Although many in Pakistan found it awkward Prime Minister Imran Khan having been received in Beijing by Deputy Secretary General, Beijing Municipal Committee of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Foreign Ministry officials say there is nothing unusual.
“Level of reception has always been the same,” said an official approached by The News. He denied the impression that it was different when PM went on a maiden visit in November last year.
Instead, he said, we had “oversell” it then. If official statement is taken a guide, PM was received by Transport Minister of China and other officials during his visit in November last year. Another difference between the present and the past visit is the nature of engagements. Visit in the past was bilateral in nature; now, he is there to participate in Belt and Road Summit attended by delegates from 37 countries.
Heads of State from Pakistan, Russia, Italy, Uzbekistan, Cambodia, Belarus and others are in attendance. Other countries have sent ministerial delegations. A Pakistani working with a Chinese company at a senior position told The News that there was no element of disrespect for PM. Since this is a mega event attended by many top leaders, accordingly an exceptional protocol to everybody is not possible. Even different state companies have been assigned the task to look after the visiting leaders. “Staff has been trained for the purpose,” he said. Generally speaking, he continued, Chinese are not disrespectful in protocol. PM Imran has been granted opportunity to speak in the first session is a sign of protocol accorded to him, he said.
Salman Bashir, former foreign secretary who also served Pakistan’s ambassador to China said: “Protocol keeps changing. Sometimes senior level officials come to receive.” Asked what he meant by senior levels, he said “deputy foreign minister or the state councilor” which is a high-ranking position within the State Council of China, the executive organ of China’s central government comparable to cabinet. If more is to add, he said, reception at Great Hall is accorded. This is what he witnessed even during Musharraf’s visits. Same was the case during Nawaz Sharif’s maiden visit soon after becoming PM in 2013. Chinese deputy foreign minister had received him. When Nawaz went to attend One Road One Road (OBOR) forum in 2017, his protocol was somewhat the same that Imran received late Thursday. Vice Chairman of Beijing Municipal Committee of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference had received Nawaz. In contrast, Chinese President Xi Jinping, was received by PM Nawaz on airport during the former’s visit in 2015. And when Chinese PM Li Keqiang arrived in 2013, he was received by President Asif Zardari and caretaker PM Mir Hazar Khan Khoso. In comparison, Zardari wouldn’t be received even by deputy foreign minister, according to an official who served in Pakistan Embassy in China. Reason? He was a frequent visitor and would go often on his own, not on invitation. In his first year in presidency, he went there four times.