- In June 2013 China and Pakistan negotiated the CPEC, a flagship project under China-led Belt and Road Initiative project.
- The Belt and Road Initiative is China’s discourse on a new “connected” multilateralism of the 21st century.
- Ever since BRI was conceived, China has maintained that the ambitious BRI involves a vision for ‘shared interest’ and ‘shared growth ‘spanning Asia, Europe and Africa.
- Thus, China has been claiming that BRI is a symbol of 21st century economic integration lead by a non-western power.
- However, the inclusive nature of the project is often question.
- The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is an excellent example of BRI being much more than economic projects.
- It clearly shows the strategic influence
- With changing geopolitics, the focus has shifted recently to Indo-Pacific, South Asia, South-east Asia and African regions.
- In a bid to strengthen its prowess in the region, China is trying to gain in the region through various strategies.
Military Nature of CPEC Projects
- After the US has withdrawn its support from Pakistan, China has been the biggest supplier of arms to Pakistan which included ships, submarines and fighter jets.
- Recently there is proposal to create a special economic zone under CPEC to produce a fighter jets, navigation systems, radar systems and onboard weaponry.
- This is 1st time China has explicitly tied a Belt and Road proposal to its military ambitions.
- The Chinese-built Gwadar port is strategically important for China against India and the United States in naval supremacy.
- Similar seaports have been constructed by China around the Indian Ocean, including in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Malaysia.
- China could use these seaports to refuel its submarines, extending its navy’s global reach.
- These seaports can become military bases for China improving its blue-water navy capability.
- The Beidou satellite navigation system of China with both civil and military applications is seen as an alternative to US’s GPS.
- This could become a part of the ambitious ‘Digital Silk Road’ that China had announced as a part of BRI.
- The heavy investments in infrastructure could put countries in debt trap of China like it has happened in Sri Lanka and Maldives.
- For instance, Sri Lanka came under Chinese debt trap and handed over Hambantota to China in a 99-year lease agreement.
- Pakistan has a high level of external debt with around $95 billion.
- Out of this Pakistan currently owes China $23 billion.
- Once the BRI projects are completed Pakistan would stand to owe $62 billion to China forcing it to a Chinese debt-trap.
- Further Pakistan cannot be bailed out by international lenders like IMF unconditionally.
- IMF has sought conditions before extending support to Pakistan.
- Accordingly, Pakistan cannot use the bailout money to repay loans of CPEC.
- While China demands that CPEC deals be kept secret, IMF wants Pakistan to reveal the details of the projects in case of bail out.
While conspicuously the BRI projects are a tool of infrastructure development and economic integration the technologies used are of military nature and could be the biggest security threat in the region.
Source: The Hindu