This commentary discusses about the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) where Chinese and Pakistani perspectives on CPEC have been highlighted along with India’s strong refutation of those perspectives or justifications. The commentary mentions that while both China and Pakistan have underlined the economic-developmental aspects of CPEC, there could be an interesting case for empathising with India’s argument that CPEC has unmistakable strategic-security aspects that has certain consequences for India’s national interests which need to be seen.
The China Pakistan Economic Corridor is an initiative under China’s Belt and Road initiative which aims at providing connectivity, infrastructure, and promotion of people to people exchanges. The BRI has been seen as a tool for promoting the Chinese Dream, which had a purpose of promoting free trade, economic cooperation,mutual benefitin member countries. China through the BRI, is trying to ensure regional stability through economic growth eventually trying to make its presence felt in the region.
This has been seen as a project which could ensure job opportunities, inclusivity and also a connectivity to the People’s Republic of China.The complete distance of this project is 3218 km. China is investing USD $64 billion in this project.[i]CPEC is useful for Pakistan, where many rail projects, power plants and special economic zones have been promised by China therefore making it attractive to foreign investments.
As part of this initiative, $11 billion was initially invested on transport infrastructure and a fibre optics link from Kashgar in Xinjiang to Gwadar in Balochistanis being established plus $ 33 billion was to be spent on power plants supplying solar, coal as well as wind energy.[ii] Also, ten Special Economic Zones have also been included in this project where they are being constructed in Mirpur, Muqpandass both situated in PoK.
China needs another base after Djibouti, where Gwadar has potential due to its strategic geographical location. This could provide an easier alternative to the Malacca Strait , which could be seen as a strategic chokepoint where two thirds of global oil trade passes through and Gwadar is a strategic point for China to exert itself in the Indian Ocean.
CPEC could be seen as an opportunity with respect to Pakistan’s high debts, weakening economy, state instability. It could prove beneficial even for Balochistan which is prone to many separatist movements plus also including it for development since it is left out from the rest of the region. Here, this article discusses about the Pakistani views on CPEC and how does it benefit Pakistan with respect to territorial disputes such as Kashmir and Balochistan. Will this project be useful at a time bad reputation which Pakistan has with respect to terrorism?
Rationale Of CPEC From Pakistan and China’s Points Of View
This initiative is not the first time Pakistan has approached China for any assistance. A common threat brings countries together in order to tackle a rising threat from any power. In Pakistan’s perception, it always had historical political and strategic issues with India since independence with respect to the Kashmir problem which has caused a deadlock between India and Pakistan ever since, where the two countries witnessed three wars in1965,1971and 1999.
The CPEC passes through the disputed areas of Mirpur, Gilgit and Baltistan where Pakistan and India are disputing for territorial claims.Immediately after the 1962 India-China war, Pakistan illegally gave away Shaksgam Valley to China as a part of a friendship agreement. Ceding of Shaksgam valley to China in a way led to increased involvement in the India-Pakistan dispute on Kashmir by providing Pakistan defence and economic assistance.
China believed that the Kashmiri people should have right to self -determination and make a wise choice, whether to join India or Pakistan. Slowly, along with improving ties with India, China started keeping a neutral approach on this issue with respect to India’s growing economic strength as well as its ties improving with the United States.China perhaps realised that it could not afford to lose out on India even though it has Pakistan’s strategic value in mind. However, the advent of CPEC has forced the veneer of formal neutrality to drop off.
CPEC could also be useful in providing vocational training skill development for students staying in the areas which are covered and need such basic facilities. The Chinese government is providing scholarships for the students staying in the areas of GilgitBaltistan, whose fate is still uncertain about which country to join.[iii]
Pakistan’s Growing Economic Interdependence on China
Historically, China-Pakistan relationship has been driven by strategic-security considerations. Except for defence trade, basically Chinese arms export to Pakistan, economic aspects of the ties were really weak. However, in last one decade, and particularly with CPEC, their relations have developed significantly. Seeing China as a strategic threat, US is counting on India for security and economic initiatives.
US ever since 2008, is seeing a decline in its economy which leads China having an edge afterwards. The two countries are in the middle of a trade war which has led to GDP growth fall in both the countries therefore impacting manufacturing.Assistance was stopped being given to Pakistan under the Donald Trump regime and reduction in US FDI inflows since 2011have led to estrangement between two countries.
