The institutional framework through which China plans to strengthen its development cooperation consists of the prevalent network of international organizations with the United Nations (UN) at the core. These institutions were created for the “North-South Cooperation”. In a recent white paper published by the State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, while critiquing the prevalent models of development, China acknowledges the “North-South cooperation” as the main channel for international development cooperation and urges the developed nations to be considerate of the recipient countries’ national conditions.
This identifies a notable inconsistency in China’s development discourse; critiquing the North-South development models, and trying to realize its vision of the “New Era of International Development Cooperation”, under the principle of the “South-South Cooperation”, but through the same international institutional and normative framework. Considering this, it is important to question whether the Chinese model of development could really diverge from the traditional exploitative developmental interaction that has been taking place between the North and the South. To discuss this, the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research is arranging an online session engaging leading experts on the subject from across Pakistan.
Dr. Abid Qaiyum Suleri has been heading the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Pakistan’s premier policy research think-tank, since 2007. He is a member of different policy-making forums and advisory boards, including Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council; National Advisory Council of Planning commission of Pakistan; Pakistan Climate Change Council; convener of Food Security Advisory Group at National Security Division Govt of Pakistan; and member of Agricultural Universities Vice Chancellor’s Search Committee, Govt of Punjab. He is also serving on different international policy-making forums.
Dr. Sun Hongqi teaches Modern World History, International Relations, including Pakistan and South Asian History, at Jiangsu Normal University from1985 to date. He has a Ph.D. in world history from Beijing University and I currently a Professor of the School of History, Culture, and Tourism at the Jiangsu Normal University.
Mosharraf Zaidi is a public policy professional. He is the Chief Executive and Senior Fellow at the Tabadlab. Previously, he was with the Alif Ailaan campaign to help address Pakistan’s education crisis. He has also served as the principal Advisor to the Foreign Minister of Pakistan.
Stella Hong Zhang is a Ph.D. candidate at George Mason University. Her research interests include the Chinese political economy, international expansion of Chinese state-owned enterprises, China’s international development cooperation, and foreign aid. She studies the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as a key case of China’s international development engagement in her dissertation. Previously she had worked as a correspondent in Europe and the U.S. for China’s Caixin Media.
Speakers at the webinar emphasised that China is not coming as a “have” trying to give to the “have-nots,” nor is the Chinese model of development response to a specific economic crisis. Rather, China wants to continue its development journey by helping other countries grow the way it did.
They were speaking at a webinar organised by the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR), an Islamabad-based policy think tank, to discuss the prospects, limitations, and scepticism surrounding the Chinese development cooperation. The speakers unanimously highlighted that the Chinese development model based on South-South cooperation does not stand antagonistic to that of the West. Instead, it projects a new voice of the developing world through international cooperation rather than aid programs.
Anas Abdullah, Executive Director of CSCR, initiated the event with his welcome remarks about the newly issued third Chinese white paper on January 10, 2021, as providing guiding principles to the Chinese global development outreach. “The release of the paper solidifies the perception of China’s role as a global development actor, in supporting multilateral cooperation”, he said. He further added that the Chinese model depicts assurances at a time when the United States’ credibility in the global system has been in a decline.
Mr Mosharraf Zaidi, Chief Executive and Senior Fellow Tabadlab said that unlike the “liberal guilt” of the West, China does not have to correct a “historical wrong”. He further cleared the air regarding the Western scepticism towards the Chinese development model by adding, “China is not exclusively creating an alternative narrative on development,” rather expanding the positive spillovers to the developing and the underdeveloped states. “For countries that understand China, like Pakistan, it is very clear that the Chinese model of development is not at the expense of Pakistan’s development.”
Speaking about the nature of the Chinese investment in the region, he added that Chinese investment, unlike popularly perceived, is not merely about brick and mortar; rather, human development is also a key part of it, constituting nearly a “quarter” of Chinese development cooperation. He also highlighted that a significant number of research-oriented efforts had debunked anti-China narratives, like debt diplomacy and others of the sort. He lamented how the lack of success in some of the Chinese investment was criticised. However, the evidence, he believed, proved to be otherwise. He said that the criticism directed at China gives testimony to the fact that the country is learning to play by the rules of the West. He, however, advised the Chinese policymakers to align the Chinese interests with its ultimate goals.
While answering a question, he opined that the question of debt sustainability was not for China to answer. The agent of change was instead the recipient country. He further said that Pakistan would be on-board for China, and it will be on-board for the U.S. He stressed the implementation of visionary policies.
“It is better to teach how to fish than to provide one”, said Dr Sun Hongqi, Director and Professor Pakistan Research Center, International Study Center based in Jiangsu Province, China. He signified the cardinal principles of the Chinese foreign aid policy, stating “equality and mutual benefit, remaining positive, committing to reform and innovation, among others.” He further added that capacity building, training and infrastructure building of the participants is a defining feature of China’s economic cooperation. While speaking about the contemporary challenges of the world, he emphasised that “the environment for global development is not favourable. Food crisis, climate change, epidemics of diseases, all have brought new challenges to developing countries needing a joint response.” This comes in the backdrop of the white paper titled China’s International Development Cooperation in the New Era, where China portrays itself as a “developing country promoting South-South cooperation.”
Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri, Executive Director, Sustainable Development Institute, was also a part of the webinar sharing his views on the Chinese development cooperation’s substantiveness and sustainability. He clarified that though “China was criticised for allegedly compromising environmental concerns and labour rights, yet MNCs coming into China withered the claims of China’s misuse of labour rights.” Speaking about climate change and environmental concerns engulfing the global arena, he highlighted, “After Mr Donald Trump assumed power in the U.S., China rightly became the leader of climate change issue.”
Dr Suleri, while answering a question, expressed his deep concerns about the recently held meeting of Quad members and suggested that the Quad members would not hesitate to maintain regional balance because the West had perceived Chinese development as detrimental to its hegemony.
Opining on the sustainable development agenda of Chinese development, he maintained that China had a proven track record of controlling air pollution, drawing attention to how Beijing and Shanghai had performed impressively in overcoming environmental challenges. He also praised China for working on the fourth generation of electro-volatile cells for solar panels.
Speaking at the webinar was also Ms Stella Hong Zhang, a Global Development Expert and a PhD candidate at George Mason University, Washington DC. She aptly underlined the significance of China’s third white paper as having a pronounced “philosophical emphasis, political flavour, structural explanations regarding Chinese Development cooperation.” When questioned about the “Third World” response to two alternative models of development, she stressed on the notion that unlike the Cold War scenario, the “Third World” does not have to pick sides between two ideological competitors rather the two development models exist in the a capitalist scenario and the recipient states must make the best out of the resources extended to them by both the US and China.
All the speakers indicated that to make the most out of the Chinese development cooperation, Pakistan needs first to address its internal bridging mechanisms. More so, “China can be a common denominator in the region, by virtue of its bilateral trade, and investment in countries like Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan. It is a win-win situation.”
Mr Zaidi concluded the event on an optimistic note, reiterating that it was in the hands of the developing countries to make the most out of the global geo-economic environment offered by the Chinese development model.