Insights into Editorial: Emerging irritant: on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)
Background of CPEC:
CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) is clutch of projects valued at $51 billion project which aims at rapidly expanding and upgrading Pakistan’s infrastructure and strengthening the economic ties between the People’s Republic of China (China) and Pakistan. It includes building roads, laying railway lines and pipelines to carry oil and gas.
- CPEC eventually aims at linking the city of Gwadar in South Western Pakistan to China’s North Western region Xinjiang through a vast network of highways and railways.
- The proposed project will be financed by heavily-subsidised loans, that will be disbursed to the Government of Pakistan by Chinese banking giants such as Exim Bank of China, China Development Bank, and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.
- The ‘China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’ violates India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. India’s principal objection was that CPEC passed through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK)
Belt and Road Initiative (BRI):
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is China’s ambitious project for increasing connectivity and economic cooperation within Eurasia. OBOR strategy is often reported as China’s ambitious push to take a bigger role in global affairs and expand its friend circle
Present Stand by India on CPEC:
New Delhi sent a clear message to Beijing that it doesn’t support CPEC. India registered its protest by boycotting the high-profile Belt and Road Forum organised by China.
Its principal objection was that CPEC passed through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). The Ministry of External Affairs statement read: “Our position on OBOR/BRI is clear and there is no change. The so-called ‘China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’ violates India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. No country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Nevertheless, for India, PoK remains an emotional and sensitive issue.
India’s Concern over CPEC and China:
CPEC gives China a foothold in the western Indian Ocean with the Gwadar port, located near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, where Chinese warships and a submarine have surfaced.
Access here allows China greater potential to control maritime trade in that part of the world—a vulnerable point for India, which sources more than 60% of its oil supplies from the Middle East. What’s more, if CPEC does resolve China’s “Malacca dilemma”—its over-reliance on the Malacca Straits for the transport of its energy resources—this would give Asia’s largest economy greater operational space to pursue unilateral interests in maritime matters to the detriment of freedom of navigation and the trade-energy security of several states in the Indian Ocean region, including India.
OBOR and CPEC seems to be primarily driven by broad geostrategic and geopolitical aim.
- CPEC will provide China strategic access to the Arabian Sea and enhance its presence in the region.
- It would enable China to wield much more powerful influence in the Indian Ocean.
- Once completed, CPEC project would mean that the Chinese presence in entire Pakistan including Pakistan Occupied Kashmir becomes all pervasive and powerful.
- The route of CPEC passes through POK and makes China an indirect stakeholder in Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan.
- OBOR is a unilateral ideational of China and there is a lack of transparency in its working. The process is not participatory and collaborative in nature.
- String of pearls:-
- Under Maritime Silk Route (MSR) China is developing ports in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan and is trying to enlarge its influence using its economic might in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea.
- Thus MSR is nothing but an economic disguise to the “Strings of Pearls” Theory. China is investing a huge amount of money in India’s immediate neighbourhood and these countries tend to use the China card against India.
- Through OBOR, China is countering the strategies of India in North East region and is promoting its greater presence in North East India, part of which China claims as its own territory. This may have a security impact on India.
- Tense bilateral relations with China, deep mistrusts and India’s growing concerns over Chinese hegemonic intentions in South Asia and Indo-Pacific region make it practically unlikely that India will ever consider joining this project.
- The fact that the Chinese have begun to deploy 30,000 security personnel (Military deployment) to protect the projects along the CPEC route makes it an active player in the politics of the Indian sub-continent. Clearly, this is a case of double standards.
- CPEC is ultimately a thorn in India-Pakistan relations. The best way forward would be for India to come up with a concrete plan on PoK. Otherwise, its protests on CPEC may well be ignored by stakeholders in the project, with little consequence.
- Japan and India can build rail and road connectivity across the Eurasian landmass running parallel to OBOR.
- India should focus more on its projects such as Sagarmala and North-South Transport Corridor. But at the same time we must express our concerns with BRI and should have a clear and firm stand on CPEC and BRI.
- The Asia Africa Growth Corridor, structured to connect East Asia, South-East Asia and South Asia with Africa and Oceania, provides a normative alternative to OBOR with its promise of being more consultative and inclusive.
- Project Mausam, Chabahar ports projects need to be implemented effectively.
- India now needs to match ambition with commensurate augmentation of its capacities that allows it to be a net security provider in the Indian Ocean region
- Chinese railways, highways, ports and other capacities can serve as catalysts and platforms for sustained Indian double-digit growth
Therefore, for the time being, it may be worthwhile to carefully evaluate those components of the BRI which may, in fact, improve India’s own connectivity to major markets and resource supplies and become participants in them just as we have chosen to do with the AIIB and the NDB.
But on the CPEC, Indian government need to counter CPEC by various diplomatic, economic (i.e development of chabahar port) and strategic efforts. Tension or conflict between the India and China takes away from the prospects of the Asian century that their leaders speak of. The world should have no quarrel with India and China beating swords into ploughshares. We need a regular pattern of more informal summits between the leaders of the two countries. The challenge across the spine of Asia does no one good.