CPEC: Geo-economics vs. Geo-Politics

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Muhammad Munir

There is no doubt that in the today’s globalized world, following the geo-economics rather than geo-politics would offer multifaceted incentives to various regions and countries in the form of faster economic growth, creation of jobs, socio-economic development, energy cooperation and regional connectivity. In this context China’s initiatives relating to regional connectivity and infrastructure development in the form of One Belt One Road (OBOR) also termed as Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) offer great opportunities to all the countries on a win-win cooperation basis. The traditional trend of geo-politics based on power projection is no longer attractive as it creates dominance and hegemony of a few countries. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a mega project designed to create economic interdependence not only between China and Pakistan but also among other regional countries. CPEC is a corridor of geo-economics rather than geo- politics.
Indian opposition to CPEC is an effort to propagate this project as a geo-political issue. For the sake of regional prosperity India should not oppose Chinese investment in South Asia. India must review its policy of zero-sum game as the peace and cooperation in South Asia is being hampered by this policy. There is a dire need to replace the existing policy of competition and conflict with a new paradigm of geo-economics of win-win cooperation, harmony and peace.
USA which had earlier an ambiguous stance on China’s Belt and Road Initiative of which CPEC is an important component has recently criticized it first time. The Trump Administration on October 4, 2017 threw its weight behind India’s opposition to the CPEC, saying it passes through a disputed territory and no country should put itself into a position of dictating the Belt and Road Initiative. Although BRI is an inclusive project also offers equal opportunities to India in the form of Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor but India due to its alignment with US and Japan is not interested in operationalising this Corridor. Unfortunately, India is not in a mood to benefit from China’s regional connectivity initiatives. India skipped the Belt and Road Forum (BRF) in May 2017 held in Beijing, China due to its self claimed issue of sovereignty regarding CPEC which passes through Northern Areas of Pakistan that India claimed is part of disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Even some time India claims Jammu & Kashmir as its integral part where as Pakistan claims J&K as its jugular vein. The fact of the matter is that Jammu and Kashmir is interracially recognized dispute between India and Pakistan and requires resolution as per aspirations of Kashmiri people according to UNSC resolutions giving them the fundamental right to self-determination.
It was reported in the media that US Defence Secretary James Mattis while briefing the Senate Armed Services Committee highlighted that the US also believes the CPEC is passing through disputed territory. Both Pakistan and China have dismissed the US reservations over CPEC asserting that it is an economic cooperation initiative for the socio-economic development of the people in the region and beyond. In an interview with Geo News on October 8, 2017, Prime Minister of Pakistan Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that India was doing propaganda against CPEC to divert the attention of the international community form Jammu and Kashmir dispute.
Many experts are of the view that CPEC has nothing to do with the issue of sovereignty as India claimed. Mushahid Hussain Syed, who chairs the CPEC Parliamentary Committee has rightly raised a question if there has been any sovereignty issue then how by following the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, US contractors were able to built Mangla Dam in Azad Jammu & Kashmir and then no reference to a ‘disputed territory’ was made.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry also dismissed US concerns saying that the OBOR initiative was backed by the United Nations and that CPEC was an economic cooperation initiative. It added that China has repeatedly reiterated that CPEC is not directed against third parties and has nothing to do with territorial sovereignty disputes and does not affect its principled stance on the Kashmir issue. It highlighted that over 70 countries and international organizations have signed cooperation agreements with China on OBOR – including the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council – have also incorporated it in their important resolutions. Chinese perspective is very much clear and it believes that the OBOR initiative is in line with the trend of the times and conforms to the rules of development and is in line with the interests of the people of all countries and has broad and bright prospects for development.
USA should not involve in India’s dirty thinking of raising concerns on positive developments relating Belt and Road Initiative. All such efforts would remain counterproductive and would lead to US isolation as majority of countries are in favour of BRI.
It is beyond understanding why India is raising the issue of sovereignty regarding CPEC as it is not passing through Indian Territory; it is passing through Northern Areas of Pakistan even if it is considered a part of Azad Jammu and Kashmir that too under Pakistan’s administrative control. The international laws do not prohibit any development activities in the disputed territory. Then why USA is giving so much importance to Indian concerns. On the contrary USA being a champion of human rights should have persuaded India to stop brutal use of force against innocent Kashmiri people in the Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan, time and again has emphasized that the CPEC is an inclusive and open commercial project and must not be politicized.