CPEC – A Turning Point for Pakistan
In 2013 China shared its global ambition by announcing the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, also known as the Silk Road 2.0. China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a flagship project of Belt and Road initiative (BRI). It includes large scale infrastructure projects that will be built through a win-win cooperative framework to enhance trade, communication, and connectivity. Due to its scope and scale, CPEC is considered the Marshal Plan for Asia as it aims to revamp the entire region.
CPEC is the first and the most significant part of China’s proposed new Silk Road that will connect Asia to Africa and Europe. In April 2015, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chinese President Xi Jinping signed 51 agreements for various projects under the umbrella of CPEC. The total cost of the projects, at the time of their unveiling, was $46 billion. This cost has now surged to $62 billion as more projects have since been added to the CPEC initiative.
The main objective of CPEC is to revamp Pakistan’s economy through modernizing its rail, road and communication infrastructure, and to connect China’s south Xinjiang province to Pakistan's hot-water deep seaport Gwadar. CPEC aims to improve connectivity and trade relations between Pakistan and China by road, rail, fiber optic, and power generation projects. The project is expected to complete in 2030, with most of the energy projects under CPEC – called early harvest - having already been completed.
CPEC aims to place Pakistan’s national economy on a sustained growth path through infrastructure development and regional connectivity. Under the project, special industrial and economic zones will be set up in all of the major cities to kick start Pakistan’s manufacturing sector. These special economic zones have also been recently marketed to third party countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UK, and UAE and therefore, are expected to attract significant foreign direct investment (FDI) into Pakistan. Involvement of other countries will also increase connectivity, bilateral and regional trade. In addition, it’ll give rise to improved economic integration and help boost economic growth at the regional level.
The China Pakistan Economic Corridor is considered a game-changer for the geopolitics of the region. With the prevalent mindset of security through development, the project will connect Kashgar in China to Gwadar in Baluchistan province of Pakistan through a road network of 3000 kilometers and a rail corridor known as ML-1. The project will give China access to the hot-water deep seaport that will help it save billions of dollars on an annual basis by reducing the distance for energy imports from the middle-east by approximately 12,000 kilometers.
The underlying framework of CPEC consists of win-win cooperation between China and Pakistan. Along with billions of dollars in investment from China, Pakistan will get access to China’s superior technical capabilities. In some fields, this has already proved helpful. For instance, in 2015, at the time when the project was launched, Pakistan was facing severe energy shortages. As a result, many mega energy projects were put on the early harvest list, which in turn on their completion helped Pakistan solve its energy crisis.
CPEC, due to its regional connectivity, has considerable potential to impact Pakistan’s foreign policy. Since 1951 Pakistan and China have been very close to each other, but CPEC has turned the partnership of two countries into a strategic long-term alliance. In recent times, China has been seen to support Pakistan at the security council of the United Nations more than any other country. With CPEC Pakistan is seeking to become center of regional and global connectivity in the emerging multipolar world.
With the rise of China, it’s evident now that unipolar world where the US dominated the globe is no more. Other major international players include Russia and the EU. Therefore, CPEC places Pakistan at a very important geo-strategic location that could link China, Russia, and EU. Pakistan should use the platform of CPEC to spur potential confluence of different civilizations through Gwadar dialogue.
Thus, CPEC has the potential to significantly improve Afro-Euro-Asian integration in the new multi-polar world.
Another aspect of CPEC is its ability to connect land-locked central Asian countries to the hot-water deep seaport of Gwadar. This can open a new route for central Asian countries’ mineral and energy resources to be exported around the region. Pakistan can act as an energy corridor in this regard as well. This improved interconnectedness will help boost the regional trade as well.
In the middle-east, two regional blocks exist - Iran and anti-Iran. Due to extremely pure infrastructure and insurgency in Iran’s Sistan o Baluchistan province, it is not expected to join CPEC. Besides, Iran is building Chabahar port with the help of India to counter the Gwadar port. This means we are unlikely to see any signs of major conflict developing among the countries that are taking advantage of Gwadar port and CPEC.
The project of CPEC’s scale has never been attempted ever before in the history of mankind. It signals global geostrategic realignment with China’s arrival at the global scale. Therefore, we are seeing increased resistance for the project from the US and its regional strategic partner India. Thus, Pakistan will have to play a balancing role by creating an environment to encourage all the stakeholders in the region to contribute to CPEC.