CPEC: Paradigm geopolitical Shift from Asia-Pacific to Indo-Pacific

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Dr Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan

GRAVITY of real power politics is slowly but surely shifting from West to East because of various complex and complicated socio-economic compulsions, geopolitical concessions and last but not the least geostrategic compromises. China’s project of the century i.e. One Belt One Road Initiative (BRI) and flagship project, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are in the line of fire especially, after recent imposition of new economic sanctions against Iran, China and even Russian companies other than ongoing throat-cut US-China trade war. Both projects are, undoubtedly, symbols of greater regional connectivity, socio-economic integration, eradication of poverty and generation of new jobs and hurdles in the US-India hegemonic designs in the region. While responding to a question in the recent TV interview Prime Minister Imran Khan once again reaffirmed that the future of Pakistan depends on its strategic alliance and economic partnership with China in which the CPEC would play a vital role in the days to come.

New economic partnerships in Asia are diverting its bounties towards China whereas India and the US are in the search of new economic equations to compete with rising economic might of China. In this context, even Pakistan is feeling the heat of emerging pro-India US policies, defence deals, economic MOUs, the GCC newly honeymoon obsessions towards India and new greater alignment drive in the Middle East. The SBP latest report (November 2020) feared out-flow of millions of Pakistani workforce from the Middle East. Moreover, Pakistan being a strategic partner of China through CPEC and India as US strategic ally in the region may have serious socio-economic, geopolitical and geostrategic spill-over repercussions for Pakistan because of the new US Indo-Pacific strategy.

Due to US national economic protectionism, the US-China competition has now created dangerous zones for the regional as well as global countries. It fears that US-China competition will be more pronounced across the Eurasian region in the days to come. The major struggle will be staged in the newly emerging Indo-Pacific region. The Indo-Pacific region refers to the confluence of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, which interconnect in Southeast Asia and divergent economic policies, geopolitical preferences and geostrategic preferential approaches has already increased diplomatic uneasiness in the region especially among Islamabad, New Delhi and Beijing.

The shift from the Asia-Pacific to the Indo-Pacific is a matter of realpolitik which reflects a paradigm geopolitical shift in the region. The US Administrations ranging from George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Trump tried to encircle China with the help of its regional allies like Australia, India, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines. However, the Trump Administration reemphasized Indian Ocean because of its economic value and geostrategic importance as it is the key to the seven seas in the 21th century, the destiny of the world will be decided in these waters. Indo-Pacific region is increasingly becoming a focus of attention for competing interests of the US, India and China to gain strategic influence which is likely to transform the geopolitical scenario not only in the Asia Pacific region but also in South Asia.

The US National-Security Strategy (2017) termed the Indo-Pacific region the centre of geopolitical competition between free and exploitive visions of the world. The US regaining in the Indo-Pacific region aims at curbing China’s continuous rise as an economic giant while placing India at the centre of its policy besides acknowledging it as the leading power worthy of the US defence and security agreements. Thus, major regional countries including China, Russia, India and Pakistan are in the phase of diversifying and reconfiguring their relationships. These rapidly changing geopolitical configurations are inching toward to form a new global order having a strategic shift of the US from ‘Trans-Atlantic’ to ‘Trans-Pacific’ politics. The Indo-Pacific region is, therefore, turned out to be a new global stage for geopolitical, economic, and military competition among great powers characterizing this 21st century as ‘The Asian Century”.

US prepared to take on the challenges to its hegemony. The Government of Pakistan has been under tremendous socio-economic and geopolitical pressure from the US to slow down the pace of CPEC. The West FATF syndrome, terrorist activities from Afghanistan and India, delays in IMF & World Bank sanctions, the GCC capital shift to India and last but not the least, start of 5th generation hybrid war all indicate the US concrete and comprehensive efforts to force Pakistan to stay away from China and not to develop, operationalize and channelize the strategic seaport Gwadar.

China’s rapid economic and strategic growth in the shape of its trillion dollar project “BRI”, its fast expanding influence across Southeast Asian Regions and unstoppable growth of the CPEC and its dominance in South China Sea are some eliciting factors challenging US-India hegemony; thus, to contain and counter China’s ascendance US cruise Nimitz & Ronald Reagan have conducted naval drills which basically aim at creating troubles for China in the Indo-Pacific region in order to disrupt its oil supplies via Strait Of Malacca. However, successful completion of CPEC, a Chinese $70 billion project will offer China an alternative route to Strait of Malacca for its safe oil supply to China from the Gulf.

The US has chosen India as its strategic partner in the Indo-Pacific region with increasing cooperation in the field of defence, such as the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA). Most recently, Chinese Foreign Ministry reiterated its support for a greater role of Gwadar deep seaport in regional trade as an important component of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) flagship project. Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Spokesperson Lijian Zhao said that the international transit activities had started with the arrival of the first fish cargo at the Gwadar port for onward shipment to China. China supports the Gwadar port’s greater role in the regional cooperation on trade and goods. He was of the opinion that the facts had proven that CPEC had not only benefited Chinese and Pakistani people, but had also facilitated regional connectivity and economic cooperation. Moreover, the CPEC would surely play a more positive role in helping the region achieve prosperity,” Lijian added.

Being a prominent regional expert of China, BRI and CPEC, I share that there is an urgent need of complete overhauling in foreign, economic and information ministries in the country because US-Indo Pacific has become a bitter reality of real power politics in which survival for the fittest be with economic self-reliance, sustainable economic partnership and last but not least, mega bilateral and trilateral economic and trade projects like the CPEC and BRI. Pakistan needs to diversify its foreign policy options by working constructively and progressively while ensuring its internal security strong.

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