By S. M. Hali
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. At the invitation of Yunnan, I am currently touring the heavenly province, whose temperate and mild climate has earned it the title of the “spring city”. It is a unique experience to rub shoulders with 102 Journalists from 45 countries of the world and share the rare opportunity of witnessing the success story of an economic giant ready to share its largesse with less bequeathed neighbours to the benefit of all.
On inquiry at the main Press briefing regarding 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 because the bi-lateral 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 august 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 including textiles, leather and sports goods, rice, marble-ware, furniture, traditional handicrafts, cutlery and jewelry. 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, 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 & South Asian journalists to witness the Kunming Fair, but through an elaborately laid out visit plan spanning a week, toured them through the length and breadth of the 394,000 square 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 well 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.