A drift between US and Pakistan is making Pakistan more dependent on China for economic aid. Here,CPEC aims at bringingeconomic development along with cultural and people to people connections are bringing two powers closer. CPEC aims at building inclusivity in the country where radicalism, poverty, unemployment is a key concern. According to Xinhua, 75,000 small jobs have been created in the country along with 100 small and medium enterprises being involved. This project aimed at creating 2.3 million jobs between 2015 and 2030.[iv]
The areas around GilgitBaltistan are rich in resources such as uranium, silver plus it also houses the K2 and Nanga Parbat peaks.[v] Important hydropower projects such as dams are coming up in this area through which important rivers such as Jhelum pass some examples of energy projects include the Kohala hydropower project, which produces about 1100 MW of power and the Phandar hydropower station, producing 80 MW of power. Other hydropower plant projects are also being constructed in Bunji, located on Indus river,will provide 7100 MW of power along with the Diamer- Basha dam, whose estimated cost is about US$12-14 billion also has a capacity of providing 4500 megawatt of power.[vi]
Important railway connections are also being put into place under this initiative. The Karachi Peshawar railway line is also coming where the project is expected to be complete by 2022. The railway line covers 1872 km and the maximum operating speed on this railway line could be 160 km/hr. Railway tracks would be upgraded,new signalling systems will be setup and new safety provisions will be provided for passengers.[vii]
The Karakorum highway is one of the highest road infrastructure projects which are coming up, situated at height of 4714 m. This highway starts from HasanAbdal and goes till Kashgar, in Xinjiang Autonomous region, where the distance covered is 1300 km. This highway will cover HasanAbdal, Thakot, Havelian, Raikot, Gilgit and Skardu.[viii] The highway construction was difficult due to high altitude and terrain. Its redevelopment and up gradation is an essential portion in context to this initiative.Other projects include development of an oil refinery and a new airport in Gwadar, also the Multan Sukkur motorwaywhich is under construction is an important part of the Karachi Peshawar motorway covers 392 km and this aims at reducing the distance between Multan and Sukkur by 3 hrs. This project was inaugurated in November,2019.[ix]
These projects as a part of the CPEC would provide easy connectivity between two countries and also be useful in the infrastructure development in Pakistan. The initiative could be useful for Pakistan’s power supply and economic growth.
Indian hegemony, in Pakistan’s perception, can be seen as a common problem for both China and Pakistan, as it is said that a common threat, a common goal or interest could lead to countries getting together and forming a balance against a threat from a rising power that could coerce weaker countries in the near future. This is the case with CPEC being seen as a tool to counter India’s rise and influence on the Kashmir issue.
This project has been based on geopolitical considerations rather than strategic interests since Gwadar is prone to many pro-independence movements and Kashgar being a question due to Uighurs issue which the Human Rights Watch is questioning with respect to human rights violations, radicalism plus also the Kashmir issue. Incidentally, ever since Article 370 was abolished in August 2019, China feels that by including the Aksai Chin under Indian domain could be a contentious issue, which China took over in 1962. The same also went for Gilgit and Baltistan where the CPEC flows. According to a press statement China is in view about India posing a challenge to its territorial sovereignty and interests.[x] That’s why efforts are being made to speed up this project keeping India under check with respect to its claim on Kashmir.
Thus, there are genuine case of India reading strategic implications for itself. As per press statements of MEA, India had shown reservations with respect to joining BRI where many reasons were stated. Some of them included environmental protection and project costs. India prioritises its sovereignty and territorial integrity at the first place.[xi] Another statement states that connectivity is based on important factors which include rule of law, transparency.[xii]
Finally, one would point out that it is not only India that has raised concerns about CPEC. Countries such as US are also flagging concerns about Chinese influence in Pakistan with respect to any infrastructure or other projects since these initiatives are being seen as a tool being used by China in order to bring smaller countries into a debt trap.[xiii]
In case this project is implemented at a rapid pace, then the two all -weather partners can tackle secessionist movements taking place in Balochistan. Due to this about 10,000 troops have been deployed throughout the corridor since Chinese firms are slowly getting wary about these movements which they feel are against the national interests of both countries, creating further divide in the near future.
CPEC can only move at a proper pace for Pakistan if there is a stable administrative body and organising proper methods to tackle terrorism and also by putting India on loop while organising these projects instead of using force or coercion. Negotiations will play an important role with respect to achieving national interests. Putting projects on disputed territory could be seen as route to war instead of negotiating and proper demarcation of boundaries.
Economic development has played an essential role with respect to countries indirectly taking over territories from competitors instead of using coercive measures directly which will lead to further war mongering. Economic development has been seen as a tool of soft power, where through giving employment, loans and infrastructure strong countries set preferences of smaller countries. For India, these projects are seen as a power game where two countries are trying to counter the fast growing economy by using economic development in the areas which are disputed with respect to territorial claims. Actually economic infrastructure is not meant for catering to economic interests but for fulfilling geopolitical interests! Therefore, Pakistan will benefit from this project.
