Geo-economic dimensions of the CPEC

BY Imran Malik

China hopes to engage, dominate and rule the Heartland

The Cold War era saw the US and its allies deploying their militaries to circumscribe, dominate and contain the Soviets and now the Chinese to within the Heartland

CPEC, in the light of Mackinder’s Heartland Theory, makes for an interesting study. He had divided the world into three distinct parts: the World Island comprising the interlinked continents of Africa, Europe and Asia, the Off Shore islands of Great Britain and Japan and the Outlying Islands of the Americas and Australia. The Heartland lay at the center of the World Island extending from the Volga to the Yangtze and from the Himalayas to the Arctic. Mackinder summarised his theory thus, “he who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; he who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; he who rules the World Island commands the world”. (Wikipaedia)

The battle to command and rule the Heartland has been on ever since.

The Cold War era saw the US and its allies deploying their militaries to circumscribe, dominate and contain the Soviets and now the Chinese to within the Heartland. This general pattern of deployment still continues although the USSR is long gone and Russia is generally contained. NATO deployments are now expanding to the far reaches of East Europe threatening the Heartland further and Russia’s vital interests in particular. No wonder it is seeking common purpose with China which itself feels threatened by the US pivot to the Asia Pacific and its tangible interference in the South China Sea imbroglio. The Heartland is thus in the throes of a gigantic double pincer movement by the US.

China is trying to break out of this stranglehold and a multi-dimensional battle is now clearly on.

However, changing economic realities at the global level are afflicting both powers with a strange paradox. The US retains the military might to dominate the world but lacks the political will and economic clout to continue doing so; while the Chinese have acquired sufficient economic power to contemplate dominating the world but lack the military wherewithal to support that effort. This makes for a fascinating asymmetric contest for the domination and control of the Heartland between the two antagonists — one, a wilting, withdrawing power and the other an ascending dynamic one.

The US has found a clever way of meeting its foreign policy objectives despite its crippling $19-20 trillion national debt. It has devised smart operational strategies like “offshore balancing and leading from behind, etc”. It is actually “outsourcing” its war efforts to its allies and securing its vital interests at minimum cost to itself in money, men and material by providing air, intelligence and logistic support only. (India is the next designated “ally” vis a vis China!)

On the other hand China does not have the clout to challenge the US or dominate the Heartland militarily. It intends to do so, through economic measures, but from within as opposed to US’ military effort from the outside. As a part of the massive “One Belt, One Road — OBOR” program, emanating from China, it is spreading its infrastructure tentacles all over the Heartland and surrounding areas. This massive infrastructure buildup will comprise of high speed railway networks, motorways, highways, airports, ports, oil and gas pipeline projects, power projects, industrial and economic zones et al. China intends to link sources, resources to industrial zones and to markets. This infrastructure will connect China to Western Europe via Russia and Eastern Europe, to South Central Asia Region through Pakistan and to India, BanglaDesh and Myanmar, too. It has its Strategy of a String of Pearls too — an array of friendly ports in the Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean Region. Through Gwadar and the Mekran Coast it gets a short route to the Middle East and Africa and through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Sea, Europe and beyond.

Thus China hopes to engage, dominate and rule the Heartland and its surrounding regions by creating unquestionable economic stakes in it for all the countries involved.

And this is precisely where Pakistan and the CPEC come into the picture.

CPEC is the harbinger for an economic bonanza in the region. India and Afghanistan, especially, can be a part of this massive transformation and development

Pakistan is blessed with a unique geographical position which lends itself to enormous geopolitical, geo-economic and geostrategic advantages. It straddles the area between the lofty and impassable Himalayas-Karakoram — Hindu Kush mountain ranges in the North and the deep Arabian Sea in the South. It has two of the world’s largest deposits of minerals, oil and gas — the Greater Middle East Region and the CARs — lying to its West and North West respectively. It has two of the world’s largest economies lying to its East and North East — India and China respectively. It lies between Xinjiang China, Afghanistan, the CARs and even Russia and the Arabian Sea. It becomes inevitable then to convert Pakistan into a communication and trade hub to connect these enormous resources of fossil fuels and minerals to some of the world’s largest markets and economies as well as giving an outlet to the landlocked regions to the sea. A series of East-West and North-South trade corridors centered in Pakistan are thus emerging for inter and intra-regional connectivity.

A series of industrial parks/zones spread around the hinterland of the Mekran Coast producing finished products based on the mineral resources of Pakistan, Afghanistan and CARs for export will emerge. Gwadar will evolve into a “petrochemical” city trading in the transit, import and export of fossil fuels and minerals. The markets of the Middle East, Africa, Europe and beyond to the Americas will fall within reach of the Mekran Coast. Gwadar, Karachi and Port Qasim will emerge as the principal ports for transshipment and trade in the region. Jiwani, Ormara, Pasni, Somiani, Gadani amongst others merit further attention as feasible sites for ports/bases in the future. The Mekran Coast-CPEC combine is laden with opportunities.

CPEC is the harbinger for an economic bonanza in the region. India and Afghanistan, especially, can be a part of this massive transformation and development. In partnership with Pakistan they can bring a great deal of prosperity to their peoples subject to the just resolution of their outstanding issues with it led by the unfinished agenda of Partition — Kashmir and the lingering Durand Line conundrum. Period!

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