CPEC’s role in generating prosperity, cooperation and peace in Central Asia

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Dr. Elenoire Laudieri

As Trump’s US is putting up barriers to international trade risking to plunge the world market into turmoil, Xi’s China perseveres in pursuing a world of free trade and an open global economy.

Speaking on the second and final day of the annual Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit, held in Qingdao, China’s President Xi called on the members of the eight-nation Asian grouping to “boost harmony and unity by seeking common ground and setting aside differences”.

In stark contrast, a day earlier, US President Trump decided to abruptly withdraw his support for the Canada G7 summit final communiqué alienating US’s closest allies more than he had already done by imposing steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada, Mexico and the European Union on questionable “national security” grounds.

The mainstay of China’s international economic integration policy is the Belt & Road Initiative, the cornerstone of which is China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), officially launched in May 2015 during President Xi’s visit to Pakistan.

China pledged an initial USD$46 billion for the implementation of the project, which included a two-way 3,000km road and rail corridor from Kashgar in China’s western Xinjiang province to Pakistan’s port of Gwadar on the Indian Ocean as well as the construction of hydro, wind, solar, gas and coal-fired power stations.

The deep-water Gwadar port will provide Pakistan and China with a new maritime access route to import and export markets in the Middle East, Europe and Africa. Its development includes a new international airport, hospital, technical school, a major power station and desalination plant, and a special industrial zone and tourist area.

When the entire complex will be completed, the annual freight is expected to grow from the current half a million tonnes to more than 400 million and the Gwadar population to increase from the present 80,000 residents to over two million. As far as Pakistan’s overall economy is concerned, it is estimated that in 2030 the CPEC will have generated a cumulative GDP growth of around 20% and created up to 700,000 new jobs. CPEC’s geo-strategic implications will be significant, not only for Pakistan and China, but also for the whole Central Asian region. Since obtaining their independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the five Central Asian Republics (CARs) – namely Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan – have remained relatively isolated due to their landlocked geographical location.

Pakistan offered them sea access but road connectivity was poor and, in any case, the ports of Karachi and Ben Qasim were too busy and unable to fully service their international freight.

The port of Gwadar can now give them the opportunity to break their isolation and expand their trade. Hence it is not surprising that they are eager to be part of the CPEC and both China and Pakistan are keen to involve them in the project.

Pakistan has been very active in this regard and a recent seminar titled “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: Opportunities for Central Asian Republics” organized by the Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies and Preston University of Islamabad, saw the attendance of all five CARs Ambassadors who conveyed the interest of their government to join the CPEC project.

Addressing the seminar, Pakistan’s then Minister for Planning and Development, Ahsan Iqbal, said that Pakistan and CARs would definitely benefit from the platform and infrastructure being constructed under CPEC and anticipated that two more corridors would be added to the project linking Peshawar with Kabul and Tajikistan, and Quetta with Herat and Turkmenistan. Furthermore, he announced the establishment of a Central Asian University in Pakistan to promote regional cooperation, understanding and security.

The seminar was also attended by Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, who described CPEC as a ray of hope to the regional countries to collaborate and set aside their differences for a prosperous and a peaceful future. She added that stability in Afghanistan is crucial to connectivity in Central Asia pointing out that Pakistan supports the reconciliation process as there is no military solution to the conflict. Finally, as to the longstanding Kashmir dispute, she indicated that its settlement is indispensable to achieve peace and stability in the region.

As an old saying goes, where there is the will there is a way and China, Pakistan and the five Central Asian Republics seem to be willing to work together for the wellbeing of their peoples and help building a new world based on friendly relations, mutual respect, cooperation and trust.

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