CPEC is Central to the Economic Integration of South and Central Asia


Col ® Muhammad Hanif

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a flagship project of the Belt and Road (B&R) mega initiative of China. The B&R initiative along with six proposed corridors, including the CPEC is meant to interconnect China, South Asia, West Asia, Central Asia, Russia, Middle East, Africa and Europe for an easier and less time consuming flow of trade and investment. The CPEC is a project worth US $ 62 billion to connect Kashghar city of China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region with Gwadar port of Pakistan. The project comprises a network of roads, railways, airports, fibre optic-based communication systems and Special Economic Zones (SEZs).

China has started the B&R and CPEC projects with the purpose to enhance its investment to develop the infrastructure and industry of the neighbouring countries and regions as part of the shared destiny to increase its own trade and also enable the neighbouring regions and countries to increase their industry and trade capacities. With their increased production capacities with the Chinese investment, the countries of South Asia and Central Asian Republics (CARs) will be able to trade within their own regions, with China and between both the regions using the CPEC as a quick means of communications.

But, to reap the above-mentioned CPEC-related economic benefits of regional economic integration and development it is necessary that peace and harmony is preferred by the countries of South Asia, and they cooperate with each other to resolve the contentious issues that are plaguing their mutual economic cooperation, as SAARC’s mutual trade is only 5 percent of its total trade, which is minimum as compared with other trading blocs, like ASEAN, NAFTA and EU. The two major issues in South Asia are the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India and the Afghan war. Because of these two disputes, the South Asian countries have suffered a lot in leading peaceful life and achieving economic development and integration through mutual investment, trade and tourism and also in carrying out trade with the CARs.

Now that China is investing in the CPEC on a large scale to improve infrastructure and industrial capacities of these regions, it is necessary that the countries of South and Central Asia start preferring geo-economics over geopolitics, and mutually cooperate to resolve the Jammu & Kashmir dispute and establish peace in Afghanistan and realize the CPEC-related intra-regional and inter-regional connectivity to reap economic benefits.

In the context of resolving the above-mentioned two major disputes, while Pakistan and India should hold sustainable and result-oriented mutual negotiations to resolve the Jammu & Kashmir dispute, the other SAARC countries should support them to bring peace and harmony in South Asia, which will facilitate South Asian countries’ mutual connectivity, investment and trade relations and their economic relations with other regions by joining the CPEC. In this context, Pakistan and India have to realize that economic benefits of investing and trading within South Asia and with China, the Central Asia and the other regions of the world far outweigh than lingering on with the Jammu & Kashmir dispute to disrupt their mutual relations and connectivity.

To connect with the Central Asia by joining the CPEC, it is also necessary that an early peace is achieved in Afghanistan. In this regard, it is important that the South Asian, Central Asian and other regional countries support the Pakistan-facilitated ongoing peace process between the US and the Taliban which will subsequently also include the talks with the Afghan Government. It is encouraging to note that the US-Taliban talks are progressing well and there is a need that the Afghan Government and other Afghan political stalwarts also show flexibility to hold successful negotiations with the Taliban to strike an early peace deal for the good of the Afghan people, who have suffered too much and for too long.

If an early peace is established in Afghanistan and the Jammu & Kashmir dispute is resolved by Pakistan and India, then not only all the South Asian countries will be able to connect with each other to share their investment, and industrial technology and carry out mutual trade in the agricultural and industrial goods, energy, natural resources, manpower and tourism, they will also be able to use the CPEC as the shortest route to carry out aforementioned economic activities with China, Central Asia, West Asia and Europe to earn huge economic benefits to alleviate poverty. Hence, it can be concluded with a firm conviction that the CPEC is central to the economic connectivity and integration of South and Central Asian regions and China with each other and with the other regions of the world.