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With the coming change of guard in Beijing, this is the time for Islamabad to reorient its relationship with its most enduring ally.
AHMED QURAISHI | Monday | 8 November 2010
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—The transfer of power in Beijing to China’s fifth-generation leadership is being closely watched in world capitals, but nowhere more than in Islamabad. China is an anchor of stability in Pakistan’s southwest-central Asia region where multiple powers are at play. And Pakistanis are keen to take the Sino-Pakistani cooperation to the next levels in the new century.
Despite pressing developments around Pakistan’s immediate borders, observers here watched with interest as China’s Vice President Xi Jinping was elected three weeks ago to an office that positions him as a possible next president of China. On Oct. 18, the Central Committee of the Community Party of China elected Mr. Xi [pronounced ‘Shi’] to the office of Vice Chairman of Central Military Commission, the highest military body in the country. This is in addition to his vice presidential duties. The position increases the chances that Mr. Xi might be designated by the party in 2012 as the next President of China.
The incumbent President Hu Jintao was also promoted to the same position in 1999 before taking over as president three years later. Mr. Xi’s rise signifies the robust political elimination and promotion process inside the CCP, where best of the best reach the top. China’s ruling party provides its members opportunities for personal growth and excellence. Its political culture is often described as dog-eat-dog and is laden with real-life tests in various public service positions that test a candidate’s metal. It ensures that only skilled political operatives make it to the higher ranks. Incumbent President Hu went through this process. When he wasn’t even 14 years old, President Hu was a member of the Young Pioneers, promoted later into the 100-million-member Communist Youth League, the youth wing of the party.
In contrast, Vice President Xi is seen in Beijing as someone who owes his career to his father’s connections, who was a veteran of the party. This class of CPC members is often derided because it had it easy through their parent’s party connections. But Mr. Xi has proven his metal and maybe that’s why he is different. Xi will be honing his skills over the next three years overseeing the world’s largest military machine. This experience will be in addition to his two existing skills: politically a diehard nationalist and economically a liberal, not as in IMF and World Bank liberal but a Chinese-market liberal.
A visit to Shanghai and the economically vibrant provinces of Zhejiang and Fujian shows Mr. Xi’s genius. When he was running the two, he turned the natives into round the clock moneymaking machines, encouraging them to make money, spend money and enjoy the good life. To make life enjoyable, he showed how the State can step in and lead a people into cultural, musical and educational progress.
Politically, and during a visit to Mexico last year as Vice President of China, Mr. Xi discarded the traditional reticence of Chinese officialdom and blasted ‘foreigners who meddle in China’s affairs’ during a public address. The message was probably meant for Mexico’s next-door neighbor. But he has also told high ranking US delegations visiting Beijing that he wants to further improve relations with the United States.
But even this may not be enough for some US policymakers. Take veteran US senator John McCain for example. As Mr. Obama headed for India, McCain said both India and the US want China to use its rising power ‘responsibly’. Maybe Mr. McCain was alluding to the need to avoid the US track record in ‘responsible’ application of power.
Despite strong military-to-military relations, Pakistan has been slow in promoting Sino-Pak ties in other areas. This is where private Pakistani citizens have stepped in. Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, laid the foundations last year of the Pakistan-China Institute to bring young Chinese and Pakistanis together. A large chain of private schools in Pakistan will begin offering elective Chinese language courses to undergrad students from next year. But despite inking agreements as far back as two decades ago, the Chinese privately complain that the Pakistani state-run media has failed to provide Pakistani television content dubbed into Chinese. Instead, hundreds of local TV stations in Chinese cities receive free copies of Indian TV content with local dubbing, for free.
The Chinese, indeed the whole world, know very little about the booming Pakistani music, theater and fashion scenes, all being led by young Pakistanis. Pakistan’s older-generation politicians and managers are unable to promote this emerging Pakistani face. In China’s context, the result is that Pakistan’s best friends are limited to Chinese official circles. The rest of the booming segments of the Chinese society know little about their equally robust Pakistani counterparts.
With the coming change of guard in Beijing, Islamabad should be looking to expanding the existing cooperation between the two countries in new areas. Maybe we could start by inviting Mrs. Xi, who is a famous folk singer, to regale Islamabad’s discerning elite with the tunes of old and new China. Opportunities exist if we know where to start.
A version of this column appeared in The News International.
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