AMB. G R BALUCH – It was on July 9, 1971, that Mr Henry Kissinger, the then National Security Advisor to US President Richard Nixon, traveled from Islamabad to Beijing to meet Chinese Premier Zhou En Lai. Indeed, a momentous trip that changed world politics for good. China and the US established diplomatic relations and soon, China was rightfully set on the prestigious and powerful seat of the UN Security Council.
China has never forgotten the historic role played by Pakistan for its integration into the global and international systems. Since then, China has moved a long distance; emerging as the global manufacturing powerhouse; second-largest economy in the world, and creating spheres of political and diplomatic influence around the globe.
Snap to the present and Pakistan is once again playing a bridge between China and the Muslim world. Pakistan hosted Chinese Foreign Minister Mr Wong Yi on March 22, 2022, to deliver his address to the Muslim world on the forum of the 48th OIC Foreign Ministers Conference in Islamabad. It was attended by 48 Muslim Foreign Ministers out of the 58 members. OIC is the largest multilateral platform after the UN. In terms of demographics, the OIC, with 1.5 billion, represents a quarter of the world population.
Historically, a significant number of the prominent Muslim countries have had close relations with the West in general and with the US in particular. The ruling elite in the countries has maintained a pro-West tilt. However, in recent years, several changes have been witnessed internally in these countries. China’s relations with the Muslim world have acquired special significance in the fast-changing international geopolitics and geoeconomy. China is investing over US $400 billion across the Muslim World under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Foreign Minister Wong Yi claimed in his speech. The emergence of China as an alternate global power seems to have given the pro-west Muslim Regimes an alternative for diplomatic, economic and security dependence. Another factor to gravitate to Muslim countries is the “value-free” foreign policy, which is premised on non-interference in the internal policies and governance structures of other countries. The western countries’ emphasis on human rights, women’s rights, and democracy is at odds with the objective political realities in a number of Muslim countries, which are monarchies, semi-authoritarian regimes or fledgling democracies. Another factor that has made the US and the West unpopular among the Muslim countries is the former’s unflinching support to Israel, a state carved out of Palestinian land, which also include historic sacred religious places for Muslims, including Al-Aqsa Mosque. China maintains diplomatic relations with Israel for the last 30 years, and the two countries have developed close cooperation in the economic, trade and technological fields. However, China has been able to maintain a principled and balanced stance on the rights of the Palestinians, including their right to a separate and independent state.
The new generation of leadership in some important Muslim capitals is asserting independence and resents the US’ assertive stance on their domestic policies, including human rights, freedom of opinion, etc. These leaders are inclined to forge much closer political and economic relations with China in an emerging global power.
Mr Wong Yi, in his concluding remarks, struck a chord with the emerging public opinion, not only in Muslim countries but the world at large:
“China is ready to work with Islamic countries to promote a multipolar world, democracy in international relations and diversity of human civilizations and make universal efforts to build a community with a shared future for mankind.”
The writer is former Ambassador of Pakistan to Vietnam