The project has witnessed a lot of doubts whether it is ethnic turmoil, corruption, lack of transparency, improper terrain and an increasing debt which Pakistan has. There has been doubts in the minds of the Baloch , who feel that the Punjabis are the main beneficiaries as far as job opportunities go and there have been many protests in opposition of infrastructure projects because the areas in Balochistanare rich in resources such as natural gas copper and gold, many residents in those areas feel that human development will get impacted.Balochistan is a needy region which has a long lasting demand for drinking water, electricity, roads, proper healthcare and education facilities. 2400 families have been displaced in Balochistan due to these projects, so there could be a chance of rise in Baloch insurgency if the residents in the region are not properly consulted.[xiv]
The CPEC has always been in India’s mind because of threat to national sovereignty and strategy. China and Pakistan both have a common threat which leads them to be together. The US is becoming dependant on countries such as India, Japan because there is a slow decline in its role in the global scenario. The US has its own reservations with China whether it’s the trade war or South China Sea Dispute so there is a reason for US to be wary of China to contain smaller countries in a debt trap, as suggested by Alice Wells ,in November 2019.[xv]
As far as India goes, it is still particular about joining BRI behind which the CPEC is a major reason when its national interests, security, territorial sovereignty is at stake. China in order to pressurise New Delhi for looking into its national interests is counting on Pakistan for support through this project since connectivity and infrastructure development will prove useful for China to get access to Pakistani soil and at later stages in the name of providing economic development for Pakistan, it could create a sense of dependency on China. Construction of dams, hydropower projects in PoK could in the near future lead to easy divergence in river flows taking place.
India’s tension is Pakistan’s gain which means that if China objects any move which is in India’s interest and China tries to bring Pakistan in whenever there is a common concern with respect to any development in India , whether it’s the NSG or the Maulana Masood Azhar issue. Pakistan will always be an all weather ally of China.
[i]S. A.Zaidi, “A Road Through Pakistan, and What This Means for India”,Strategic Analysis Journal, 43(3), 2019,p. 218.
[iii] Muhammad Khurshid Khan, “Balancing Relations With China and the United States In The Backdrop Of The CPEC” ,The Korean Journals Of Defence Analysis, 30(4), December 2018, pp. 577-590.
[iv]Liu Tian, “How One US Official Got It Wrong on China-Pakistan Economic Cooperation”, Xinhua, November 23,2019, at http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-11/23/c_138578254.htm
(Accessed November 27, 2019).
[vi] D Jorgic,“Pakistan Eyes 2018 Start for China-funded Mega Dam Opposed India”, Reuters, June 13, 2017, at https://in.reuters.com/article/us-china-silkroad-pakistan-dam/pakistan-eyes-2018-start-for-china-funded-mega-dam-opposed-by-india-idINKBN1941P9 (Accessed November 29,2019).
[vii] “China Pakistan Economic Corridor: Expansion And Reconstruction Of Existing Line ML-1,2019,CPEC Official Website, at http://cpec.gov.pk/project-details/30 (Accessed November 28, 2019).
[viii] “Lisa Heilscher ,Karakorum Highway, Belt and Road Initiative”,2018 , https://www.beltroad-initiative.com/karakoram-highway/ (Accessed November 28, 2019).
[ix] Give full name (T. N. S.) Correspondent, “Light Traffic can Use M 5”, Dawn, November 5,2019, at
https://www.dawn.com/news/1515372 (Accessed November 28, 2019).
[x]“Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Gen Shuang’s Regular Press Conference, Ministry Of Foreign Affairs of the PRC Website, October 31,2019, athttps://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/2511_665403/t1712371.shtml (Accessed November 29,2019).
[xi]“Official Spokesperson’s Response to a Query on Participation of India in OBOR/BRI Forum”,Ministry Of External Affairs (MEA), May 13,2017,at https://mea.gov.in/media-briefings.htm?dtl/28463/Official+Spokespersons+response+to+a+query+on+participation+of+India+in+OBORBRI+Forum, (Accessed January 3, 2020).
[xii]“Official Spokesperson’s Response to a Query on Media Reports Regarding Possible Cooperation with China on OBOR/BRI”, MEA, April 5 2018,https://www.mea.gov.in/media-briefings.htm?dtl/29768/Official+Spokespersons+response+to+a+query+on+media+reports+regarding+possible+cooperation+with+China+on+OBORBRI (Accessed January 3,2020).
[xiii] Liu Tian, November 2019
[xiv]ZahidShahab Ahmed, “ Impact of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor On Nation Building “, Journal Of Contemporary China, November 5, 2018, pp. 409-413
[xv] Liu Tian , November 2019