2016 surely proved to be a roller-coaster ride on the global stage. The Colombians struck a peace deal with the guerrilla group, the coup in Turkey failed, Britain voted to leave the EU, Donald Trump was elected as the President of the United States and Eastern Aleppo fell, to name a few. Another milestone in economic partnership has been the development project of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It is an ambitious infrastructure project of Pakistan to solidify its support with China. This “game changing” move has given rise to a few questions that need to be answered: “Is China about to transform Pakistan?”, “How much is this of concern to India?” and “Could China be having other ulterior motives?”
A BRIEF OVERVIEW:
The US $50 billion (INR 3.4 lakh crore), 3000km CPEC is basically a group of projects that will connect Kashgar in Western China to the Arabian sea port of Gwadar in Pakistan. It is a part of advancement of China’s desire to seek for a quicker, and a more direct route to the Middle East and the Western world. It involves the construction of a network of highways, railways, pipelines and fibre optic cables. It is considered to be an extension of China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative. Through this project, China can substantially reduce the distance covered in the existing route to Middle East – through the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca – by almost 10000km. The 15 year project has been partially funded by China, and is believed to improve the economy of Pakistan and create lakhs of jobs.
Pakistan views the corridor as a game changer, as it believes that it would build world class infrastructure, increase revenue for the government and increase foreign investments. Also, it would supply oil and natural gas through the proposed pipelines and create employment opportunities for the youth of Pakistan. CPEC alone is expected to create 7,00,000 jobs for Pakistan. It is also believed to boost tourism in a few regions, especially for mountaineers, due to their proximity to some of the ‘eight-thousanders’ (peaks above 8000m).
Pakistan is facing a serious energy shortage of 4,500MW, but a private consortium would develop 10,000 MW energy generating capacity by 2020. This would greatly help Pakistan to bring down its energy deficiency to zero. Ultimately, CPEC is extremely important to Pakistan and it cannot afford to lose this opportunity. There is more for Pakistan to gain, considering the long term economic impacts.
China considers these development initiatives a potential source of stability and prosperity for both countries. From a Chinese perspective, cooperation in the areas of security and economics are closely intertwined, and improvements on one side can improve the other. It is almost as though security and economics are two separate wheels on the same vehicle, and both need to be spinning to move things forward.
More broadly, the CPEC has to be understood in the context of China’s strategic interests in East Asia. China hopes it can expand its strategic space by heading west. Pakistan serves as a crucial bridge between China and Central Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East. Security and stability in Pakistan will make it possible for China to exercise greater influence in these regions and to ensure security at home. This is why China is willing to pour vast amounts of resources into the economic corridor—based on the logic of improving security through economic development.
THE RISKS INVOLVED:
In my opinion, the security, political and cultural risks must not be overlooked.
The first of these is obviously, terrorism. It was not a surprise that India labelled Pakistan as the ‘Ivy League of terrorism’, given the terrorist organizations being nurtured on its home soil. It has long affected Pakistan’s internal stability and security, the situation seems to be showing no signs of improvement. Because the CPEC is so important to the government, the construction sites and personnel could become targets for religious and nationalist extremists. The Pakistani authorities have promised to provide security to Chinese workers, but this is a short term solution. It is uncertain if over time, Pakistan would maintain its promise by deploying the military and ensuring the safety of the workers.
Secondly, Pakistan’s domestic politics is also important to the CPEC’s success. The country’s political system has never been particularly stable. Political power oscillates between military and civilian leaders. Pakistan’s traditional political culture, which is almost feudal in nature, also continues to play an important role. Powerful families based in different provinces, such as the Bhuttos and the Sharifs, have typically held political power. Behind the party politics are local interest groups associated with these families. Various parties within Pakistan have disagreed a lot about how CPEC transportation routes should be mapped out. The debate over which route the CPEC would follow has caused and will cause substantial delays.
And finally, the cultural concerns. As China and Pakistan gradually expand cooperation, there will be an increasing number of Chinese corporations investing in Pakistan. Different cultural practices and ways of thinking could cause misunderstandings, and this could negatively affect CPEC projects. For these corporations to be successful, they will need to understand local cultures, norms, and rules. Having information about and services for doing business in Pakistan is also crucial for Chinese corporations.
One of India’s major concerns is that the corridor is passing through the disputed territory of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). This is a violation of the sovereignty of the Indian territory and hence, India has been quite vocal about this. Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Chinese President Xi Jinping the two countries need to be “sensitive” to each other’s strategic interests. If China continues with this project, it means that they consider this region to be a part of Pakistan, thus infringing India’s sovereignty.
Secondly, China will get additional access to the Pakistan territory and the Arabian Sea. It is a geo-political advantage for them. Also, considering the fact that the friendship between China and Pakistan has been lasting for the past five decades and the recent backing of Pakistan by China in the United Nations against India, China shall back Pakistan militarily in case of a skirmish with India. India must take all steps that it can to sabotage its development, if it still wants to remain the superpower in the region.
The insurgency and the militant groups of Balochistan needs no introduction. Ever since the mention of the ‘B’ word by PM Modi in the Independence Day speech last year, it has left the Pakistan government furious and has even accused India on conducting terrorist activities in the region. Balochistan is one of the least developed provinces of Pakistan and epicenter of CPEC. Pakistani government has been ignoring the Baloch region since its incorporation into Pakistan. At the time of independence Balochistan was an independent princely state but was later annexed by Pakistan. Since its annexation the demand and struggle for independence is going on which is being suppressed from time to time by excessive use of force by Pakistani military. Balochistan’s Gwadar city is the crux of CPEC but people are raising their voice against this project. Hence, Pakistan has much to do and a long way to go in order to instill confidence in the people of this region.
If we look ahead with the hope of the CPEC dream coming true, it would be a win-win situation for both China and Pakistan. China will use Pakistan as a pathway to increase its access to global markets, and in doing so, the economy of Pakistan would be accelerated. To be frank, all India can do is to wait and watch. It is not under the power of India to impose sanctions or condemn this act on a global stage. The best India can expect is to hope that this turns tables around and becomes a burden for Pakistan and China, thereby decreasing the economy further of Pakistan.
– Sundaresan Manickam