Lesson from the past: Why learning Mandarin is the precautionary measure that Pakistan needs to enforce right now

Published: October 8, 2017

Workers set up a billboard welcoming President Xi Jinping to Pakistan ahead of his visit in 2015. PHOTO: AFP

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which was originally valued at $46 billion and is expected to be a game changer for Pakistan’s economy, has been viewed with much scepticism since the day it was green lit.

Some Pakistanis believe CPEC to be the equivalent of the Marshall Plan, an American initiative to aid Europe economically post World War II. Others believe that it is simply another East India Company (EIC) in the making, equivalent to calling CPEC a vehicle for colonialism.

If you think about it, the idea that the Chinese could become the new British for us is not at all far-fetched. While the British innocently entered India through the EIC, the Chinese have chosen to enter Pakistan through CPEC. Also, the lucrative potential for trade and business was the motivation for the British, and the very same potential has brought the Chinese to Pakistan. The similarities here are thus uncanny.

Is CPEC a cloaked attempt by the Chinese to recolonise Pakistan?

No one can say for sure, but by the time this picture gets clear enough to tell, it will already be too late. We cannot effectively decide whether CPEC is a blessing or a colonial nightmare waiting to happen, but what we can do is not repeat the mistakes of our ancestors who were unable to break free of their shackles until Muhammad Ali Jinnah came to their rescue.

Hence the question arises – are we taking the precautionary measures required to ensure that the Chinese do not become for us what the British used to be?

Arguably, the biggest difference between the British and the Muslims of India was a communication gap that resulted from the language barrier between the two. The same is the case with CPEC, which is largely under Chinese management and thus Chinese workers are hired over Pakistani workers due to the language barrier. Learning Mandarin, therefore, is the precautionary measure Pakistan needs to enforce.

In February 2017, a Chinese delegation expressed that Chinese investors were keen on investing in bio-technology, textile, agriculture and renewable energy sectors of Pakistan. Additionally, the delegation also expressed interest in investing in other sectors such as mechanical and electrical trade, construction and real estate development and the automobile sector.

Earlier this year, the first Pakistan-assembled Chinese car went up for sale. Clearly, this highlights the level of investment the Chinese will be making in Pakistan, and as the delegation pointed out, creating 30,000 new jobs in the process.

It is safe to say that in the aftermath of CPEC, the demographics of Pakistan will witness a vast change.  A report by the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry in 2016 pointed out that at the then rate of influx of Chinese nationals into Balochistan, the locals will be outnumbered in the province by 2048. This will not only have an impact on our economy, but on our way of life as well. This year, we have already witnessed the launch of Huashang, the first ever Chinese weekly newspaper to be launched in Pakistan, which indicates that the Chinese population is already on a rise here.

It is important to understand that the rapid influx of Chinese nationals in Pakistan won’t just result in new job opportunities, but will also attract Chinese citizens who, given China’s population, will consider relocating to Pakistan in search of employment opportunities. The Chinese companies which are currently working on the development of CPEC projects will obviously prefer hiring workers who they can communicate with instead of Pakistani workers who lack the language skill.

It is a fact that the Chinese civilisation prospered because of the Silk Road, an ancient network of trade routes that connected Asia and Europe. Presently, China’s One Belt One Road initiative (OBOR) will play a similar role and not only lift China in the global economic ranks but also result in a rapid spread of the Chinese population throughout the world. This also means that more and more people will learn and speak Mandarin, in addition to over one billion people who already speak it, to further their businesses. This is enough evidence to conclude that learning Mandarin should be encouraged and facilitated in Pakistan.

In today’s multilingual and global society, being fluent in English is not enough. Education systems in the US and Europe have already introduced various language immersion programs in their education systems which help open new doors for young students.

While numerous countries in the world understand that in the global world we now live in, it is a necessity to introduce prominent languages from all over the world; Pakistan unfortunately did not get the memo. Given the fanfare and celebrations surrounding CPEC, one could hope that the government would prepare to at least incorporate Mandarin into the curriculum or promote centres willing to teach the language. Unlike Sir Syed Ahmed Khan – who encouraged the Muslims of subcontinent to adopt western education during the British Raj – our policy makers have done nothing to ensure that Pakistan will be able to keep up with the influx of China.

Learning Mandarin will not only help Pakistani workers gain jobs in CPEC projects, but will also help them keep up with China’s growing investment in other sectors of Pakistan. In addition to career opportunities, learning Mandarin will also be a gateway for Pakistanis into a new culture of over a billion people, and will surely allow for a better understanding of the Chinese people and their customs. This will ultimately result in more prosperous relations with our neighbours.

The ball is in our court now. We can either allow China’s rapid growth to be the end of Pakistan as we know it or we can let it be a thriving new chapter for us.

