H.E. Mr. Wang Yi, State Councilor and Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China,
H.E. Mr. Mirwais Nab, Acting Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,
H.E. Mr. A.K. Abdul Momen, Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh,
H.E. Mr. Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Foreign Minister of Nepal,
H.E. Mr. Dinesh Gunawardena, Foreign Minister of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka,
Colleagues and Friends,
Good afternoon from Pakistan!
I am very pleased to participate in this Forum today. It is heartening to note that, within a span of less than a year, we have come a long way from our first quadrilateral interaction last July.
Our countries have remained engaged in-between at the level of Vice- Ministers and in two Joint Working Groups at the level of Directors General. The meeting of Vice-Ministers last week held important discussions on further cementing our joint cooperation in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as on expanding its ambit to cover poverty alleviation and disaster relief.
Pakistan welcomes intensified cooperation between China and South Asian countries in these areas. It is consistent with the socio-economic developmental priorities of Pakistan’s Government, and will afford the regional countries the opportunity to learn from each other’s experiences for the well-being of our citizens.
Pakistan, therefore, supports the three concrete proposals put forward by China for regional cooperation with the participation of the countries represented here.
A China-South Asia Emergency Supplies Reserve would help all participating countries to better respond to health emergencies and natural disasters in the future. Our countries are vulnerable to climatic changes and natural disasters, which are becoming a frequent phenomenon in our region. The pooling of our resources and expertise would go a long way in timely delivery of assistance to affected areas.
A China-South Asia Poverty Alleviation Cooperative Development Center would provide the opportunity to learn from China’s remarkable accomplishment in eradicating extreme poverty from the country – and also serve to exchange best practices among all participating nations which have their own successful experiences in this domain. It would help build institutional linkages and people-to-people contacts. Pakistan remains ready to contribute to this initiative by sharing its own policies and interventions for poverty reduction.
Through the China-South Asia E-Commerce Cooperation Forum on Poverty Alleviation in Rural Areas, we all get to benefit from emulating China’s achievements in using E-Commerce to directly connect farmers with the agricultural products’ markets. As agrarian societies with a huge segment of our populations employed in the agriculture sector, we will surely gain significantly in terms of ensuring food security and lifting the living standards in our rural areas.
Pakistan and China have been closely collaborating since the outbreak of COVID-19. China has been extending valuable support to countries all across the globe to combat the pandemic. We thank China for the generous assistance provided to Pakistan, including vaccines provided as gift and on commercial basis.
I particularly thank my dear friend and colleague, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, for his personal role in helping Pakistan effectively fight the pandemic.
We welcome President Xi Jinping’s declaration of making COVID-19 vaccine a ‘global public good.’ We have to ensure equitable and affordable supply of vaccine to everyone, everywhere.
We should dispel notions of stigmatization and insinuations on the origin of the virus. We should uphold multilateralism and extend our full support to WHO’s science-based work and reject its politicization.
Pakistan’s people-centred response to COVID-19 has all along been aimed at saving lives, securing livelihoods, and stimulating the economy.
The pandemic not only hampered our on-going economic reforms; it also imposed certain priorities for the future. Pakistan’s focus had to tilt towards strengthening our public health and social protection systems.
We provided a relief package of around 8 billion dollars – 3% of our GDP – to support the poor and to keep the economy afloat. Emergency cash assistance of approximately 1.25 billion dollars was provided through our flagship Ehsas programme to the neediest segments of the population. We managed to provide a social safety net and did reasonably well during the first and second wave of the virus.
But the crisis is far from over. Pakistan is now in the midst of a more aggressive third wave. The positivity rate this time is higher. We are being compelled to enforce “smart lockdowns” in virus hotspots for containing its spread. The vulnerable population is again at risk.
We have launched a phased vaccination campaign and trying to ensure that no one is left behind as we recover from the wide ranging impacts of the pandemic.
We all want to reinvigorate our economies and build back better. We all need more fiscal space and liquidity. But we cannot do this in isolation. Greater international solidarity is required. We need the right mix of national actions, regional collaboration, and multilateral cooperation.
South Asia is one of the most densely populated, resource-constrained and least integrated regions of the world. Our socio-economic development indicators – despite the improvements in recent times – remain on the lower side when compared to our richer neighbours in Asia and beyond.
Our public health systems have been stretched to the limit by the COVID-19 outbreak, along with unprecedented economic disruption. Cases are again rising in almost all South Asian countries. The vaccination drives are uneven and the proportion of population that has been inoculated is far lower than in the Global North.
South Asian countries are in dire need of enhanced regional cooperation to both ward off the pandemic, and to lift their people out of poverty. This Forum of neighbouring countries provides us a platform to do so. If we join our heads, pool our expertise, and rise above political considerations, we can truly forge a partnership that would contribute to regional prosperity. We owe it to our people to seize this unique opportunity.
We can collectivity take the modest first step of joining hands for enhancing mutual cooperation in improving our response to COVID-19 and preparedness for future health emergencies and natural disasters, as well as for alleviating the scourge of poverty.
In the long run, our maritime and land-based connectivity initiatives have the potential to connect us with each other, and with the rest of the world.
Pakistan’s vision, centred around economic security, is now at the core of our development paradigm. Our emphasis has shifted from geopolitics to geo-economics. We want to enhance regional cooperation and integration. We believe that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – and China’s Belt and Road Initiative – is emerging as the regional hub of trade, connectivity and economic activity. We are all uniquely placed to benefit from it.
In immediate terms, we face the daunting challenge of fully overcoming the corona-virus pandemic including by vaccinating our populations, while maintaining and stimulating economic growth.
In the long term, we have the opportunity to model our economies on more resilient and sustainable grounds. We have to think in the best interest of our future generations. It behoves us to join hands for win-win outcomes.
In conclusion, I once again laud the initiative of China in bringing us together on this Forum. Pakistan reaffirms its resolve to further deepen mutual cooperation through this platform of six regional neighbouring countries, in pursuance of our common developmental goals.
We hope that this would be the start of a mutually beneficial and sterling example of South-South cooperation, in addition to contributing to the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals by the target date of 2030.
We look forward to further engagement through this Forum.
Our success lies in mutual cooperation and partnerships. Together we can, and together we must.
I thank you.