Col (Retd) Muhammad Hanif
It is a well known fact that CPEC is one of the most important flagship projects as part of China’s OBOR-One Belt One Road Initiative, which is aimed to connect various regions and continents with China and with each other. Also called as the Chinese Silk Road initiative, announced by Xi Jinping (Chinese President), it will link China with Europe for trade to boost economy of Asian countries and Africa. The CPEC, a mega enterprise, comprises a cluster of development projects, building highways, railway lines, oil and gas pipelines, fibre optical cable lines to connect China’s Xingjian (Kashgar) with Gwadar Port in Balochistan, Pakistan. This Corridor also includes construction of Information technology parks and Special Economic Zones (SEZs). The CPEC construction is based on financing the Chinese Companies for infrastructure projects in Pakistan by China worth the cost of $ 46 billion to link Gwadar Port to China and the rest of the world for international trade through OBOR, and this commitment was made by the Chinese President, Mr Xi Jinping by signing, an Agreement with the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Muhammad Nawaz Sharif at Islamabad in 2015. Later, some other projects were included in the CPEC by increasing the Chinese investment up to $57 billion.
The CPEC, along with the “Kunming-Singapore Indochina Peninsular railway”, and the “China-Myanmar oil and gas line”, is one of the three key economic corridors that connect China to South and Southeast Asia. But the construction of “Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM)” economic corridor has not been started as yet because of India’s opposition to the Corridor. As the most significant part of the B&R Initiative the CPEC not only brings many economic dividends to Pakistan and China, it is also highly valuable to connect Central Asia, West Asia and Middle East, South Asia, South East Asia, East Asia, Eurasia, and Europe with China and each other for trade and investment and industrialization with lot of advantages for economic development, peacemaking and welfare of the people of the aforementioned regions and continents.
The CPEC’s high value will be further enhanced with the establishment of peace in Afghanistan and CPEC’s connectivity with Central Asia, Russia and Eurasian Union. In this context, probability of peacemaking in Afghanistan has increased with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent rapprochement towards Afghanistan’s Taliban, from which it seems that Russia wants to play an assertive role in making peace in Afghanistan. This will also keep Central Asia and Russia safe from Daesh-related terrorism as the Taliban in Afghanistan would not tolerate the presence of Daesh in Afghanistan. In this regard, Chinese President Xi Jinping is also expected to support Russia’s such a policy as China also wants an early peace in Afghanistan, mainly for its commercial interests linked with Afghanistan and possibly for properly exploiting the advantages of the CPEC.
By joining and using the CPEC through Central Asia and Afghanistan, Russia wants to spread its economic and military influence to the Persian Gulf as it has already connected itself with Afghanistan by means of road and rail links through energy rich Central Asia. In this context, possibly, in view of joining the CPEC, Russia’s Ambassador Alexey Y Dedov while talking to the media last month in Pakistan stated, “Moscow has not just declared strong support for the China- Pakistan Economic Corridor project, but also announced its intention to link its own Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) project with this Corridor”. Russia has strongly supported the CPEC as it was important for regional connectivity as the CPEC and China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor, both are key enterprises of OBOR/Silk Road Project. In view of Pakistan’s strategic significance for peace in Afghanistan and the progress of the CPEC, Russia is maintaining its pragmatic public position on its growing ties with Pakistan despite the fact that it has disturbed Indian policymakers who have sought to isolate Islamabad. In this context, when India, officially conveyed to Moscow, that it was disturbed by Russia’s decision to hold its first ever joint military exercise with Pakistan days after Uri attack the Russians justified it by saying that the exercise was meant to help Pakistan deal with terrorism.
CPEC would act as a means to connect earlier mentioned regions
The geo-economic dictates suggest maximum radiation of CPEC economic flows in the South Asia region. It would link the two largest economies of the belt, China and India. The absence of this link restricts India-China trade to $71 billion and India-Pakistan trade to $2 billion. The absence of the link with India seriously constrains the trade volumes of other SAARC members. Their dividends would remain limited unless India fully partakes of CPEC. Goods from the landlocked Bhutan and Nepal cannot access the Pakistani market through the shorter land route passing through India. These countries cannot transit their goods through Pakistan to Central Asia and China. Similarly, Bangladesh cannot access the shorter land route through India to Pakistan and onward to China or West Asia, North Africa and Gulf States. The island nations of Maldives and Sri Lanka can, of course, reach China through Gwadar. Bhutan and Nepal can directly link with China, while Bangladesh lies on the south-western route of the Silk Road linking it with Kinmin in Yunnan province of China.
The India-Pakistan tensions keep the intra-SAARC trade in the low range of 4-6 per cent of GDP. Even if these tensions were to subside, the economic flows would still be constrained by poor connectivity. The CPEC investment prepares the region to take full advantage of any thaw in the relations between the two largest members of SAARC. Is it hoping against the hope?
Note: The correct title of Asia Maqsood’s last Wednesday’s article was “Indo- US obnoxious stance on CPEC: A critical Appraisal. It was wrongly printed as “Indo-Pak obnoxious stance on CPEC: A Critical Appraisal”. The mistake is highly regretted.