CPEC:  Pakistan Navy & Future Maritime Economic Cooperation

Dr. Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan

Success of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is directly “correlated” with Pakistan Navy’s “operationalization” and “channelization”. On its part, the Pakistan Navy (PN) being “custodian” of blue economy, coastal areas, shores, and waters of the country is “utilizing” all possible resources to safeguard the security and commercial interest of the CPEC. In this connection, its strategic partnership with China is a “game changer”.

Most recently, China launched a second advanced warship a    Type-054 Class Frigate for Pakistan. It is indeed the country’s most advanced frigate. It has a better defence capability and is equipped with an improved radar system and a larger amount of missiles with a longer range. Moreover, it also has world-class stealth capability.

According to reports (January 30, 2021) the launching ceremony was held at the Hudong Zhonghua Shipyard in China’s Shanghai and was attended by Chief Naval Overseer (China) Commodore Azfar Humayun and senior Chinese officials. It is hoped that modernization of the PV would be vital for securing the ongoing projects of the CPEC especially trade and commerce activities of the Gwadar seaport in the days to come.

The 7th AMAN multinational naval exercise will be held in Pakistan in the month of February 2021. It is expected that 40 countries will participate in it. Russia will also be taking part in the AMAN-7 for the first time which shows its eagerness to extend military and naval cooperation with Pakistan.

Hopefully AMAN-7 will further enhance Pakistan’s Navy professional and tactical capability and will be a giant step in its future capacity building measures. The main theme of AMAN-7 is “peace” which means through peace the “pace”, “production” and “prosperity” of the Gwadar seaport will be further enhanced.

For the further strengthening of maritime security the navies of China and Pakistan held sixth bilateral naval exercise, titled “Sea Guardians-2020”, in the northern Arabian Sea during 2020. The naval drills were aimed at exploring new methods of conducting China-Pakistan joint naval drills while stepping up the capabilities to jointly address issues such as maritime terrorism and crime.

Chinse government announced its ‘one belt, one road initiative (BRI) in 2013 aiming to create land routes and maritime openings for building trade linkages and connections regionally and globally and CPEC is a vital part of it. The CPEC is significant as it connects the BRI with the 21st century maritime silk road. It provides an important land route between China, Pakistan, the GCC region, the MENA and beyond.

CPEC, being a mega project, strengthens the existing road links such as the Karakoram Highway, trade, investment and economic ties between China and Pakistan and opens new opportunities for economic and infrastructure development in the country. CPEC and developments in Gwadar and Kashgar can be evaluated as implementing China’s ‘Go West’ and Pakistan’s ‘Go East’ policies.

Development of Gwadar Port is important for the economic prosperity of Pakistan. For Pakistan, the economic benefits from Gwadar stem from its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz as a key shipping point and trade hub, once road, rail and air links connect it to the rest of Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and Central Asia.

Pakistan wishes to use Gwadar Port for trade and energy transportation to China, Afghanistan and Central Asia. Moreover, with the development of rail, road and air connection between Gwadar and surrounding areas, all trade from and to China and Central Asia will adopt the shortest available route via Gwadar multiplying the trade benefits for Pakistan.

Islamabad and Beijing plan to enhance bilateral cooperation in the fields of maritime security, search and rescue, disaster relief at sea, maritime scientific research, environmental protection and the blue economy. In 2013, both states inked two MoUs on maritime cooperation and cooperation in the field of marine science and technology’.

In 2015, both states also signed the protocol on the establishment of China-Pakistan joint marine research centre between State Oceanic Administration of China and the Ministry of Science and Technology of Pakistan. In order to ensure meaningful progress on all maritime cooperation-related issues, a special dialogue forum was also initiated.

CPEC is the main focus of recent relations between Pakistan and China. It provides an opportunity for China and Pakistan to improve their interaction with Central Asia, West Asia and the Middle East, will equally contribute to the socio-economic development of other countries that become part of these arrangements.

Pakistan Navy has already realized the importance of a “holistic” and “futuristic” policy to pursue a “collective” and “collaborative” policies/plans and approachs towards maritime security. By pursuing and implementing “diversified” but “integrated” peace initiatives, the Pakistan Navy has become an “active partner” in international naval coalitions.

Furthermore, it has also developed its own initiatives such as the “AMAN” series of multinational naval exercises, the annual international maritime conference, institutionalisation of coastal command and the joint maritime information coordination centre (JMICC). However, the increased economic and commercial stakes in the region will necessitate additional maritime security efforts notably from the Pakistan Navy (PN).

To match up with the emerging maritime security trends and to protect ongoing mega project of the CPEC, Pakistan government is committed to enhancing the operational capacity of both the Pakistan Navy and associated Maritime Security Agency (MSA). The PN started a high level submarine construction project with China; in 2015, both countries also signed a contract for the joint construction of six corvettes for the Maritime Security Agency. While four of these corvettes will be built in China, two corvettes will be concurrently built in Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works in Pakistan.

80-90 global trade is carried through water in which energy shipment and food security is also done through seas. The future of blue economy is directly correlated with maritime security in which PN is scaling new heights of “productivity”, “efficacy” and “vigilance”. It has to face national as well as regional maritime threats for which it has been trained and motivated.

Being a prominent regional expert of CPEC & BRI, I uphold that the complexity of Indian Ocean, diversity & depth of Arabian Sea, protection of commercial/merchant navy operations, coping with dangerous pirates and last but not the least, security of coastal areas all witness “gallant” response and combat capabilities of Pakistan Navy.

It is indeed “champion” of “Sea Peace” and “guarantor” of “indispensible” maritime security. Sincere efforts should be initiated to have joint venture with Turkey to build a “stealth submarine” for the further strengthening of maritime security of the country in the days to come.