Pakistan justified its nomination as the “country of honour” at the five-day 20th Kunming Import and Export Fair, which coincided with the fifth South Asian Countries Trade Fair, by presenting its best face forward. The province of Yunnan, in South West China, which has the unique geographical location of sharing 4,060 km border with Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, has taken the initiative of serving as the gateway to South and South East Asia for developing trade and commerce opportunities.
On inquiry at the main press briefing about the Kunming Fair, I was informed that Pakistan was provided the opportunity of being the lead country (which will be rotated yearly) at this year’s event, not only for being China’s all-weather friend, but also because the bilateral balance of trade has tilted too much in China’s favour. The honourable Li Jiming, Deputy Director General of Yunnan’s Department of Commerce, explained to the gathering of international journalists that Pakistan has the potential, but has not risen to it due to extraneous circumstances. Hence, the opportunity at Kunming will enable it to showcase its products, attracting Chinese and other international buyers.
Indeed, with 150 stalls, including the main and only theme pavilion at the very entrance, designed in the likeness of the Lahore Fort, depicting strength of character, continuity and diversity, Pakistan put its best foot forward; tastefully displaying a variety of products like textiles, leather and sports goods, rice, marble-ware, furniture, traditional handicrafts, cutlery and jewellery. It was heartening to observe millions of Chinese and international buyers throng to the Pakistani stalls, although the 502 other exhibition booths from emerging economic giants in the region also displayed their best merchandise.
On the sidelines of the fair, the 7th China-South Asia Business Forum, with Pakistan’s Commerce Minister as the keynote speaker, and fashion show of Pakistani couture, depicting traditional and post-modern style and folk music also garnered attention.
The bedecked city of Kunming was bustling with buyers, sellers and visitors; volunteer university students attempting to please their guests with their English and courteous manners were visible everywhere. Yunnan executed a major PR strategy by not only hosting the Southeast and South Asian journalists to witness the Kunming Fair, but also through an elaborately laid out visit plan spanning a week, toured them through the length and breadth of the 394,000 sq km province.
The prehistoric, but breathtaking world heritage Shilin Stone Forest, the experimental economic zones, the various border ports with Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos, the painstaking reconstruction and preservation of the culture of its 15 ethnic groups provided us a fair sample of the rags to riches story of Yunnan.
Indeed, nature has endowed the province with remarkable weather, scenic vistas of topography comprising mountains, rivers and lakes, rich mineral resources and forests, but it is astute planning and the capacity to share and cooperate with its national and international neighbours, which merits assimilation and emulation. The now five-year-old US economic meltdown, which affected Europe and the rest of the world, provided China the prospect to not let its arch rival US sink, but provide wind to its ballast of recovery and save other economies as well lest there is international economic disaster. This economic stimulus not only helped the world, but also enabled China to prudently plan infrastructure and building blocks to distribute its wealth with its rural and less endowed counties and prefectures.
The lesson for Pakistan is ominous; how value can be added to each other’s strengths and turn weaknesses and threats into opportunities. Take the case of China processing raw jade mined from Myanmar and crafting it into breathtaking ornaments and curios to the mutual benefit of both neighbours. We have been fighting each other far too long and in the bargain, sealed the fate of our future generations to doom and gloom. Europe and ASEAN are distant climes. Let us take a leaf out of Yunnan’s book, sink our differences, pool our resources and make a better future if not for ourselves, but for our progeny and descendants.
n The writer is a political and defence analyst.