Fraught ties with India, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and the Covid-19 pandemic will likely be key topics of discussion at a strategic dialogue between Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi and Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mahmood Qureshi in the sunny south China province of Hainan on Thursday and Friday.
The Chinese foreign ministry on Thursday formally announced that minister Wang, who is also the state councilor, will host Qureshi for the two-day second round of China-Pakistan strategic foreign ministers’ dialogue in Hainan, beginning today.
Qureshi’s visit will be one of the first high-profile diplomatic visits to China as the country emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic; the Indonesian FM Retno Marsudi is already here on a two-day visit, which began Wednesday.
The two top diplomats from China and Pakistan will meet at a time when both Beijing and Islamabad’s ties with New Delhi have taken a nosedive over the Sino-India border tension in eastern Ladakh, and (with Pakistan) on the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir and terrorism.
“This time the strategic dialogue is highly relevant and the two sides will take the opportunity to discuss anti-epidemic cooperation, bilateral ties and other regional and international issues of mutual interest,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian announced at the regular ministry briefing on Thursday.
“We believe this dialogue will help to enhance our strategic mutual trust, deepen our practical cooperation and strengthen our close coordination on international and regional affairs,” Zhao emphasised.
The last China-Pakistan foreign ministers’ strategic dialogue was held in March, 2019. Zhao said it had led to consensus on several matters and played an important role in the development of bilateral relations.
Zhao added that this dialogue mechanism is a platform for the two “iron brothers” to coordinate exchanges in various fields, discuss policy suggestions on the bilateral ties and enhance coordination and communication on international and regional issues.
Tackling the Covid-19 pandemic will also be in focus, Zhao added.
Wang and Qureshi will discuss the progress of the CPEC, the flagship project under President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the ambitious connectivity venture that aims to connect China with Asia and Europe through infrastructure like highways and ports.
“Indeed, the CPEC has not progressed as planned, with several large projects shelved and others still uncompleted. The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to slow things down further, even though Pakistan on Thursday approved the costliest project to date, a $6.8 billion upgrade to railway lines,” an analysis in the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post said in the first week of August.
The bilateral meeting comes in the backdrop of Beijing in July, for the first time, urging Afghanistan, Nepal and Pakistan to carry “four-party cooperation” in fighting the coronavirus pandemic and continue to build projects under the BRI including the CPEC.
Presiding over a virtual meeting with ministers from the three countries on July 27, Wang said the four should work together to extend the CPEC to Afghanistan.
The four countries should “…Give full play to geographic advantages, strengthen exchanges and connections between the four countries and Central Asian countries, and maintain regional peace and stability,” Wang said.
Wang and Qureshi are also likely to discuss ways in which China could play a bigger role in war-torn Afghanistan’s peace process.
Interestingly in a television interview this week, Prime Minister Imran Khan said: “It should be clear that our future is connected with China… China also needs Pakistan very much. China is our only friend which has remained politically steadfast with Pakistan during good and bad times,” PM Khan had said.
In the same interview with Pakistan’s Dunya News, Khan said Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit Pakistan later this year.