This is in the backdrop of Chinese Vice Premier HE Lifeng’s recent visit to Pakistan that I am going to deliberate on CPEC. The visit marks the 10th anniversary of CPEC and explains the significance of this flagship project which is a component of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and which carries great strategic and economic significance for both China and Pakistan.
But before dilating on CPEC and getting down to its specifics in order to understand its significance for both China and Pakistan, I would like to succinctly touch upon the BRI which the CPEC makes a key component of.
BRI is a global infrastructure development strategy launched by China in 2013 to invest in more than 150 countries. It forms a core element of Chinese strategy to assume a greater leadership role for global affairs which is quite in line with its status as the future number one economy of the world and would-be superpower.
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor widely known as CPEC is a massive infrastructure project entailing 62 billion dollars. The project was initiated in 2013. It includes roads, railroads, pipelines, and energy facilities. The project aims to link the Pakistani port of Gwadar located on Arabian Sea, which is bordered by Iran and the Persian Gulf, with the western Chinese city of Kashgar.
CPEC has made it possible for China to carve out a quicker and more effective and reliable commerce route to the Middle Eastern and African countries. It would certainly make Pakistan a regional economic hub given its extremely important strategic location and as a result of its increased connectivity, infrastructural development that has the potential of attracting huge foreign investment.
With the successful completion of phase-1, CPEC has achieved the crucial milestone. The foundation has been laid. During the phase-2 of the project, Pak-China collaboration in different sectors like agriculture, rural development, industrialization and research and technology is likely to take a giant leap forward.
Ever since the CPEC as a flagship project and a key component of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) known within China as the One Belt One Road (OBOR) has been launched, the West has come out vigorously with its unrelenting rhetoric that China’s investment in underdeveloped countries is aimed to either control them or manipulate them to realize its ambitious objectives.
Spanning over thousands of kilometres extending to Central Asia and Africa, CPEC is a main component of BRI that has been launched to link China via road to the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea through Gwadar Port of Pakistan. This is a project which facilitates the connectivity and accessibility of China not only with the rest of the region but the entire world.
While discussing China’s huge investment in underdeveloped countries, Pakistan being the most prominent among them, it’s important to understand that China doesn’t believe in charity spree and is not making huge investment to build infrastructure just for the prosperity of the BRI- related African and Asian countries, and doesn’t need anything beyond in return. This is contrary to reality.
There is no such thing as a free lunch in international relations. China strongly believes in give-and-take policy. It would be irrational to think that China by making investment of such a gigantic magnitude in Pakistan, wants Pakistan’s prosperity only and nothing beyond that. The fact is that China wants free trade and connectivity and accessibility with the rest of the world which is not possible without making huge investment on the development of infrastructure in Pakistan. In a way, it’s a compulsive investment.
Hence, the development of infrastructure in Pakistan is a sine qua non for China’s unimpeded connectivity with the African, Asian, Middle Eastern and some of the European countries, and any economic benefits accruing from the development of infrastructure are the by-product, not the prime objective of the investment.
There is a need to understand that when sovereign countries operate, they do it on win-win cooperation, and CPEC makes a mutually beneficial project for both the countries.
The West appears to have assumed a markedly critical tone over CPEC not only because it’s going to bring economic revolution in the underdeveloped countries but also because it sees a great threat to its monopoly over the world affairs after the underdeveloped countries shed their economic dependence on the West and enjoy economic independence, and more importantly because the US sees China fast proceeding towards replacing it as a world superpower.
It raises serious apprehensions in the West of losing its iron grip over the third world countries.
The US feels that it’s unchallenged authority is gradually fading into obscurity with the rise of China as world’s number one economy. It seems to have made up its mind to do even the undoable when the chips are down.
It’s pertinent to mention here that the development of infrastructure in the underdeveloped countries paving the way for their economic growth and prosperity is not what makes the sole point of concern for the West; it’s China’s connectivity with the rest of the world that remains the prime concern for the West. The West painfully realizes that China is determined to make the most of its huge investment and become number one economy of the world leaving the US behind and make the West feel the heat of it.
Lastly, China’s global trade policy through Pakistan is not a new idea. It has remained an old practice with China, though on a minor scale. It nullifies the Western claim that China is making huge investment in the BRI-linked countries, Pakistan topping the list of such countries, just to control them. On the contrary, China is making investment in these countries for its connectivity and accessibility with more than 150 countries of the world as mentioned earlier. In this regard, the role of CPEC remains crucial making it a real game changer.