Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi
INTERMITTENTLY, both Washington and New Delhi posit their unjust reservations over the CPEC project. While speaking to an audience at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars on last Thursday, Alice Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian affairs, said the U.S. offered a better model that would improve the fundamentals of Pakistan’s troubled economy. She also raised questions about the transparency and fairness of CPEC projects as well as related Chinese loans Islamabad has received. Her remarks drew a strong response from Chinese and Pakistani officials. China and Pakistan have urged the United States “to sift fact from fiction” before questioning their bilateral infrastructure development program, which Beijing is funding under its global Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
China outrightly rejected the remarks of Alice Wells, on CPEC, stating these are based on misperception and biased mindset. Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Yao Jing at the 5th CPEC Media Forum held here on Friday showed a strong reaction on behalf of his country on the negative remarks and said, there is no truth in allegations like China’s debt trap, corruption in CPEC’s implementation and unequal distribution of projects across Pakistan.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a well-thought-out and well-crafted project— unleashing the process of meaningful cooperation not only between the two neighbouring countries but also for the benefit of the West, Central and South Asia. The CPEC is perceived strategically, economically and socially good for Pakistan because Islamabad could systematically yet gradually achieve multiple strategic aims: (i) CPEC objectively conforms to Pakistan’s security paradigm espoused by its “Look East” policy—emphasising the furtherance of Beijing-Islamabad strategic partnership, (ii) Being located strategically at the crossroads of huge energy supplying and communicating markets, fully functional Gwadar Port —linked with China and Central Asia— could play a pivotal role in the economic revival of Pakistan and (iii) It also creates a great opportunity for socio-economic development of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Baluchistan Province.
On the contrary, Washington has unjustifiably labelled the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) a Trojan horse for Chinese expansionism—exploiting developing countries’ need of building infrastructure while luring into a debt trap that leaves them vassals of Beijing. In the view of Brian Hook, the State Department Director of Policy Planning: ‘’the confluence of complications lend credence to existing perceptions that the BRI is a made-in-China, made-for-China initiative. Strategically speaking, the phenomenon of globalization has neither replaced ‘regionalism’, nor has geo-economics replaced ‘geopolitics’. Probably, the great power, great game’ stakes are high as is their need for securing access to energy resources for their economics-led rise to ‘Great Power’ status. And yet, some cooperation is evident, in line with the indoctrinations of the ‘IR liberalism-functionalism.’
Admittedly, many other countries who once remained opposed to the CPEC have now become its pragmatic supporters. While the US has developed its ‘Asia pivot’ to contain China’s rise and to reinforce its position in the Asia Pacific region and also supports India’s reservations over it, China has to rebalance the US’ strategic trajectory. As an emerging strategic global power, both economically and militarily, Beijing has the potential and willingness to support and promote Pakistan more than any other power of the world. If CPEC works well, there appears no doubt that Pakistan would become a stronger and more stable regional and economic actor. With the possible future entry of Iran and Afghanistan into the said positive development trajectory of the CPEC, there appears no good news for India-US perceived centrifugal goals in the region.
This future scenario is constantly dismaying not only India but also America. While China’s ultimate goal is to utilize Pakistan’s strategically positioned deep-sea port— Gwadar, for energy security purposes while enhancing the growth of Seaborne trade with Pakistan. Unfortunately, the United States and India— the two strategic allies— pose very strong opposition to CPEC. Both countries have been launching a media campaign diplomatically and strategically against CPEC for the last few years vindicated by the fact that in May 2015, Premier Modi readily visited China to persuade the Chinese government to abandon this project by arguing that the CPEC route was passing through the disputed territory of Gilgit-Baltistan. The Indian formed negative apprehensions that the said project aims at targeting Indian sovereignty are absolutely unwarranted. The Indian propaganda and media warfare against the project are biased and prejudicial.
Factually, the CPEC is not aimed at encircling India neither in any way does it give a strategic framework for China Pakistan security cooperation vis-à-vis India. As for the transparency of the CPEC, both China and Pakistan could establish a bilateral transparency forum to monitor the project mechanism. The CPEC is objectively aimed at increasing local Pakistan’s security, employment and economic prosperity. China’s presence would stabilize the uneasy areas of Pakistan to the advantage of India. Nonetheless, with a view to curtailing its huge debts and managing its fiscal defaults, Pakistan needs to enhance a viable economic management vis-à-vis CPEC agreement.
And yet most significantly, security cooperation is an organic part of the economic corridor agreement, as, through the CPEC agreement, China will build four submarines to form part of Pakistan’s nuclear second-strike triad. It goes without saying that form the very beginning of the signing of the said project between Beijing and Islamabad, the future strategic fruition to be gained from this project is not being digested by both the Indian and the American strategists. The establishment of the CPEC Authority (CPECA) is being discerned with a jaundiced view by both Washington and New Delhi. President Dr Arif Alvi has promulgated an ordinance for the establishment of the ‘China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority (CPECA). Nevertheless, Alice Wells’ hypothetical argument based on partisan foreign policy narrative holds no objectivity of concern for Islamabad. Fairly, instead of criticising the CPEC, Washington should also invest in Pakistan. Nations always look forward to protecting their own national interests.
—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.