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Pakistani PM defends Chinese political model and all-weather friendship with Beijing

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Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has been criticized by politicians and commentators for his praise of China’s autocratic one-party system, which he said offered a better model for countries compared to electoral democracy.

Speaking by video link at the summit of the Chinese Communist Party and world political parties in Islamabad on July 6, Khan said Pakistan hopes to emulate the party’s remarkable achievements in development and nation-building and praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for launching the Belt and Road. Initiative (BRI).

The statements follow statements Khan made to Chinese state media on July 1 on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, where he offered his support for Beijing’s repressive policies against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the country. Xinjiang and praised the Chinese political system. .

the [Chinese Communist Party] is a unique model. So far, we’ve been told that the best way for societies to improve themselves has been through the Western system of democracy, Khan said. And they actually beat all western democracies in the way they elevated merit in their society.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2019.

The close relationship between China and Pakistan – which dates back to the early days of the Cold War – has been strengthened in recent years thanks to the expansion of the BRI, in which Beijing has become an increasingly important economic and political patron. for Islamabad.

Despite the close ties, Khan’s praise for an authoritarian and oppressive one-party system has also been criticized at home by independent politicians and analysts.

It is a dangerous thought if Imran Khan is to convert Pakistan to China, famed Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir wrote on Twitter following the Prime Minister’s interview with Chinese media. Friendship with China is good, but the Chinese system cannot work in Pakistan.

Echoing these sentiments, Murtaza Solangi, another prominent journalist, offered a critique of Khan’s words, citing a poem by the famous poet and leftist activist Habib Jalib.

China is our friend, we are ready to sacrifice ourselves for it. But the system that runs China, don’t go that way, we’ll have our solution from afar, Solangi tweeted.

Iron brothers

Official statements from Beijing and Islamabad often refer to the two countries’ relationship as unbreakable, calling them iron brothers who maintain a friendship in all weather.

The massive China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project has become the centerpiece of the BRI, growing in size and scope into a bundle of energy and development projects that could reach $ 62 billion when completed.

Beijing also has strong relations with the Pakistani military, with China relying on Islamabad as it seeks to deal with the complex security situation in the region triggered by the withdrawal of US-led Western troops from Afghanistan.

Construction alongside a CPEC project in Pakistan. (archive photo)

Pakistan also expressed support for China early on during the COVID-19 pandemic, with Beijing sending millions of vaccines to its South Asian neighbor.

The main motivation behind [Khan’s] These remarks are the fact that China is Pakistan’s main source of political and economic support and Islamabad cannot afford to alienate its closest ally, Sino relations expert Filippo Boni told RFE / RL. -Pakistani at the Open University in Great Britain.

Despite the political maneuvering that the generally pro-China Pakistani political class would expect, Khan’s comments were still seen as going beyond the bounds by some.

Mushahid Hussain Syed, a senator from the Pakistan Muslim League opposition party, told RFE / RL’s Radio Mashaal that he believed Khan’s statement was more related to [the] The Sino-Pakistani friendship and it has nothing to do with democracy.

Lahore-based analyst Rasul Bakhsh Rais also criticized the prime ministers’ comments, telling Radio Mashaal that the region has a long history of constitutional democracy and, while the Chinese model has indeed strengthened the Chinese economy, it has also deprived the Chinese people of their democratic rights.

Execution [the] The Chinese model here in Pakistan is not possible, he said.

Pakistan’s former envoy to the United Nations Maliha Lodhi expressed concern that such overt praise for the communist system by Khan could have diplomatic consequences and lead to communication problems that could damage other important relations. for Pakistan.

Knowing when not to say something publicly and when to speak is essential in diplomacy. Words have consequences, intentional or not, Lodhi wrote in a July 5 editorial in Dawn, a leading Pakistani newspaper.

These considerations appear to have been ignored in foreign policy statements and interviews with key government leaders, causing unnecessary confusion and slippage, which are of no use to the country, she added.

Different audiences

In addition to his favorable statements about the Chinese political system, Khan also lent his support during talks on China’s policy in the western province of Xinjiang, where Beijing runs internment camps targeting Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities.

United Nations human rights officials estimate more than a million Muslims are being held in the camp system, sparking an international outcry that has included the US government and the parliaments of several Western countries calling China’s actions in Xinjiang of genocide.

Ethnic Uyghurs sit in a classroom during a press tour of an internment center that Beijing has called a “vocational training center.”

Beijing has denied the accusations and called the camps centers of vocational education and training, defending them as necessary to counter extremism.

Khan said on July 1, echoing previous statements, that he accepted the Chinese narrative.

Because we have a very strong relationship with China and because we have a relationship based on trust, so we accept the Chinese version, Khan said in an interview with Chinese media. What they say about the programs in Xinjiang we accept.

The prime minister’s stance on the treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang contrasts with his outspoken advocacy against Islamophobia and discrimination against Muslims, especially in European countries.

At a time when the West confronts China over its human rights record, Pakistan has made it clear where its priorities and allegiances lie, Boni said.

Daniel Markey, professor at Johns Hopkins University and former head of the State Department for South Asia, told RFE / RL that Khan’s recent comments, which were delivered in English, were intended for an audience international, mainly Chinese, not national.

Pakistani leaders have long relied on the fact that they can effectively control the messages addressed to the vast majority of their people, even in the [online] the media age, Markey said.

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