Sahir Palijo

Sahir Palijo

The author is an undergrad pursuing a degree of Business Administration. He loves to write his thoughts and is a movie freak. He tweets at @The_Sahir (twitter.com/the_sahir)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Pure ind

    Well the writer made a basic error, businesses are not based on languages but based on terms & conditions that are mutually agreeable most importantly mutually profitable. The Chinese investment is great, but who would control the decision making is the key. Secondly it would be foolish to allow foreign investment in all segments even sensitive segments like IT, Power, defence etc the moment an outsider gets hold of these sectors it leads to modern day slavery.
    Hope people are aware of the Lankan port taken over by Chinese?? Hope people are aware how china treats its muslim population?? By the look of it seems that Chinese would make it absolutely impossible for Pakistan economy to be non dependent on China finally why can’t the Chinese try to learn Urdu why the other way round because its the Chinese who wud settle in Pakistan doubt whether Pakistanis would be given the same opportunity in China.Recommend

  • Bobserver

    Agreed. I’m living in Australia but have my child learn Mandarin. Although some Chinese learn English and others Russian, speaking to them in their official language has its benefitsRecommend

  • abhi

    It seems author is planning to open Mandarin learning center in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Rahul R

    What Sahir mentioned is right. It will be too late by the time Pak knows that a neo colonialism project is in the works. I think it already shows it is indeed a colonialism project. When did Indians realize that British and Europeans are not some innocent traders but folks with colonize India on its mind. War was one.. but another factor was imposition of European language and values on Indians.. Looks like same is happening with Pakistan. If Pak feels its important to learn mandarin because Pak is facilitating Chinese investment into Pak and not otherwise; Chinese people learning Urdu to conduct business in Pakistan.. I think you are going to make it really very easy for China just the way Indians made it super easy for the Brits..Recommend

  • chakrs

    So the Baloch will becoma a minority, just like Tibetans.Recommend

  • passiveobservant11

    Whoever wrote this article doesn’t have the understanding and basic knowledge that CPEC is an investment, while it is a fact that the route that passes through Pakistan will be a permanent feature, however, the investments that china is making in different fields can be returned and that’s the end of Chinese investment, paying back loans. Now that’s something that Pakistani administration needs to prioritize. dear author, how will learning Mandarin make sure that Pakistanis would get jobs, if they are ill-equipped and do not qualify for jobs, knowing Mandarin will not be enough.Recommend

  • 19640909rk .

    of course, learning your new colonial master’s language is very essential.Recommend

  • genesis

    As a potential China colony it will be prudent to learn a Chinese language.On demographics China has already done this in Tibet and Xiaoping and so it will not be new or the first time.Recommend

  • khushal ahmad

    First of all I’m an the Jew has to be thrown out of Pakistan. Nawaz government is the only govt which can bring prosperity to Pakistan while I’m an Khan is now a CIA agent with his wife Jemima being his handlerRecommend

  • Abdul Rehman

    China is far better than the U.S.A and British Empire. Chinese have no prejudiced against Islam. China do not prioritize india and israel, like the U.S.A. Long live, Pak-China relationship deep than sea, higher than HimalayaRecommend

  • Patwari

    Just heard Modi Sarkar has ordered the construction of rudimentary
    English medium schools near Delhi.
    Where American English will be taught to the govt. bureaucrats.
    Mind you, not the ‘jolly good’ Raj English, that’s for internal consumption.
    One problem though, Hindustan’s new Lords and Masters like their meat
    in big juicy chunky slabs of steaks. Grilled. They like bovine meat. Which
    is illegal to eat in Hindustan. You just can’t afford to hang them from peepul
    trees, lamp posts. They do not care for lamb and goat. Chicken and fish, are
    so, so.
    Going to be a bit of a problem there. As the British say…Tootle pip.Recommend

  • V Gupta

    Forget about Mandarin which is the language of the wave already on you. Concentrate on learning Hindi, which is the language of the wave of the future.Recommend

  • Sudhanshu Swami

    So much skepticism towards a friendship higher than Himalaya, sweeter than honey !Recommend

  • Patwari

    Or in Bharat like Meghaleya, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Sikkin,
    Ladakh, Kerala where indigenous are already second class citizensRecommend

  • Hassan Mirza

    The Resident of Pakistan Mind set is talk or write on others people shoulders and take no responsibility of any kind . THE other Mind set is Blame USA for any thing and pose themselves as Angels. The CPEC Project is Between CHINA & Pakistan first rule of Business is Partnership based on equality China is 3rd Super power of the world .and Pakistan is 3rd world country in the world also Pakistan is 13th world most corrupt nation of he world where as China is not also Chinese officials and nation have take there country Interest first which make them loyal to there country and made them what are Chinese today. where as Pakistani officials and nation are corrupt and not loyal to there country of birth so can this CPEC project is game changer or another Corruption of its kind.?Recommend

  • Patwari

    Sorry gp65. It just slipped out. The dog made me do it.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    I can’t believe the fuss around CPEC, it seems the Pakistanis believe they can live without the entire world as long as the Chinese and the CPEC is around.

