Keynote address H.E. Mr. Sartaj Aziz, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs and National Security on Security Trends in the Asia-Pacific Region: Prospects and Challenges for Pakistan.
I thank the National Defense University for inviting me to this conference.
The first thing that comes to one's mind is that the Asia-Pacific is vast, in terms of geography and population. Political geographers exclude the Middle East and Central Asia from it. Even after excluding these strategically located regions, the Asia-Pacific covers a total land area of 21 million square kilometers; has a population of 4.4 billion or 60 per cent of the world population; and GDP of more than US $ 40 trillion.
Let us look at the global trends first.
The US is trying to 'rebalance' its presence in the Asia-Pacific region in order to regain its place in the wake of the rise of China and other emerging powers. China has already established its eminence at the regional and global levels; whereas other nations - Japan, RoK, India, Russia, ASEAN, and Australia - are devising their strategies to project their power, resolve tensions and adjust to new realities.
In recent days, China and Japan have moved to ease strains over the Diaoyu/Senkaku island, but this is not the only issue that keeps the temperatures high between the second and the third largest economies of the world. Other issues include the shaping of the new world order, including the composition of the reformed Security Council and the industrial competition between China and Japan. The Korean Peninsula is eerily volatile though it is calm for the time being. Divergences over the disputed islands in the South China Sea pose even more scary security challenges. These scenarios are compounded by widely perceived Indian ambitions to play a major power role in the region and to contain China.
The dialogue between India and Pakistan to resolve their outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, has not made much progress in the past two decades and is now virtually suspended.
In addition, the Asia-Pacific has shared problems of water scarcity, food security, growing demand for energy, climate change, terrorism, transnational crime and maritime security, to mention a few.
But all is not doom and gloom.
The Asia-Pacific is rising economically. In fact, this is called Asia's century. The Asia-Pacific countries not only absorbed the 2008 financial crisis confidently but continued to grow at an impressive rate. Today, Asia is the fastest growing economic region. In the last quarter of 2014, the region's GDP grew by 6.3 percent and the forecast for this first quarter of 2015 has been 6.2 percent. Hence, the markets are stable and growing. Continuing structural reforms and resultant spillovers are delivering positive results, despite continuing slowdown in Japan and the Eurozone. East Asian nations have succeeded in converting their youth bulge into demographic dividends.
Despite the divergences amongst nations on the strategic and political issues, the economic complementarity and connectivity between them is growing at a fast pace.
The launch of the Chinese initiative of One Belt, One Road - short for the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road - is a historic and revolutionary watershed. This initiative calls on all nations in Asia, Africa and Europe to steer themselves away from confrontation to cooperation, from geo-strategy to geo economics, and from rival economic blocs to regional and inter-continental connectivity. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a central plank of this grand, transformative plan.
Against this strategic and economic backdrop, Pakistan is making its choices prudently and with confidence.
We are supporting all efforts for peace, stability and prosperity in the region. We think that the Asia-Pacific should not become an arena for strategic competition and Byzantine schemes to outstrip each other but a shared space for economic and cooperation. We think that in international diplomacy we should evolve a new paradigm of peaceful co-existence that benefits all but hurts none.
In pursuit of this policy, we are not only deepening our ties with China, but also reinforcing our bilateral relations with all East Asian Nations, including Japan, RoK and ASEAN. We have a separate bilateral track with the US, which is playing an active role in the Asia Pacific and South Asian regions.
China has emerged as our most trusted ally both in strategic and economic realms. Though the historical trends of our bilateral trade were not encouraging, in the recent past it has picked up. The good news is that in the past two years, our exports to China have also increased by 25 percent to US $ 4 billion, out of the total trade of US 16 $ billion, constituting roughly 17 percent of total exports. We want to cross the US $ 20 billion mark for overall trade in the next three years.
In that context, the decisions taken by President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif a week ago and the signing of 51 MOUs are a historic first and one that has further consolidated our relations with China and would usher in a new era of progress for the people of Pakistan.
These investment flows, totaling US $ 46 billion, that are expected under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in the energy, infrastructure and industrial sectors will help graduate Pakistan to a higher level of growth and development, as well as improve corporate productivity. Pakistan in the coming decade will be able to join the ranks of rapidly growing emerging nations.
Pakistan has been a sectoral dialogue partner of ASEAN since 1993. We want to become a full dialogue partner of ASEAN. In 2004, Pakistan acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and joined the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). In 2005, ASEAN and Pakistan signed the Joint Declaration for Cooperation to Combat Terrorism.
In 2013, ASEAN's total trade with Pakistan amounted to US$6.3 billion. Pakistan's exports to ASEAN were US$ 1 billion; and imports US$ 5.3 billion.
ASEAN FDI to Pakistan has been growing; and many Pakistani investors have started their enterprises and businesses in ASEAN countries.
We are now paying special attention to expand our relations with ASEAN in the areas of trade, industry, investment, science and technology, drugs and narcotics, environment, tourism, and human resources development.
As we all know, Afghanistan is key to peace and stability in the region and Pakistan. Our rapport with the Afghan leadership is excellent. Pakistan will play its constructive role in supporting an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process; and participate in the reconstruction process.
We would continue our policy of a peaceful neighborhood. We want to resolve all outstanding issues with India, including Jammu and Kashmir, through dialogue so that we can remove all the barriers to bilateral and regional economic cooperation. Dialogue is a must and time is running out. A perennial, recurring hiatus is not good for the two nuclear weapon states of South Asia.
Finally, the Asia-Pacific is an important region in global decision-making at the UN, UN-related organizations and international financial institutions. Pakistan needs their support on UN reform, peacekeeping, disarmament issues, international finance, post-2015 development agenda, climate change, human rights and elections to the UN and other international bodies. Our bonds with the Asia-Pacific states in these fora are strong; we will work to make them stronger.
I thank you.