like the one in China could become more prevalent despite their severe implications for individual liberties.

Chinaís economic growth and its success story of poverty reduction have caught the attention of many nations including Pakistan. These two factors are boosting its image as a soft power. To sustain this image, China would have to avoid initiating confrontation in the region and the world at large. Where the ongoing trade war between the US and China is concerned, many analysts believe that this will not be protracted as it would have negative consequences for both sides in the longer term.

China is also cultivating a new geo-economic relationship in its immediate neighbourhood where it is attempting to pacify tensions. Its relations with Japan are changing rapidly, and trade and economic cooperation are transforming bilateral ties. During Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abeís recent visit to China, both sides agreed to resolve all their issues through constructive high-level dialogue.

China and other major actors in the South China Sea tensions are trying to pacify the situation, with China increasing its geo-economic ties in the region. The Philippines have recently signed agreements involving economic cooperation and China has agreed to provide $73 million in economic and infrastructure assistance to the country.

China is following a similar approach in South Asia as it moves to transform its relations with India. In Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yiís words, ď...the strategic value of China-India cooperation will speak for itself, and there will be a prospect of the dragon and the elephant dancing togetherĒ.

For Pakistan, the challenge is how to develop compatibility with the ambitious Chinese designs without compromising on its conventional strategic objectives. China cannot portray its adversaries as enemies to forward its geo-economic and political interests. The challenge for Pakistan becomes more complex when it does not want to be tagged as a client state but still finds it hard to diversify its strategic, economic and diplomatic relations.

However, albeit gradually, Beijing, Riyadh, Istanbul and to some extent Moscow have become significant in Pakistanís relations with the international community and in managing its ties with Washington, Delhi, Kabul and Tehran.

Pakistan may not be expecting much from China in financial terms, but the latter country would have certain expectations. These expectations vary from concessions for Chinese companies in Pakistan to the latterís role in regional affairs. China does not want an escalation in tensions in its neighbourhood whether these are in South, East or Central Asia. These tensions vary from extremism and terrorism to border disputes and they attract global attention, which is not good for CPEC or the BRI as a whole.

The economy and relations with its neighbours remain Pakistanís main challenges. These can be addressed if the power elites come out of their hibernation.

By: Muhammad Amir Rana
Source: https://www.dawn.com