CPEC project reflects growing friendship between China and Pakistan: Will Trump be a game changer?
Pakistani media has hailed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project as a game changer. Pakistan is optimistic that China is about to transform their country with the $46 billion project. Interestingly, this corridor also runs through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), which is likely to make Prime Minister Narendra Modi uncomfortable.
There is, however, a new player in this game. Donald Trump — the President-elect of the United States — recently held talks with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. According to a report by Pakistani daily Dawn, Trump said, “Your country is amazing with tremendous opportunities. Pakistanis are one of the most intelligent people. I am ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems.”
Trump’s remarks on Pakistan’s ‘outstanding problems’ has posed a serious question over US’ involvement in India-Pakistan ties and his stance on the CPEC project which makes China a dominant player in the South-Asian region. Many hailed Trump’s phone call and the upcoming CPEC project which will provide Pakistan the economic boost it requires.
Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, 43, who is under house arrest, told The Economic Times, “We had zero expectation from Trump, considering the discourse during his election campaign. However, Trump’s phone call to Pakistan, and the remarks of Vice-President-elect Mike Pence on Kashmir are very important. I guess South Asia is going to be the focus for the new dispensation in the US. If Trump administration gets involved in the region, it will be a huge diplomatic shift, which would help us.”
When asked how does he thinks CPEC will impact Jammu and Kashmir politics, he said that the project poses a good opportunity for J&K and allows them to be a part of the Silk Route once again. He said, “We can be part of the CPEC, even before the resolution of Kashmir issue and become a part of the Central Asian discourse rather than South Asian discourse. Kashmir can be gateway for India as well.” He was optimistic about India’s involvement in the project and noted 2017 will be an interesting year as economic and political equations are changing amid Trump’s victory and the engagement of many countries in CPEC.
However, it is a well-known fact that Pakistan has been feeling the pressure from global powers after India took a strong stance against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in light of the 2016 Uri attack in which 18 Indian soldiers were killed. The dip in relations with America was reflected in the US bill introduced on 20 September which sought to officially designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Pakistan in turn has taken the route to gaining grace in China and treating it as a new source of weapons and economic growth. The CPEC reflects the growing friendship between China and Pakistan. As an emerging superpower, China has proven to be a thorn in America’s side. The US has been monitoring the Pakistan-China relations, but has not directly intervened.
India, on the other hand, is trying to balance the scales with Pakistan by trying to make its own inroads in China through the development of a road spanning Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM) which is a 2,800 km-long corridor that starts from Kolkata and passes through Bangladesh and Myanmar before ending at Kunming in China.
China’s growing favour towards the success of CPEC has made Modi uneasy which was reflected during the bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 summit in September where Modi raised India’s concerns over the CPEC being laid through PoK.
Besides a host of energy-related projects, the CPEC consists of rail, road and pipelines to ferry oil and gas from Gwadar port on Arabian Sea to Kashghar in China’s Muslim-dominated Xinjiang province through PoK.
Maybe Trump’s victory will play a significant role in the growing tension between India-Pakistan, but the official stance as of now is that the US will be a ‘peaceful mediator’. Only time will tell if that is the case.