Pakistan’s meddling in neighbouring India and its isolation in international diplomatic circle dents Chinese hopes to take lead in regional power base….writes Syed Ahmed Khan
Poor Peking! Its dreams shattered. China’s strategy to become a regional power vanished as its all-weather friend Pakistan entangled in a diplomatic mess over Kashmir. The progress of $46-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) hits snag as the international community blames Pakistan for diverting the global attention to solve migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle Eastern imbroglio. The Communist country has conceded defeat in the form of a newspaper editorial that points to security risks and implicitly questions economic wisdom.
“It is unlikely to be plain sailing for China and Pakistan in their attempts to push forward the CPEC due to challenges such as a complex regional environment, and people in the two countries should be prepared for potential setbacks,” the China Daily said in an article.
It points out that corridor linking China’s northwest Xinjiang province to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port “passes through some turbulent regions, Kashmir included”. While Kashmir is a disputed territory, Balochistan has for ever been on the boil. Miitants had killed a Chinese engineer and have targeted Chinese-built projects in the province.
The Balochs accuse Puniab-dominated Islamabad rulers of stealing away Balochistan’s resources. Even the CPEC may is being drawn so as to provide maximum benefit to Punjab and avoid the Balochistan terrain as much as they could. Besides security challenges, there is serious concern about the economic value of the investments because the Pakistani economy is unlikely to provide a proper rate of return on investments. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was reported saying last month that the CPEC was the top priority for his government, the paper said.
“However, given the difficulty of protecting the personnel that are working in Pakistan, projects under the CPEC may need to be implemented and assessed step by step,” it said. It is bad news for both, especially Pakistan. Feeling isolated as the United States deprecates its much-vaunted “fight against terrorism” and India surging past it in the region and elsewhere, Pakistan has viewed the CPEC as its sole life-line, something it can look forward to. The project, still at the planning stage, has been an exciting lolli-pop to Pakistan’s vocal and critical middle classes and political opponents, ever since Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed it.
Just everything about CPEC is great and will take Pakistan to its economic heaven. This is what the Sharifs – Prime Minister Nawaz and Army Chief Gen. Raheel, have been their people. Both have blamed anything remotely, or even without any connection, happening to Pakistan as “a conspiracy against CPEC”.
This may be their way of pleasing and expressing gratefulness to the Chinese. But the latter are not amused. As it is, the surveys in China about the Chinese attitude to the Pakistanis show that the latter are perceived with contempt, as people who are disorganised, inward looking lot. It does not matter than over 70 percent of the Pakistanis think highly of the Chinese. It is inferiority complex.
Now, a dissenting view is coming in the form of an editorial in a Chinese daily newspaper. The media is state-backed in China and the line it takes to often provide initial hints about the government’s views and its plans. The editorial has warned that setbacks are on card as China embarks on CPEC as it seeks access to the Indian Ocean. It has also suggested that China should also focus on economic cooperation with Southeast Asian countries. China’s prospects lie among that region’s “tiger economies”.
China wants to shift its attention to funding infrastructure in Vietnam and other South East Asian countries in order to soften their stance on the South China Sea dispute. Besides, Beijing wants to extend its One Belt, One Road program to other countries instead of depending on Pakistan. The unstated part is that there is little future dealing with an impoverished, difficult, unreliable and unstable Pakistan. Even the bilateral trade between the two is negligible. It is well known that China uses its media to send out signals. This editorial is clearly meant to put Islamabad under pressure and force it to take security issues more seriously. That being the past record, will China slow down on its plans to lay the CPEC?