On 4th January 2021, Center for Global & Strategic Studies (CGSS), Islamabad organized an Online Conference on, Pakistan-China-Iran: Trilateral Cooperation: Opportunities and Way Forward.
The conference aimed to examine the opportunities in trilateral cooperation, particularly the sphere of economic partnership. Moreover, the conference also highlighted the prospects of economic cooperation between Gwadar and Chabahar port in the region under China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The conference was commenced with the welcome remarks from Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, Senior Member Board of Advisors, CGSS & Professor, School of Politics & IR, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan. He stated that it is a very timely initiative to organize this conference, there is huge potential in this cooperation and certain challenges as well, we must understand how to maximize the potential of triangular cooperation of Pakistan, Iran, and China.
His Excellency Syed Mohammad Ali Husseini, Ambassador of Iran to Pakistan discussed Iran's vibrant Foreign Policy and relationship with China and Pakistan. He discussed Iran-Pakistan cooperation by emphasizing the neighborhood component and in the light of the commonalities of the relations. Discussing the bilateral relations, he stated that believes Pakistan is the gateway to Asia and Iran is the gateway to Europe. This has made cooperation inevitable for the two countries. Furthermore, Iran has resources and these resources can meet the needs of Pakistan and other friendly & countries. If Pakistan requires energy, Iran has rich resources. If Iran is a drought-stricken country that needs rice and agricultural products, Pakistan is a rich source of these products.
He also highlighted the development of economic and trade relations between these countries. Chabahar Port in Iran and Gwadar Port in Pakistan have great potential to strengthen the connection between both economies in the first place and all countries in the region in the second place. He emphasized that the BRI and CPEC are undoubtedly favorable platforms for the development of regional cooperation, especially for the three countries of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and the People's Republic of China.
He concluded by announcing, that Iran is utilizing its full capacity to promote its ties with Pakistan in all spheres including trade and economic relations, and welcomes any idea and initiative to achieve this objective.
Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, Senior Member Board of Advisors, CGSS & Professor, School of Politics & IR, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan discussed Challenges in the path of China-Iran-Pakistan Economic Development. He highlighted that a new realignment process between all three countries is reemerging. The 400-billion-dollar Chinese investment for the next 25 years reported in US media in the middle of 2020 is good news for Pakistan.
While discussing the domain of domestic challenges he stated that the three states have to keep in mind that there are big potential challenges for their international and economic progress as well as stability. The second important challenge is the law and order issue. Pakistan has also been affected by propaganda and subversive activities against the economic corridor through BLA. He emphasized that Pakistan, Iran, and China have to deal with how to counter these rival powers who are trying to disrupt this trilateral relationship.
Furthermore, Pakistan and Iran’s ports are very important for many countries in this region. The US propagated about the chain of pearls after Chinese infrastructure building was initiated in Gwadar, similarly, India can also be rightly blamed for many of such activities. He concluded by emphasizing that we have to work together for this trilateral cooperation and be aware of various challenges like the one posed by the US-India alliance. If these three countries work together, they can effectively counter and neutralize these challenges.
His Excellency Mashallah Shakeri, Former Ambassador of Iran to Pakistan & Member, Institute for Political & International Studies (IPIS), Tehran, Iran discussed implications of China-Iran-Pakistan economic ties for the US Interests in the region. He stated that the Chinese leadership has overtaken the reigns of many international organizations during recent times.
China has also replaced Russia’s contentious position in the US foreign policy. He highlighted that the downward trend in the American economy will continue as their administration’s misbehavior in the last four years was a major issue. Discussing the BRI projects, he stated that China and Pakistan are engaged under the CPEC initiative under the Belt and Road projects. It is interesting to see that as many as 16 countries are to join this initiative.
In event of Iran-China cooperation, CPEC can take a new look. He discussed, that this is the time for Iran to join CPEC. The geostrategic position of Iran can add to the value of CPEC projects. Iranian oil and gas resources can go to China through this route. Furthermore, Iran’s geostrategic positions for countries like Turkey and Afghanistan can also play an important role in this regard.
Dr. Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan, Member Board of Experts, CGSS & Regional Geopolitical Analyst discussed Iran's Economic Resurgence and Cooperation with China, countering the United States agenda of isolating Iran in the International system. He stated that it is indeed an important victory of China and Iran over Trump’s policies and US imperialism. It is also a great example of vibrant Iranian diplomacy. Furthermore, Iranian geography also opens new routes for BRI projects. Cooperation in naval development will neutralize and equalize naval issues in the region. He further stated that Iran has found a partner in the form of China which is strong enough in the east to counter the west.
He suggested, for further strengthening of bilateral cooperation, a new entry point with Gwadar between Iran and Pakistan has been initiated which is the second border crossing between both countries. Transcontinental railway project between Pakistan-Iran-China has also been agreed in the recent past. He concluded by suggesting that, we need to have collaborative efforts in the region to counter challenges imposed by the alliances of rival players in the region.
Prof. Deqiang Ji, Vice Dean, Institute for a Community with Shared Future, Communication University of China, Beijing, China discussed China's BRI and its significance for regional development. He highlighted that the Chinese leadership has continuously proposed working together and having a win-win relationship with all its partner countries. He discussed the importance of BRI projects for China and countries involved in it in the wider region. Moreover, he also emphasized that China has tried to avoid geopolitical tensions with different players and alliances working against it in the region. Discussing the bilateral ties of China and Iran, he stated that there can be better energy ties and initiatives for infrastructure building as the strategic location connecting both countries is very important. Highlighting the positive implications of BRI projects, he mentioned, regional connectivity and dialogue under the trilateral cooperation as well as multiple channels and dialogue initiatives for scholars and experts.
Prof. Wang Hu, Associate Professor, School for Southeast Asian Studies, Xiamen University, Siming-Xiamen, Fujian, China discussed, Prospects of China Pakistan and Iran Trilateral Partnership, Challenges, and Implications. He emphasized that relations between these countries can be established through a trilateral partnership by establishing collaboration. To achieve a real trilateral partnership, we must include civil society participation and broader partnership. He suggested that civil society organizations and various enterprises can help in effective grass root development. Discussing the trilateral partnership of Pakistan, China, and Iran, Both Pakistan and Iran have friendly relations with China which can be beneficial in many ways. He also mentioned that BRI projects are important to establish friendly contacts and people to people relations amongst partner countries.
Dr. Qudsia Akram, Assistant Professor, IR, Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore, Pakistan discussed the Prospects of building cooperation and linkages between Gwadar and Chahbahar ports. She presented a detailed geographical overview of the Gwadar and Chabahar port. Discussing the concept of economic integration, she stated that it could be used as an instrument of foreign policy, where political considerations influence the choice of contracting partners. Gwadar and Chabahar present multiple opportunities for connectivity across the region. If geo-politics is isolated from geo-economics, then both ports could provide an impetus for growth for the entire region. Discussing the prospects of linkages and integration she emphasized that, diplomatic means should be utilized on all levels to achieve trilateral dialogues.
In his closing remarks, Dr. Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan, Member Board of Experts, CGSS & Regional Geopolitical Analyst extended his gratitude to all the panelists. He praised the role of CGSS in initiating important dialogues as being an important institution in Pakistan to bring Pakistan, China, and Iran on the same platform.
The conference was moderated by Ms. Minahil Shawal Afridi, Research Executive, CGSS, and was attended by 100 participants from various fields. It was also viewed by more than 300 people on various social media networks through live stream.