    Pakistanis are bracing for another future disappointmentRecommend

  • A.

    It’s strange how learning different languages and cultures hurts our ego. This naive youth is unable to comprehend the situation. So what if we learn Mandarin? It won’t just help us in Pakistan, but will open new opportunities for us in various corners of the world. Why are we so self-centered? There is a whole world outside your houses where people don’t just speak Urdu, Sindhi, English and Punjabi. There are almost 7000 other languages being currently spoken in the world.Recommend

  • Yogi Berra

    This under grad student need to learn from the history. First Chinese will enslave Pakistanis who are poorly educated, unhealthy and poor compared to Chinese. Secondly Proud Baluch people will never allow many Chinese to come and play in their backyard. The resulting revolt will shake the whole world.
    Thirdly Learning Mandarin will get you jobs as cooks, drivers and janitors. Not as Engineers and Designers. Those jobs will never come to Pakistan.Recommend

  • Jamshed Mir

    Agree that MAndarin should be learnt, not as a precautionary measure but as a smart one, most nations like Australia, US are trying to induct Mandarin in their schools. Disagree w/ u on the 2048 Chinese workers influx. Chinese workers are paid more in their country than Pakistanis are paid here. I doubt Pakistan would have the economy to pay more to Chinese by 2040s. Pakistan is far behind in terms of most regulation, workers rights, etc…. Pakistani wagesare pathetically less. Chinese will only bring skilled personnel in limited no.s or none at all as the cost of business would increase for them.Recommend

  • KlingOn2K

    Pakistan has to do more than that. Next year 31 billion dollars become due for repayment. To get the Chinese to front up the cash, Pakistan needs to do more than make Mandarin compulsory. Maybe leasing Balochistan for 99 years to China might be the best option available. The next year will be the most crucial one in Pakistan’s history.Recommend

  • Osama

    Business ka banda hai. Logon se kaise bhi daulat kamana hai.Recommend

  • Osama

    There will be lots of jobs that don;t require any qualifications.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Angrezi is not knowledge. Now a machine can be made to talk in any language & in any accentRecommend

  • ioer

    I, for one, welcome our new overlords. It’s time that we got rid of our Arab inferiority complex, and embraced the Chinese as our new masters. Obviously we have no identity of our own to claim. At least the Chinese will bring moderate to no religion with them, unlike the Arabs, who have strangled us with Islam.Recommend

  • A.

    Son, your narrow-minded approach makes me want to cry for this country.Recommend

  • A.

    True. In an attempt to please our Arab Lords we have taken on their identity and forgotten our true selves. At least the Chinese will put an stop to this.Recommend

  • peter pan

    I think that in addition to learning Mandarin- Pakistan should make some other arrangements to make sure there is good integration between the incoming Chinese and Pakistais. Thank youRecommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Ruling elite will allow China to invest in Pakistan as long as it does not disturb Pakistan’s feudal structure and language based hierarchy – Angrezi at the top, then Urdu, and at the bottom native languages. Mandarin will become cool when Chinese start owning evening party clubs and make them exclusive for Mandarin speaking only. Pakistanis need to know how the history played out in destruction of of the subcontinent.

    There is historical reasons for Indian poverty. Before Islamic invaders the land belonged to the whole village. The village Gurukul and temple which acted as cultural center and from where Indian Music and arts such as Ragas, dance forms, musical instruments, Natak/drama, came. Foreign brute invaders created their native proxies by giving the land titles. That led to degeneration of non-birth based Varna System (division of labor based on aptitude) and walls of castes got constructed. India which produced 60% of World GDP in 1st millennium started producing only 22% by 1700, it jumped to 27% in native rule of Marathas and Sikhs by 1834, and again dropped drastically to 1.4% by 1947 because of British rule.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Is this Mandarin?Recommend

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    I cant believe a reputable website would allow such conspiracy fueling blogs to be published on their website.

    CPEC is going to be the reason you will proudly tell your distant relatives living abroad that Pakistan is safe.

    CPEC is the reason your unemployed engineer cousins are finally going to get the jobs that they have been looking for.

    I swear, these liberal types just need a reason to attract negative attention to all the progress CPEC has made in the country. Then they have the audacity to complain they dont have freedom of speech? Please leave the country if you feel so oppressed.Recommend

  • vinsin

    Since when it is illegal to eat bovine meat in India?

    Chinese love pork. Have you Pakistani also started making that for Chinese?Recommend

  • vinsin

    Who is first class there then?Recommend

  • vinsin

    What Sri Lanka port has to do with Pakistan? China treatment of Muslims support TNT and Pakistan. Pakistani are not masters and chinese who stays in Pakistan do know urdu.Recommend