CPEC, OBOR and stability

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Imtiaz Rafi Butt

WHEN President Xi Jinping of China spoke on the One Belt One Road initiative, he referred to it as, a massive program of globalization, “We have no intention to form a small group detrimental to stability, what we hope to create is a big family of harmonious co-existence”, said Mr. Xi. Since the dawn of human civilization, rising superpowers have always opted for aggressive expansion and competitive advantages, on the contrary, China in 2018, is a rising power that is choosing a different path to progress and dominance. The central idea is simply, the promotion of globalized stability. If this philosophy is to succeed, it would be the first of its kind. Fortunately, Pakistan is at the forefront of this noble endeavour.
Geo-political scholars and statesman around the world are of the view that CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) and OBOR (One Belt One Road Initiative) will create a “Sino centric” world, and, there is solid background to this interpretation. Whereas CPEC is only the road-face of the OBOR initiative which is worth 60 billion USD, the overall worth of OBOR is set to stand at a staggering 5 trillion USD, with a subsidiary enhancement of 113 billion USD announced in January, 2018. With this, the Chinese Government termed OBOR as the “Project of the Century”, rightly so, a total of 64 countries have come forward to join the trading and networking benefits with China. In simple numbers, a combination of these countries accounts for 70 percent of World’s total trade. Through revival of the ancient trading routes in land and sea, these countries would be connected through massive projects on roads, bridges, energy, ports, railways, power plants and technical assistance. A total of 1700 OBOR projects are already underway. CPEC, along with its central 3000 KM highway connecting Pakistan with Central Asian States and a huge trade portal setup at Gwadar, is the key piece of the program. The higher volume of trade and businesses will result in well-connected and a win-win model between different countries. CPEC and OBOR appear to be focused on trade and connectivity but there is also a socio-cultural aspect to this initiative. Beijing has setup a comprehensive plan to instigate cultural exchanges with countries that are part of OBOR. All this concludes into stability and harmonious geo-strategic ties. Stability seems to be the order of the day from Chinese authorities.
Drawing a parallel between the massive economic aims of China with the popularly known, “economic miracle” of Japan after 1945, key features can be highlighted that go in favour of the philosophical approach of OBOR. Once Japan was destroyed in the Second World War, the United States led the rehabilitation of the Japanese State. US companies invested heavily in Japan and countered the influence of the communists in the region. The Cold War was in its full swing and Japan took full advantage of the situation and as a result, today historians call it “the economic miracle”. The poor and destroyed people of Japan turned the tables and came out of the depression of the Second World War with progress and welfare. This was only possible with the involvement of the United States as an investor and people of Japan taking advantage of the circumstances in the wake of Cold War between the Soviet Bloc and the Western countries. A similar example is of South Korea, in the 1960s, South Korea was one of the poorest countries of the world. It was even worse than the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1960s. Today, South Korea is one of the richest nations in the region and the world. The volume of these interventions can be gauged at 62billion USD and further investment after the initial phase of development by Japan. Seoul took proper advantage of these investments and through innovation and intelligent decision-making, was able to rise to the status of a strong and stable economy. Stability is first objective that will be achieved. The worth of CPEC and OBOR exceed the investment volumes injected into Japan and South Korea and the infrastructure available in Pakistan and other recipient countries of OBOR is in far more sophisticated condition than war ravaged poor nation. But not always does War and investment plans are able to rescue a people from economic perils as is evident in many cases.
As of 2018, Africa and Middle East are the most troubled regions in the world. War, corruption, violence and economic backwardness seem to be incurable. Divided societies fail to realize their potential and without economic uplift, many other evils are born. Rightly pointed out by Thomas Pogge, an activist and academician working on poverty alleviation, that a man who is living in abject poverty will be subjected to other human rights violations as well, women who are poor are significantly in danger of abuse, rape and exploitation, similarly, children living in poverty are more prone to diseases, malnutrition and other serious problems. Economic progress breeds stability and stability ensures human rights and well-being. Despite huge investments from International Donor Agencies, International Government Organizations and Europe, poor African countries have failed to find a path to progress. Corruption and lack of co-ordination remain the top two culprits. The African Union has not been able to chalk out a single collaborative plan to promote regional trade and connectivity. Rather, the focus has been on border and terrain disputes which, to this day, remain unresolved. It is a well-known phenomena that poor nations are the ones that more susceptible to religious intolerance and brutality. The genocide in Rwanda is a horrific reminder that the poverty and divisions in society are to be addressed on an emergency basis. Shifting our focus to the Middle East, once again, we observe countries engaged in repeated wars and conflicts. The Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf War, the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, the political upheavals in Syria, Yemen, Egypt and Morocco have all failed to raise the country out of dire circumstances. Unable to understand the challenge and working towards an innovative solution, religious intolerance, division and conflict remain at the top of their agenda.
Pakistan is at a cross-road. Military rule in the past brought more problems than solutions and democracy is still under threat. Clash of institutions and political uncertainty continue to hamper a business friendly environment which equates to a poor economy attracting a host of issues discussed earlier. It is upto the people now, join the ranks of countries like Japan and South Korea taking full cognizance of the opportunity that is CPEC and OBOR, or, let it go to waste like all other avenues exhausted without fruit in the past. Gwadar can become a jewel of trading and progress or can get bogged down with conspiracies and insurgent violence. CPEC and OBOR have all the ingredients to make stability a reality for Pakistan. As of now, the ray of hope is still alive, in March, 2018, Yao Jing, Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, proudly commented that there is no threat to CPEC and Gwadar and all projects are proceeding as per plan. Ships are already leaving from Gwadar and as the world watches, Pakistan can enter a fresh and brighter part of its history.

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