CPEC: Crouching tiger, hidden dragon

Historically, the Dragon is driven by self-interests, even against fair-play norms, as is evident in its dealing with neighbours India, Vietnam etc. But, its ensnaring abilities will come to forefront for Pakistan as more details of CPEC tumble out

THE Chinese have an ‘expansionist’ agenda that manifests itself in the realm of trade and commerce, infrastructural initiatives, diplomacy and military footprint. Having overtaken the US as the world’s largest economy (also the world’s largest polluter), the dragon is now securing the neologism of the ‘Chinese Century’ with aggressive realpolitik, geostrategic investments and crucially, by remaining uninvolved in the global war-on-terror that saps the resources of the West. To fructify the portents of the ‘Chinese Century’, Beijing does not shy away from patronising illiberal regimes (eg Sudan, North Korea or having ‘all-weather friendship’ with Pakistan, with which it has no civilisational, cultural or ideological commonality). The ready generosity of the Dragon’s coffers are ostensibly ‘without strings attached’, as it comes without preachy concerns on issues like human rights, democracy or any other ‘niceties’. China has emerged as the alternative power-bloc to the US, and questions on the efficacy, impact and real intent behind the Chinese model of global investments, have ensued.

Chinese ‘Colonialism’ in Africa

To allay the fears of a ‘new form of colonialism’ (read, Chinese investments in Africa), global consultancy firm McKinsey had presented a paper called the ‘Dance of the Lions and Dragons’ to suggest that the Chinese investment were indeed, beneficial to the recipient countries. However, credible concerns abound in Africa about the lack of financial transparency involving the ‘Chinese private firms’, the extraction and plunder of Africa’s natural resources, on-site employment opportunities to hordes of Chinese nationals, debilitating paybacks of oil concessions and mining rights in return for Chinese investments and strategic ‘land-securing’ by the Chinese. Unverified figures of about 15 million acres of African land secured by Chinese conglomerates and the opening of the overseas Chinese Naval base in the ultra-strategic Horn of Africa, Djibouti, costing nearly $600 million have fueled further concerns about the Dragon’s ulterior motives. This posits the other infrastructural initiatives of the Chinese juggernaut with potential concerns, eg the brazen Eurasian corridor with the One-Belt-One-Road (OBOR) and the $62 billion China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC), connecting the Gwadar port in the restive Baluchistan with Kashgar, in the Chinese mainland.

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Pak Sees Real Motives of China in CPEC

Like the wary whispers in Africa, the real Chinese motives in CPEC are slowly raising eyebrows in Pakistan amongst the puzzled policymakers, beyond such flowery expressions as “Pakistan-China friendship is higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, sweeter than honey, and stronger than steel”, coined by the Chinese. Recently, the Seventh Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) was deliberating to finalise the nuts and bolts of the CPEC Long-Term-Plan (LTP), and an oddly disconcerting request by the Chinese to make their currency (Yuan) as the legal tender in the Gwadar port was raised, and expectedly refused by Pakistan.

No ‘soft loans’ or jobs for Baluch: Already, the veneer of the Chinese ‘concessions’ and ‘soft loans’ are riling against the debt-burden of $90 billion that Pakistan will end up paying China over the 30 years’ term period. The abundance of Chinese workforce in Gwadar is in stark contrast to the promised employment and prosperity for the local Baluch (even as 19 out of the 39 ‘early harvest’ projects are either completed or in advanced stages). The local Baluch, in any case, nurse a historical animosity against Islamabad for exploiting their natural resources in return for negligible gratification and are saddled with more Pakistani military boots-on-ground to quell their legitimate grouses. Other areas like the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and ‘Azad Kashmir’ are also alluding to deprivation emanating from CPEC.

Only 9% revenue for Pak: The initial claims of the supposed windfall for Pakistan from the revenue generation from Gwadar port got blunted by the reluctant clarification from the Pakistani authorities that China would get 91 per cent of the Port revenues, and Pakistan only a measly nine per cent for the next 40 years! Expectedly, the unofficial ‘voice’of the Chinese officialdom came through the Chinese publication Global Times that quoted an official clarifying, “common international rules regarding build-operate-transfer (BOT) projects do not require the operator to share any revenue generated from the projects during the investment and operation period with the eventual owner.” Earlier, the Chairman of Pakistan Senate Standing Committee on Planning and Development had warned, “Another East India Company is in the offing; national interests are not being protected.” Recently, lawmakers in the Pakistani Senate expressed concerns in the apparent bias in favour of the Chinese as details about CPEC became public.

For China, its strategic interest primary: The CPEC for China is primarily about finding a life-sustaining corridor alternative to the compulsive vulnerability felt for its shipping lanes (through the ultra-narrow Malacca Straits) that could get potentially ‘choked’ by vested powers in the region. That the CPEC also offers the additional opportunity to create new export markets, utilise Chinese spare capacity, develop Western China or facilitate goodwill and economic transformation for its tactical ally, Pakistan, is secondary to its primary strategic interest that seeks to uninterruptedly fuel the wherewithal for the ‘Chinese Century’. So, if the Chinese focus limitedly on the dual objective of self-maintaining the Gwadar port and on maintaining the singular axis of the narrow Gwadar-Kashgar corridor (for which the Pakistanis have already committed a Division of 15,000 soldiers), ignoring the other inter-linkages in the periphery, arterial projects and other economic ‘zones’ as envisaged as part of the CPEC Master Plan, the economic transformation for the Pakistani economy could get severely limited. As the initial veil surrounding the finer details of the CPEC unfurl, facts seem disturbing for the Pakistanis, who were assured that CPEC would alleviate most of their economic concerns. Historically, the Dragon is driven by blatant and tactical self-interests, even if they militate against the norms of fair-play and respect, as evident in its dealing with India, Bhutan, Taiwan, Vietnam etc. The ensnaring abilities of the hidden Dragon will come to fore for Pakistan, as more details pertaining to the CPEC tumble out.

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By Lt-Gen Bhopinder Singh (Retd)




Source:- The Tribune

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