The Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR) is organizing a roundtable discussion on “China-Pakistan People to People Contact: Critical Evaluation and Future Outlook”. Mr. Usman Shahid will be speaking about the measures taken to establish or improve people-to-people contact between both countries after the operationalization of CPEC in 2015. He will evaluate whether these measures are truly serving the purpose. In the end, he will also explain challenges and prospects of people-to-people contact.
Usman Shahid is a doctoral fellow at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. He has previously worked in Pakistan as a journalist and a lecturer in politics and communication studies. He is also a fellow of the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ). As a policy analyst, Shahid contributes to international publications focused on South Asian politics and regional security. His research interests include China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Pakistan’s bilateral relations with India, China and Afghanistan. He is also the author of a book titled Indo-Pak People to People Contact: A Victim of National Insecurities
The Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR) convened a roundtable discussion on ‘China-Pakistan People to People Contact: Critical Evaluation and Future Outlook’. The event took place on February 27, 2020 from 1500 to 1700 hours at the Centre’s office.
Societal and individual-level interactions form an important contour of inter-state bilateral ties. Realising the lag in individual-level interactions between Pakistani and Chinese nationals, the event was designed to generate a scholarly debate that could critically appraise the challenges posed to people to people contacts between Chinese and Pakistani nationals and suggest mechanisms required to establish a wider and deeper individual-level communication framework. Members of academia, research community and print media, based in Islamabad also became a part of the event.
Mr. Usman Shahid, who holds his expertise in the relevant research area was invited as the guest speaker at the event. Mr. Shahid, author of the book ‘Indo-Pak People to People Contact: A Victim of National Insecurities’ is currently a doctoral fellow at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. His areas of research include Pakistan’s bi-lateral ties with China, India and Afghanistan.
As the event commenced, Ms. Syeda Ailiya Naqvi, Managing Editor at the CSCR, welcomed the distinguished guest speaker and the audience which had joined the event. Further the Managing Editor introduced the guest speaker to the audience and formally opened the house for discussion.
Mr. Usman Shahid opened the discussion by commending the CSCR for identifying a highly crucial research and policy gap pertaining to Pak-China bilateral ties. Sharing academic literature that he found apt for studying Pak-China bilateral relations, Mr. Shahid told the audience that literary scholarship lacked academic works on the topic being discussed. Presenting a quick historical overview of bilateral ties between the two countries, he suggested that historically, the bilateral relation has predominantly remained a strategic one which needs to be evolved into an economic and political one.
Presenting the brighter side, Mr. Shahid elucidated the audience with the initiative taken up by the governments of both states to facilitate people to people interactions. He identified the MoUs signed between the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League – N (PML-N) and PTI whenever these political parties came into power. In terms of organisational level, Mr. Shahid stated that different form of cooperation have been undertaken by Chinese and Pakistani media groups. He mentioned China’s efforts to develop a soft image by initiating Journalist exchange programs and providing scholarships to members of Pakistani media groups. Further, he talked academic scholarships provided to Pakistani students. He told the audience that Pakistan is a recipient of around three to five thousand academic scholarships out of around 10 thousand scholarships announced annually. The scholarships generally encompass fields of Medical Sciences, Artificial Intelligence, Language courses and cultural exchanges.
Next, identifying the challenges to the phenomenon Mr. Shahid suggested that lack of direct and easy connectivity between the two states remains one pressing issue and requires Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) to be taken. Another challenge as identifies by Mr. Shahid was lack of clarity in Chinese investments in Pakistan. However, the most important factor that impedes people to people contacts, as argued by Mr. Shahid are cultural barriers. He argued that the two countries lack political, religious and linguistic commonalities. The two countries possess utterly different political governance models with Pakistan being a multi-party democratic state whereas China being a single-party authoritarian government. However, both countries lack soft power on world stage.
Mr. Shahid concluded his talk by deliberating on the measures that he believed could supplement the process of developing individual-level interactions between the two states. He suggested that organising cultural events and engaging the civil societies of both states could bring a positive effect. A substantial investment in research and people to people contact remains central to speeding up the phenomenon.
Next, the floor was opened for questions from the audience. A participant from the audience inquired the potential of tourism could be tapped for furthering people to people interactions. Responding to the question, Mr. Shahid asserted the need of engaging Chinese and Pakistani nationals in masses.
Another participant inquired about the reservations of Baloch population regarding the CPEC. The guest speaker responded by saying that including the local populations who hold their stakes in CPEC is highly pertinent. The relevant authorities should take steps to involve Baloch locals into the process. However, this is a long-term process.
At the end of the event, Mr. Anas Abdullah, the Executive Director of CSCR presented souvenir to the guest speaker.