What we didn’t learn from China

Pakistan has repeatedly tested the policy of exploiting religion as the centerpiece of its internal and external policy choices; it has only eroded our national cohesion and international acceptance

Pakistan’s friendship with china was founded in 1950 soon after the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) emerged as the sole entity to represent China under the chairman Mao Zedong. Pakistan was among the first few countries in the world which ended its diplomatic relations with nationalists led Republic of China in favor of PRC led by Mao Zedong. Since then the friendship between the two countries has only deepened.

The nature of bilateral relations between the two countries is reflected in cooperation in the fields of military, engineering, technology transfer, education, and more importantly in socio-economic development projects. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the epitome of the strength of bilateral relations between China and Pakistan. While Pakistan has acquired a great deal of technology, expertise, technical assistance, foreign direct investment from China, seemingly Pakistan has learnt little from China in terms of what principles should define its foreign and national security policies which are so important to secure stability for any country. The kind of China we see today, where they are now manufacturing passenger planes which will compete with established brands such as Airbus, is the result of how much Chinese culture emphasises on peace and harmony.

In order to understand this it would certainly be interesting to note that all academics and virtually all Chinese agree that the basin of Yellow River, locally known as ‘Huang He’, was the cradle of Chinese civilisation. The Huang He is the symbol of the Chinese spirit, which is defined as bearing burdens, as this river bears immense sediment; adaptation, its zigzag course; and perseverance in the form of its continual flow. The civilisation that emerged from Huang He basin religiously believed in the utmost importance of peace and harmony from personal to stately matters.

In addition to the emphasis by Confucianism on peace and harmony as the most preferable value and that on ‘action without action’ by Taoism, Chinese psyche draws inspiration from another two things. One is the work of the great strategist Master Sun Tzu who gave Chinese and the world a masterpiece, ‘The Art of War’, on military strategy. Sun Tzu treatise urges ‘to subdue the enemy without fighting’. Beyond its militaristic aim interestingly the ideas from his work are today used as a lesson in business schools after more than 2000 years.

It might be worthwhile for Pakistan to adopt, at least for the next two decades, what Chinese did: prioritise domestic wellbeing, and seek peaceful development without discarding its principled stands on subjects such as Kashmir

The second element is Chinas political history: China since ancient times has suffered at the hands of formidable invaders and enemies. Just for instance, millions of tourists visit and climb the Great Wall of China every year. The Wall which snakes across the mountains was not erected for tourism but for defense and personifies the defensive nature of ancient China. As late as in World War II, as per Chinese estimates, they suffered around 35 million civilian and military related deaths and as much as 600 billion in the direct and indirect economic losses.

Learning from the local philosophies of Confucianism, Taoism and from its pain-filled history, the modern China after WW-II concentrated on being in peace internally and externally without withdrawing from its principled stands on issues such as of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau. Adhering to the erstwhile Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s saying of ‘keeping low profile and hiding one’s brightness’ China pursued a policy of ‘peaceful development’ which aimed at international cooperation and peace as a foreign policy goal. Consequently, China today is the world’s second largest economy, largest trading nation in goods, and largest holder of foreign exchange reserves, and largest trading partner for nearly 130 countries, including Pakistan.

It’s so deplorable on the part of Pakistani leadership both the political and military, who directly ruled this country almost equally now, that during all these decades of close association with China they have failed to learn from Chinese model in internal and external peace and development. Having the success of Chinese policies in backdrop, it looks so tragic that Pakistan insistently followed a semi-theocratic approach, which was so profusely laced with populist emotionalism, in dealing with national and international challenges.

Perhaps never before in its history did Pakistan need to reflect and look for course correction than now, when the US and the West’s suspicion over our commitment to world peace is at the crest, besides our internal challenges. Pakistan has repeatedly tested the policy of exploiting religion as the centerpiece of its internal and external policy choices; it has only eroded our national cohesion and international acceptance. It might be worthwhile for Pakistan to adopt, at least for the next two decades, what Chinese did ie prioritise domestic wellbeing, and seek peaceful development without discarding its principled stands on subjects such as Kashmir.

The writer is a sociologist with interest in history and politics. He tweets @ZulfiRao1

Published in Daily Times, January 4th 2018.