CPEC, Objectives, Hurdles

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Naveed Aman Khan

Political, diplomatic and cultural relationship between China and Pakistan is very strong. China- Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is an example of mutual interdependence and trust. CPEC aims to facilitate trade along with an overland route that connects Kashgar-China and Gwadar-Pakistan, through construction of a network of highways, railways, energy sectors, and pipelines. The Corridor will rapidly expand and upgrade Pakistani infrastructure as well as deepen and broaden economic links between Pakistan and China.

CPEC rose in 2006 and later tabled the suggestion of building a strategic economic corridor with China. Later, both countries signed several agreements which officially kicked off construction of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Pakistan’s geo-strategic location, nestled between powerful economies, like China, South Asia, Gulf States and Central Asia, has long been recognized.

For China, Pakistan is a gateway to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East where China seeks to showcase its soft power, develop trade and diplomatic links. Securing a route to Indian Ocean via port of Gwadar, China will do the job nicely. It will also help China to develop its military presence in the region while playing a role in its “String of Pearls” strategy.

CPEC consists of a Eurasian “Silk Road Economic Belt” and a Southeast Asian “Maritime Silk Road”. Pakistan has potential to serve as nexus for two routes, and Beijing describes CPEC as a “flagship project”. Pakistan’s Gwadar port could help to alleviate the “Malacca dilemma” through which China imports two thirds of its oil. The Corridor gives China shortest access to the Middle East, Europe and Africa where thousands of Chinese firms, employing tens of thousands of Chinese workers, are involved in development activities.

China is facing challenges in South China Sea. China is importing two thirds of oil from this route but it is not safe, any time there might start a conflict. CPEC is an alternative route for China.

The corridor also promises to open up remote, landlocked Xinjiang, and create incentives for both state and private enterprises to expand economic activity and create jobs in this under-developed region. The development of Kashgar will also reduce isolation of restive Xinjiang province; deepen its engagement with the rest of China.

Gwadar lies close to Hormuz, a key oil shipping lane. It could open up an energy and trade corridor from the Gulf across Pakistan to western China.

CPEC offers Pakistan an excellent opportunity to upgrade basic infrastructure of all provinces as the corridor essentially passes through whole of Pakistan. New roads, highways, railways, airports and Gwadar port is to be built and developed according to the blue print of this ambitious project.

Fully functional corridor promises huge employment opportunities in all sections of society. CPEC has a lot of investment in different power projects. The energy aspect has been termed the biggest breakthrough of the project.

Pakistan’s over-reliance on the US for strategic and financial purposes has not served the country well. CPEC provides Pakistan an opportunity to work closely with more reliable friend, China, independent of Western influence. Central Asian Republics are keen to plug their infrastructure networks to CPEC which will allow them access to Indian Ocean. CPEC will have the best chance of transforming Pakistan’s economic outlook if it also sparks a wave of foreign investment from other countries.

India is continuously protesting against CPEC project, linking GB to Kashmir dispute and claiming the land. To overcome this issue, Pakistan needs to address the constitutional limbo and bring Gilgit-Baltistan in national mainstream. Beijing has political issue in western part which might be a big problem for China. Some terrorist groups are active in western China, like Uighur militant groups, East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) etc.

The most ignored aspect of CPEC project is whether Pakistan will be able to function as a sovereign state while an economic and military giant like China gets involved in almost every major economic decisions? Chinese security personnel have been deployed in Pakistan to provide security to Chinese workers, officials and engineers, in addition to the security provided by Pakistan. Gwadar port is located in Balochistan and militancy of some groups is causing challenge to the corridor.

Political organizations from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh have voiced concerns over changing original plan of the Corridor which allegedly diverts the economic benefits to Punjab province only. Gilgit-Baltistan which is starting point of the Corridor is neglected in this project. That’s why some political parties, nationalists and civil society members are protesting at different platforms across the country.

Pakistan and China agreed to form cooperation structure with CPEC at centre and Gwadar Port, energy, transport infrastructure and industrial cooperation being the four key areas to achieve common development. On 13 November 2016, the first trade activity took place through CPEC. Cargo from China via Corridor and loaded on ships at Gwadar port headed to markets in West Asia and Africa. Gwadar remains a work in progress with total traffic of only half a million tons in 2016 but traffic is expected to go double in 2017. It will process four hundred million tons annually and the city will grow from eighty thousand to two million residents.