A popular Chinese saying, well received by many states utters “if you want to get rich, get started by building roads”. So, recognizing this along with the fact that regional integration is an inevitable measure to meet the demands of economically globalized world, Chinese leadership rephrased the notion of Silk Road in 2013 with the announcement of ‘One Road, One Belt’ initiative. The initiative is a step to link the past with the present, revive the glory of Asia, source for Asians to rework the pride for their history and cultures and show their commitment to unity and cooperation.
‘One Road, One Belt’ is a descriptor of a notion that encompasses numerous smaller ideas, be it bringing profound shifts in trends of trade; be it progress in investment and capital flows across Central Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and West Asia; be it enhancement of cooperation in economic, social, civilizational, and political sphere; be it profound shift in or broadening the level of cooperation to an extent to extend it to Pan-Asian and Eurasian regions in future. In totality, what can be appraised reasonably is that this initiative if implemented with true rigour will involve a lot more projects, countries or entities, which would ensure their increasing openness.
Pakistan is an important pillar of China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which refers to “The Maritime Silk Road and the Silk Road Economic Belt”. Introduced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 during his visit to Kazakhstan, this policy framework foresees the development of several corridors across the region that will be built to boost regional economies to the tune of $2.5 trillion and to the benefit of a combined population of over 4.4 billion across 65 countries.
Among these corridors, The Maritime Silk Road will connect the Pacific coast to the Baltic Sea. With China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Yunnan province as starting points, The Silk Road Economic Belt will link China, Central Asia, Russia, and Europe, while also connecting China with the Persian Gulf, South East Asia, and the Indian Ocean.
Under the auspices of this series of projects, the China-Mongolia-Russia Land Corridor will be built with the Chinese province of Heilongjiang as its starting point; the China-India-Bangladesh-Myanmar Corridor will be built with Kolkata as its starting point; the China-Central Asia-West Asia Corridor will be built with China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region as it starting point; and an exclusive China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will be built to connect the ports of Pakistan’s Gwadar with Xinjiang.
The initiative does not simply entail the building of roads, rails, and ports, instead it foresees the introduction of a comprehensive network of infrastructure development. The Asia Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) will finance projects within the framework of this initiative. The BRICS New Development Bank, the Silk Road Fund, as well as the China-ASEAN Interbank Association and SCO Interbank Association will also offer funds.
Under this initiative, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a 2-day visit to Pakistan last month, during which time he signed various agreements amounting to an estimated $46 billion. These funds represent one of the first concrete acts in line with China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative as they will be devoted to the construction of roads, rails, and power plants which will be built on a commercial basis by Chinese companies over a 15-year period.
The scale of Mr Xi’s aid announcement greatly overshadows American efforts, which amounted to only$7.5 billion between 2009 and 2012 and have been designated for development projects in the country over a five-year period.
Mr Xi’s visit aimed at establishing infrastructure and energy projects along the CPEC..Based on a report by Xinhua, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry the projects to be implemented along the CPEC in Pakistan would constitute the first initiative of the $40 billion Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road Project, envisioning an ambitious network of roads, rails and ports designed to link China to Europe through Central Asia and Russia and announced with considerable fanfare by Mr Xi.
With this project, rail and road networks will be strengthened to allow Chinese goods to flow the length of Pakistan from its northern mountains to the Arabian Sea port of Gwadar. For China, this would provide a shorter, alternative route to major oil-producing countries, allowing it to bypass Southeast Asia’s Strait of Malacca, an overcrowded, relatively shallow sea lane troubled by pirates.
“The real opportunity of this China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is that it changes the scope of the relationship from geopolitics to geoeconomics”, Pakistan’s Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal was quoted by the Guardian as saying in reference to the trade corridor project that would tie the two countries’ economies together. China has come up with “a much larger financial commitment – and it is focused on a specific area, it has a signature infrastructure focus and it is a decades-long commitment”, he said.
The $46billion that Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan has promised to its old ally is a figure that far exceeds U.S. spending in Pakistan, and it further underscores China’s projection of power in Asia.
The scale of Mr Xi’s aid announcement greatly overshadows American efforts, which amounted to only$7.5 billion between 2009 and 2012 and have been designated for development projects in the country over a five-year period. Considering this, American aid to Pakistan has been deemed a “dramatic failure” by David S. Sedney, a former senior official at the Pentagon who was responsible for Pakistan, because these resources were scattered too thinly, and had no practical or strategic impact.
Yet the Chinese appear to have learned from the American programme, including the notion imbedded therein that aid was designed to deliver a strategic result, namely to deter terrorism (a goal that ultimately failed). China has long regarded Pakistan as an unflinchingly loyal ally, while Pakistan sees China as a vital ally in its struggle against India and as a foil to US dominance. The Chinese are not just offering to build much-needed infrastructure in Pakistan but also to make the country a key partner in the grand economic and strategic plan that is seen in the One Belt, One Road Initiative.
The question now being asked is: are such vast sums realistic for such an unstable nation as Pakistan, which is embroiled in a battle against domestic terrorist factions and struggling to attract significant foreign investment?
Security will be one of the biggest challenges for Pakistan and the CPEC project, not least in its poor province of Balochistan, which is home to the Gwadar Port as well as a decade-old separatist insurgency and numerous criminal gangs and Islamist militants. Even though the Pakistani Army has promised to crush the insurgency, the security of Chinese workers will continue to be a prime concern for Mr Xi.
The New York Times reported that “as China faces growing restiveness in Xinjiang, which has borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan, Beijing is attempting to help stem the flow of radicalism into its own backyard by bolstering development in perhaps the most vulnerable part of Pakistan”. China also wants to see Pakistan tackle the problem of Jihadi militants and for it to help end the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, especially given the links this group has with Muslim separatists in China’s own western region of Xinjiang.
To sum up, the One Belt, One Road Initiative will help China boost ties with countries and regions along its propose routes, especially Pakistan. While many Chinese and Pakistani leaders have described their two countries’ relations as “higher than the Himalayas and deeper than the Indian Ocean”, the nature of the Chinese-Pakistani relationship is not that that simple. It should not be forgotten that the complex relationship includes a dynamic based on definite economic, strategic, and security concerns as well.