Soft power expansion via CPEC

S Qamar Afzal Rizvi

ECONOMIC power puts outside people into contact with transnational culture via trade. This very ideology remains the driving force behind Pakistan and China’s philosophy of expanding soft power in the region via CPEC. China’s President Xi Jinping had realized this, and he had accordingly pledged to raise China’s soft power by developing China into a socialist cultural superpower. Similarly, Pakistan also realized the exigency of developing its soft power vis-à-vis hard power image by pragmatically rebalancing its national security policy from excessive militarist paradigm to human security-cum-development paradigm. From Beijing’s perspective, economic development is always a gateway to regional peace. To overstate the case, the Chinese Government views development as a prerequisite for peace.
Even in ancient times, those travelling along the Silk Road had to be contended with more than just the difficult mountainous and desert terrain; they had had to face manifold security issues along the route and caravans were sometimes escorted by armed troops. Even the gradual deviation to maritime trade routes came about in response to the lack of security for overland transit. It is against this backdrop that 21st-Century China is planning several routes from the outset, not least in order to involve its sceptical neighbours, who see China’s expansion activities in areas such as the South China Sea as a cause for concern. From Islamabad point of view, while advancing this CPEC project will not only strengthen the economic, cultural and trade ties between the two ideologically associated states but also enlarge and revitalize the scope of public diplomacy and development among other states in the region.
Theoretically, there are two main sources of soft power: domestic policies and actions; and international policies and actions. In terms of international actions and policies, nations have to show respect for multilateralism. This forms a commitment to addressing regional and global issues in a cooperative way based on norms of equality and fair play: where actions and policies are constituted within the framework of existing laws, principles and norms. In the case of more powerful regional players, international soft power is often garnered through an enlightened and dynamic leadership: i.e., making unilateral sacrifices in order to achieve collective regional goals. In this sense, the regional leader would act as a paternalistic provider in the theory of collective action – a role that is being performed by the Chinese political leadership in the region.
As for the domestic sources of soft power, the two most important factors contributing to a nation’s soft power are: culture and political system. Culturally, there is much that can generate respect ,affinity and endearment. However, many of the specific factors cited as creating soft power at the domestic political level centre cannot be divorced from the politically liberal principles. Nonetheless, non-democratic regimes can also generate outcomes that suggest popular support for political outcomes, and hence acquire soft power. At the basis of political soft power at the domestic level is an absence of political discontent within the system of government and its policies. And hence as long as this gap is absent in a political system, soft power will be created irrespective of the nominal form of government (Huntington 1968).
It is here that both types of power (hard and soft) can complement one another. But hard and soft power can also work at odds. For example, overly coercive policies can cause extreme enmity and vituperation on the part of target nations, thus completely undermining the positive image of the perpetrator nations. Conversely, over reliance on goodwill may cause a nation to neglect the building of an adequate defence capability. Given this juxtaposition, it remains an established fact— in this era of arm race accompanied by a hard power paradigm— in order for nations to achieve some optimal level of influence, they would have to rely on some combination of hard and soft power. This has been referred to smart or cosmopolitan power which must represent defense, diplomacy and development.
Seen from the above-referred scenario, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor emerges as a great soft power project, thereby virtually opening attractive avenues for investment emerging from economic cooperation between the two promising powers of Asia. With extensive roads, railways, ports, and energy infrastructure being laid down, businessmen all around Pakistan are finding new vistas of opportunities that are worth their money and time.The Corridor is delivering enhanced connectivity and power to the otherwise diffracted and energy hungry economic centres of Pakistan. With many projects having entered their realization phase— and many more being developed on fast-track as part of the Early Harvest Projects— multiple business opportunities across the value chains of industry are set to open up. China has pragmatically offered to both Russia and Iran to join CPEC. Given the reflection of US-China hard power tussle in Asia; CPEC sets a glaring precedent of a soft power paradigm, an inevitable geo-economic and geopolitical imperative.
Unquestionably, the expanding scope of the CPEC will provide a big boon to regional economy. CPEC’s soft power has mega- potential to futuristically merge the Eurasian, Central Asian, and South Asian economies into one multilateral gamut. Therefore, other states in South Asia and central Asia have the flourishing and gravitating means to benefit from this expansion of CPEC’s soft power. But sadly, this striking reality is being jettisoned by India as it casts a strongbete noire against CPEC. Should not New Delhi learn from Washington’s appreciation of the CPEC? While domestically, CPEC enlarges the network of economic development in China and Pakistan; internationally CPEC empowers the role of diplomacy.
— The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-analyst based in Karachi, is a member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies.
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