The Chinese Silk Road still prospers amidst many challenges
There is no denying the fact that the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road is a strategic game changer for China. This Initiative will be useful for China to promote its softer image and yet expand its regional influence besides the tremendous regional prosperity it promises. With the accomplishment of CPEC and the operationalization of the Gwadar port Pakistan will surely get access to Central Asia and Europe. As stated in the “China Daily” this mega initiative was initially proposed by the Chinese Premier during his visit to Islamabad in May 2013. According to the proposed plan enormous networks of infrastructure would connect Gwadar city with “Kasghar and the Chinese northwest city of Xingjian. In the light of this plan a network of pipelines, highways and railroads would be setup to transport oil and gas to China from the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. The plan further suggests that a road network after connecting Hazara with Muzaffarabad, Neelum valley and Astore would run to the current Karakoram highway. A deal was struck between Islamabad and Beijing to establish a fenced four lane motorway running through the Pakistani administered Kashmir. In furtherance of this initiative parallel railway lines would connect Hazara with Karachi, Quetta and Muzafarabad.
It is believed that the resultant economic spur and prosperity is bound to change the lives of millions of people. According to the “Express Tribune” the anticipated welfare would traverse Gwadar reaching the other far off places. The development of a smart port city in the region would result in the creation of huge employment opportunities. The Present government asserts that schools and vocational institutes would be established as a part of this mega project for the inhabitants of Gwadar.
Another outstanding desired objective of this project is to build LNG pipelines to transport gas to the power stations hence transforming Thar into an energy capital. The desired transformation of Thar into an energy capital is expected to create economic activity in the heart of rural Sindh. According to Dawn News by March 2018 some 10,400 megawatts (MW) of energy would be available. The Chinese Silk Road initiative also includes the construction of a 229 hectare project in Cholistan desert called the Quaid-e- Azam Solar Park. As stated in “The Diplomat” the Construction of Karot hydropower plant is already in process. This energy project is funded by the Silk Route fund and is expected to be completed by 2020. This project is expected to harness 720MW of energy from river Jhelum. In addition to this a coal power project at Port Qasim would hopefully be completed by the end of 2017.
One must realize that CPEC is a part of the grand Chinese initiative “One Belt One Road” therefore it is surrounded by a host of difficulties and challenges. The “Economic land Belt” involves states on the earliest Silk Route through Central and West Asia, ‘the Middle East and the Europe’. The plan also Incorporates a maritime road aimed at connecting the Chinese port facilities to the African Coast stretching to Suez Canal and finally reaching the Mediterranean. This grand initiative involves 60 countries which amount to a third of the world’s total economy together with more than a half of world’s population.
Some International observers contend that China desires larger space in the Indian Ocean for security and control. China would be able to monitor submarine cables running along in the Indian Ocean besides other maritime and naval activity. It is generally believed that the Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean would change the ‘regional power matrix’ forever. The Chinese “String of Pearls Strategy” suggests that the Indian Ocean would be encircled by China friendly states. There is no denying the fact that with the operationalization of Gwadar Port Pakistan is expected to experience an increased trade capability. Once the Gwadar Port becomes operational 19 million tons of oil per year is expected to be refined. This refined oil would be transported to China by the Gwadar-Kashgar pipeline. Gwadar is significant for providing Pakistan access to the landlocked Central Republic States, Afghanistan and China for trade. One major strategic use of Gwadar is that it provides Pakistan some extra 460 kilometers otherwise it has a less strategic space from east to west. Pakistan owing to Gwadar Port would be able to monitor the Sea Lines of Communication from Persian Gulf to the Strait of Hormuz.
As stated in the “World affairs Journal” CPEC is expected to reduce the time required for transporting goods from Middle East to China. With the accomplishment of 6,000 miles shorter route China would be able to save billions of Yen. According to some International observers “OBOR is in response to United States Pivot to Asia.” According to Chinese observers the huge circle of states resulting from Road and Belt would only provide China an equal footing with the US in the international economy. China has often clarified that it does not want any confrontation with the US it only seeks a better access to food and energy without depending on the energy routes controlled by the United States.
One big challenge that China needs to surmount in order to materialize its grand initiative is the issue of terrorism. Some international scholars contend that one big challenge threatening China is the threat emerging from the changing dynamics of terrorism in the Central Asian states. Security in Central Asian States is paramount to the completion of OBOR initiative. According to BBC Asia there are places between Gwadar and Kashgar (China) were militants might pose a threat to CPEC. In the light of some observers the Indo- Pak rivalry itself has the potential to challenge CPEC.
It is obvious that resentment among provinces regarding CPEC is a major problem that needs to be settled urgently. The government’s decision of constructing the eastern route of CPEC first has been subject to harsh criticism by different political parties in KP and Balochistan. PTI has also criticized the government for preferring the eastern route over the western route. According to “The News International” there are fears that KP and Balochistan are less likely to benefit from CPEC. Another major issue is the security situation of Balochistan as some elements in the province are opposed to the development of the province. Allegations suggest that Balochistan’s rebel organizations have been recipients of foreign funding for carrying out terrorist activities in the province.
It is obvious that the transit revenue generated by the transportation of oil and gas from Gwadar to Kasghar will boost Pakistan’s economy. However the local businessmen have different opinions regarding CPEC. Some businessmen view CPEC as a golden opportunity to trade with China. On the contrary others seem concerned about the invasion of Chinese goods in the local markets. It is feared that the surplus of Chinese goods in the local market might become a hindrance in the growth of Pakistan’s industrial sector. According to a “Dawn News” report cherry orchard owners in Gilgit Baltistan view the opportunity to trade cherries with China much more profitable than transporting cherries to Dubai.
According to the optimists CPEC is a great opportunity for regional development and stability as it will bring countries closer. China has not only spent a tremendous amount of money in Nepal and Bangladesh but it is even improving its relations with India. Many signs suggesting an improved relationship between China and India have been witnessed. The signing of the Border Defense Cooperation Deal (BDCS) in 2013 and the Indian participation in the Asian Infrastructure Bank (AIIB) and BRICS Development Bank indicates regional cooperation. One argument suggests that Gawadar port after its completion would have the potential to make Pakistan another Singapore or Dubai.
The Chinese grand initiative “One Belt One Road” and the “Maritime Silk Road” seems to be a golden opportunity for trade, regional stability and cooperation. CPEC continues to prosper due to the decline in terrorist activities owing to the Karachi operation and Zarbe e Arb. The Pak- China economic Corridor would bring economic welfare to Pakistan besides strengthening our friendship with China.
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