Dr. Nasreen Akhtar
China-Pakistan relations are commendable in the modern state system. China–Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a mega project between the two states and it is a life-time investment which would transform life of the people of Pakistan. CPEC is a landmark socio-economic initiative which covers many troubling parts, particularly Balochistan (western borders). Knowing the hostile regional environment, the Pakistan Army has vowed to complete this project at any cost and providing security which has been acknowledged by the Chinese Government and military leadership. During his visit in May 2018, General Zhang Youxia said, “Efforts of Pak Army in safeguarding CPEC security are highly appraised”. Therefore, bilateral security and political cooperation between China-Pakistan may exasperate their hostile forces. We should admit and admire that actuality of CPEC has bestowed broader dividends and all partners would enjoy. This Land-Sea based economic corridor cooperation is based on mutual trust between China and Pakistan.
The idea of CPEC was floated in the 1990s. China approached Musharraf’s government to connect China’s “western provinces to the Arabian Sea in 1999”. Gwadar Port, however, changed the nature of relations between the two old time tested friends. Many agreements were signed after 2010 (during Zardari era) but CPEC was signed in 2013 and Pakistan was passing through the gravest time because terrorism challenged the state and security establishment. Pakistan launched Operation ‘Zarb-e-Azb 2014’ against terrorists in Pakistan and eliminated their core sanctuaries. In this war, Pakistan paid very high cost and to meet its socio-economic requisite, Pakistan needed CPEC to be materialized so terms and conditions were fixed up during President Xi Jinping’s official visit to Pakistan in April 2015. China happily agreed to spend $46 billion (now approximately $62billion) for infrastructure to launch the trade route-connectivity with the regional and global markets. China has provided “concessional loan” to Pakistan which has never been possible between the two old partners –Pakistan and US.
In his address to the joint session of Parliament, President Xi Jinping, commended Pakistan and China’s historical relations and said “ Pakistan stood by Beijing at a time when it stood isolated on the world stage”. In global politics every state seeks its personal interests at other’s cost but China also keeps Pakistan on its priority to provide economic benefits through CPEC. CPEC is an unprecedented regional-global project which would strengthen Pakistan’s fragile social and economic sectors.
Since Imran Khan has assumed power in August 2018, his government is striving for more mutual cooperation from China. During his first visit to China, Prime Minister Imran Khan, urged that ‘we can learn from China more than any country in the world’ because China is a rising global power. Today, CPEC is actually changing Pakistan’s fate. Pakistan’s energy, industrial and agriculture sectors would excel and increase Pakistan’s capacity to facilitate its people. The new year of 2019 may take off Pakistan economically and CPEC’s broader dividends would drastically change Pakistan’s internal socio-economic order. According to the Minister for Planning and Development, Khusro Bakhtiar, “in 2019 several economic zones are being set up and they would increase Pakistan’s export”. Soon Pakistan would enjoy its dividends. Recently, Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing, rightly said, “CPEC is a broader initiative and China does not have any unilateral interest in it”. A broader initiative for broader dividends will make and shape Pakistan’s economy to uplift its poor people and feeble industry.
Undoubtedly, CPEC has provided the new avenues to Pakistan which has been fighting terrorism on its own soil and terrorism has left grave impact on Pakistan’s socio-economic condition and without China’s help it would not have been possible for Pakistan to commence commendable projects to develop its infrastructure and to connect itself with international markets – Central Asian States, Middle East, Africa and Europe. As we know the other’s war ‘War on Terrorism’ has incapacitated Pakistan and it needs tremendous economic support. Ironically, many people in Pakistan criticize CPEC in Seminars, Conferences and on TV Channels. They depict CPEC as a ‘trap by China’ against Pakistan, it seems they do not read China-Pakistan history and their bilateral political and security relations. Their naïve narrative disseminates unrest in developing zones and irks China as well. The critique must understand that “for their survival States depend on each other” fortunately, Pakistan is depending on China which never disappointed Pakistan and its people.
CPEC irritates Pakistan’s rival India and China’s rival US which is considering China as the only ‘competent competitor’ in the world. Both India and the US have launched great debate and campaign against CPEC. Debate gained momentum after the US Defence Secretary, James Mattis, said, “CPEC would traverse disputed territory (Gilgit- Baltistan).” US opposition to CPEC seemed to be confirmed when the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, argued that an IMF financing program for Pakistan should not be used to repay Chinese ‘bond holders’ and banks. The US stance was interpreted widely as part of its strategic confrontation with China “spanning trade, technology, the South China Sea”. So, CPEC is not a threat to Pakistan, however, this is a great upset to anti-Pak-China forces.
CPEC, undoubtedly, will influence the US and India’s interests, consequently India and the US have common concerns which were reflected by the US Secretary of Defence, Jim Mattis. He said, “The One Belt One Road strategy to secure China’s over both the continental and maritime interests, in their eventual hope of dominating Eurasia and exploiting natural resources there, things that are certainly at odds with US policy. So what role do you see China playing in Afghanistan, and particularly related to their” Belt Road Initiative (BRI. To the US, China via CPEC, would be able to have direct access to Indian Ocean. India and US know that CPEC would not work without Gwadar Port which will enable China’s movement in Indian Ocean. China’s expansion in Ocean would deter the US “from blocking the Strait of Malacca, a key passage in the Indo-Pacific region”. To curtail China’s influence the US has developed its grand strategy and renamed the US Pacific Command as ‘US-Indo Pacific Command’ in 2018 and Secretary Mattis categorically stated that “in recognition of increasing connectivity of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, we renamed the US Pacific Command”. The former commander of the US Pacific Command has said, “Great power competition is back”. CPEC may bring prosperity to Pakistan while it is a great upset for the anti-Pak-China forces. These forces may not be able to alter the regional and international dynamics which are going to be changed via CPEC and BRI.
Dr.Nasreen Akhtar is Assistant Professor – Politics and IR, IIUI.