International webinar on growing China-Iran Cooperation, CPEC held

Islamabad: An international webinar titled ‘China-Iran Growing Cooperation and Role for Regional Convergence through China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC): Prospects for Pakistan’ was organized here on Monday afternoon.

The Islamabad Institute of Conflict Resolution (IICR) organized the one-day international webinar. Eminent speakers included Director China-Pakistan Study Center Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) Senator Dr Talat Shabbir, Chief Executive Officer Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Board of Investment and Trade (KP-BOIT) Hassan Daud, Chinese scholar Professor Dr Zhou Rong, Dean Social Sciences Quaid-e-Azam University Dr Nazir Hussain and Chairman Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Senator Mushaid Hussain Syed and former Pakistan ambassador to China Naghmana Hashmi. The Session was moderated by Syed Nasir Hassan.

Speaking to the panel Dr Talat Shabbir shared that Iran faces serious repercussion in international arena but that cannot deny the strategic vitality it holds meanwhile china is enhancing its multilateralism and trying to connect with regional as well as global countries.

In 2019 China invested nearly $29 billion in Iran and most of it was in energy sector. Reciprocating this Beijing is one of the core customers of Iranian oil which fortifies their interdependency. Adding more Dr. Talat said that Iran holds strategic sea lines position which China can benefit for its Belt and Road Initiative.

The things should be seen through economic prism which can usher new beginning of Tri-lateral relations between all three countries under the economic umbrella, said Dr Shabbir.

Addressing the participants Hassan Daud emphasized that Persian Gulf was a complex competing zone amid a clash of interests. The government of Pakistan was extending the scope of CPEC to open new avenues of prosperity while emphasizing development in less developed areas government is opening new doors for regional integration, he mentioned.

Daud said that the western borders were extremely critical as they were gateways to not only energy and resources but also for Central Asia. Speaking on cultural affinity Hassan Daud said that both Pakistan and Iran share deep linguistic and cultural ties which is quite visible in many national aspects. Similarly, Gwadar and Cha-Bahar both deep seaports complement each other and Chinese involvement in Cha-Bahar could be beneficial for all three parties.

He said that both Pakistan and Iran can support each other and supplement each other as both are deep seaports which hold strategic as well as economic importance. While sharing his views on research and Development Daud said that Pakistan only contributes 0.24% of its GDP and similarly Iran also spends meagre amount which is 0.83% of its GDP. Both countries are progressing on economics which calls for collaboration and in order to extend economic objectives there is a need to look back at China in 1980s and learn from its experiences.

Chinese scholar Professor Zhou Rong said the level of relationship and trust between China and Pakistan was far above another relationship. The level of understanding between the two states is no match to China-Iran Relations even though China shares good relationship with Iran, he remarked.

He maintained that CPEC could become China-Iran-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CIPEC) but it would take time. Chinese government has not announced any long-term agreement with Iran. However, Iranian government unilaterally talked about the agreement to show it as a symbolic gesture to US, he added.

As far as CPEC is concerned he said “we have seen that with development prosperity comes, and hence Pakistan through 2nd & 3rd phase of CPEC would be able to attract more employment, infrastructure, and conducive business environment.”

Former Pakistani ambassador to China Naghmana Hashmi shared her thoughts on the said topic. In her address she restated that this bond of brotherhood which diplomatically established in 1971 was becoming stronger with each day passing. She said that the years 1978-79 were both crucial for Iran and China, ironically when Beijing was onto the historical venture rapprochement with Washington, Tehran sheerly discredited any option of siding with Washington.

She said throughout the course of last quarter of 20th century, Iran and China suffered manyturbulences in their relationship. Shedding light on contemporary relationship between China and Iran, Hashmi said that the close affinity of Tehran and Beijing is clearly seen as bad omen for the west particularly United States.

The partnership agreement among both the countries which is still under consideration has very significant provisions which will further create a strong interdependency among both countries. Adding further she said that the prosperity of CPEC and regional sustainability is also depended on relationship with Iran.

In his speech, Dr Nazir Hussain said that Pakistan needed to revisit its foreign policy in many aspects, particularly the country’s foreign policy needs to look beyond regional countries and extend its horizons to global scale.

The partnership pact between China and Iran was a great opportunity for Pakistan as the trade between both the countries would need the land of Pakistan due to the costly and time taking sea lanes.

In addition, he said that Pakistan needed to stop looking relations through the prism of Bi-literalism and think through National Interest. In current canvas here lies an opportunity provided by China and emerging geo-political environment and Pakistan needs to cash it. Lastly adding Dr. Nazir said that Pakistan needs to look beyond CPEC and explore more options in the globe, but foremost Pakistan needs to give-up the emotional approach to foreign policy.

On his turn, Senator Mushaid Hussain Syed said that there are few things which needed to be discussed as new realities are emerging. The foremost reality was that new administration under Joe Biden will look for reinstating Iran Nuclear Deal and lift sanctions. In this regards US has stopped supplying arms to KSA and UAE, he added.

Elaborating he said that it should not be forgot that Biden administration is same as Barrack Obama and under John Kerry the national security team played crucial role in securing Iran Nuclear Deal which are again part of Biden administration. Keeping this there is a possibility that Iran and United States could go for normalizing of the relations between two.

The Senator said that another factor was that last December there was a meeting of joint working group of CPEC on international cooperation in Urumqi, China. In that meeting it was decided that China and Pakistan both would welcome any other party to CPEC most probably Iran and Afghanistan.

The third aspect, said the Senator, was that there had been two major border clashes between India and China. In this prospect China needs more friends in the region to counter the influence of Indian aggression.

Further, he said that there had been improvement in relations between Pakistan and Iran due to visits by high profile personalities of both countries. Lastly the Senator said that China and Iran’s collaboration was great news for Pakistan, and it should benefit by all means.

“India’s exit from Cha-Bahar could be a welcoming fact for Pakistan and this bond would secure CPEC for Pakistan. However, both Iran and China are moving cautiously, and this bond is not sealed yet, it a work in progress,” he pointed out. The webinar ended with the vote of thanks by Sabah Aslam, CEO IICR.