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Twenty-Four Years Later An Ambassador Returns to Beijing

Compared to other missions, the ambassador said, China is a very active one. This is because Pakistan and China have a multi-faceted relationship covering all aspects-political, economical, commercial, cultural and educational.

Ambassador Riaz and his colleagues visited a commune in Beijing in the 1970s.
Courtesy of the Pakistan Embassy
A reception to celebrate the National Day of Pakistan in March 2004 at the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel in Beijing. Courtesy of the Pakistan Embassy in China
A visit to a primary school in China in the 1970s.

"It took me about one week to grasp and absorb the enormity of the change when I came back again after a break of 24 years," says Riaz Mohammad Khan, Ambassador of Pakistan to China. Riaz started his diplomatic career in Beijing in the 1970s and then came back one and half years ago as the ambassador. "The change is tremendous, and diplomatic life is so busy, so I feel as if I haven't settled yet."

To Riaz, China today is totally different from China in the 1970s, when the country was still passing through the Cultural Revolution. It is now a country open to the entire world, with a very large economy, and forging ahead with modernization.

The ambassador said that he finds young people very dynamic, healthy, optimistic and looking to accomplish something in their lives. While they want to travel the world, they are very proud of their history and the achievements China has made in the last 20 years. Besides, he said, they have an "international dimension" to their outlook. The Chinese people and leaders deserve congratulations for these great achievements, Riaz said.

Another change he cited was that everything has become large in scale, changing in outer form but not in character. Restaurants in Houhai used to be very small and rustic. Now the food there is as good as it ever was. The ambience, however, has completely changed, and some of the establishments have grown into leading restaurants in the city. Liulichang, once a small street with very small shops, is now a large thoroughfare with many shops.

The ambassador still remembers that there were only three hotels where foreigners could stay in the 1970s. He lived in the Xinqiao Hotel with about 20 foreigners. Since there were not many tourists, any new face would arouse curiosity. Now there are hundreds of hotels in the city and foreigners coming and going everywhere.

The tallest building in Beijing in 1973 was a nine-story building in the Sanlitun diplomatic compound. Now there are tall buildings and high rises everywhere. So it took the ambassador about one day to go around and find the old nine-story building.

When asked about changes that had taken place in himself, the ambassador answered humorously, "I am 35 years older."

Riaz said over and over that, despite transformations in the world political landscape and changes on the domestic and international scenes, the relationship between the two countries has remained close, friendly and cordial, and the cooperation between two countries has remained strong and continues to expand. He calls it "a unique and exemplary relationship based on principles of peaceful co-existence."
"Change is tremendous," the ambassador said. "The places that have remained unchanged are probably Tian'anmen Square and the Palace Museum."

"So one thing which has not changed during 30 years when I was here in 1970s as a junior officer and now here as an ambassador to the country is the quality of friendship between Pakistan and China," Riaz said.

During the interview, Riaz expressed deep sorrow over the death of three Chinese engineers in a terrorist incident in southwest Pakistan on May 3. "Pakistan's leadership and people are deeply shocked and saddened" by this terrorist incident, which is being investigated, the ambassador said. The deceased engineers are "our heroes, as they sacrificed their precious lives while developing our country. We respect and cherish their memory," he said.

Prospects for the Bilateral Exchange

The economic and trade cooperation between China and Pakistan has been expanding in recent years. The bilateral trade volume has increased from $1.7 billion in 2002 to $2.4 billion in 2003. There are a number of important projects Chinese enterprises are engaging in, like hydropower, minerals and metal development and roads, the ambassador said.

With the signing of a preferential trade agreement and a joint declaration on bilateral relations, he believes the prospect for future cooperation is bright.

Pakistan has identified three areas for the establishment of special economic zones in Karachi, Punjab and a border province near China to attract Chinese enterprises to invest, Riaz said.

China has also designated Pakistan as a destination for Chinese tourists, so both sides are now working on tour packages. The ambassador said that Pakistan has a great deal to offer. First, good will toward Chinese people; second, a rich history and traditions and beautiful landscapes. The ambassador said bilateral tour programs would begin later this year.

he Kalakorum Highway, which stretches about 1,000 kilometers from Kashgar to Islamabad and runs along one of the oldest branches of the Silk Road, is regarded as one of six best scenic routes in the world. Pakistan has two ancient civilizations, of them one is more than 5,000 years old. The Indus Valley Civilization was a peer of the Yellow River, Nile River and Mesopotamian civilizations. The other was a Buddhist Gandhara civilization. Taxila, a city 40 kilometers from Islamabad, was a center of Buddhist learning for many centuries, following the establishment of a Buddhist university there more than 2,000 years ago. The famous Chinese monk Xuan Zang, of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), went to the city, and the novel of Journey to the West was based on his journey to Taxila.

China Pictorial 7/ 2004
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