Belt and Road initiative in Pakistan- CPEC Facing obstacles

Out of all China’s neighboring countries, China-Pakistan relations are the closest and friendliest. The diplomatic ties between the two countries were established in 1951. Pakistan was one of the first Islamic countries and the second South Asian country to establish diplomatic relations with China, and they have remained strong allies ever since. The closeness of the relationship between the states can be seen from significant bilateral ties over the years.

Pakistan holds a position of significant geostrategic importance, bordered by Iran on the west, Afghanistan on the northwest, China on the northeast, India on the east, and the Arabian Sea on the south. The total land area is estimated at 803,940 square kilometers.

Gwadar, a small scratch of land on the southwestern coast of Pakistan, is the last stop on a proposed $62 billion corridor linking China’s landlocked westernmost province with the Arabian Sea, the envision of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative is designed to develop infrastructure and impact around the world.

An economic corridor between Pakistan and China, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, was announced in 2013 when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang in Beijing. The focus was on connecting China with Gwadar port through highway, rail, and pipeline infrastructure.

Less than one-third of the announced CPEC projects were completed, totaling about $19 billion. Since Pakistan was running out of funds, it has consistently missed development targets; it got a $6 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund last year. Two of the prime ministers were arrested on charges of corruption. The demand of the Baloch Liberation Army for a separate homeland in Balochistan province, where Gwadar is located, has made life difficult there. 

Yet the Gwadar losses point to more significant problems along the Belt and Road. China is shrinking its aspirations, not only in Pakistan but worldwide. The economic growth has slowed in three decades to the lowest, inflation is rising, and the nation has felt the consequences of a trade war with the United States.

The image is becoming even darker as an epidemic of coronavirus originating in central China is threatening to cause further delays. It looks like China’s most significant limitation now is its economy. 

Projects have been scrapped, downsized, or scrutinized in several countries. For instance, Malaysia has renegotiated the terms of China’s construction of a rail link and removed $3 billion of proposed pipelines. A court in Kenya last year halted construction of a $2 billion Chinese-funded power plant, Myanmar is rethinking on the BRI project. In Sri Lanka, the new leaders are discussing to regain control of the Hambantota port.

The importance of CPEC

The CPEC project was planned to curb thousands of miles distance for the oil and gas routes from the Middle East to China. Pakistan was expected to raise its gross domestic product by 2.5 percent and getting jobs for almost 2.3 million people.

The agreement was signed by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and declared by his successor Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in 2017. The corridor was projected to begin taking shape by 2020.

Besides better oil and gas routes, China could also have some other key objectives. Several governments have been concerned that Belt and Road spending is helping China develop its “string of pearls,” ports that could be used by its navy, from the South China Sea across the Arabian Sea and on to Africa. Although Pakistan and China deny any military intentions, Gwadar could still be a choking point from Sri Lanka through the Maldives and Djibouti, where China has established its very first port on the Horn of Africa. 

China in the Indian Ocean

China requires some kind of permanent base to support its Indian Ocean operations , especially with India objecting to the docking of PLA submarines at Colombo. Nevertheless, the first foreign soil military base in Djibouti, built in 2017, is adjacent to seven foreign military bases, including the United States.It therefore mainly acts as a ‘logistical tool’ for anti-piracy, humanitarian assistance & disaster relief operations.

The presence of Chinese assets at Pakistani ports could inhibit Indian plans & increase India’s operational dilemma as well.

In the meantime there has been a new concern to worry China. According to international law , despite being administered by Pakistan, China will not be able to develop anything in Pakistan administered Kashmir since it is technically a part of India. 

On the other hand, it is also an obstacle to Aksai Chin, a area claimed by India. China is expected to face barriers in the region, which is probably explaining the recent Galwan Valley border clash between India and China. India had clearly mentioned during the recent face-off border that it does not tolerate any intrusion into its territory.

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