Pakistan and China relations are based on historical and cultural linkages and the deep rooted connections between the two nations which have grown stronger with the passage of time. The recent visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to China to attend the One Belt One Road (OBOR) Summit which is aimed at regional development through cooperation is another hallmark in their bilateral relations. In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road’ initiative and the Belt and Road Forum (BRF) is its key component. OBOR initiative seeks to physically connect China to its market in other regions such as Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond while the Maritime Silk Road would ensure safe China’s shipping through Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. China has decided to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure projects including railways, ports and power grids. The OBOR summit is significant for Pakistan in context to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is the flagship project of Chinese OBOR initiative.
On the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, PM Nawaz Sharif along with four chief ministers and several federal ministers attended the two-day Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing from 14th-15th May, 2017. The PM held important meetings with the top Chinese officials and Chinese leadership particularly Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Kaqiang to expand cooperation in key areas and finalize major projects in infrastructure, energy, trade, connectivity, financial support and people to people exchanges. A great emphasis was laid on the development and implementation of CPEC. The participation of various heads of states, government representatives and international organizations in the OBOR forum had provided opportunity to Pakistan to interact and share views at such a prestigious forum and improve relations with them. The forum served as a platform for the Pakistani delegation to enhance its diplomatic and business ties with various countries. The attendance of all four provincial chief ministers at BRF implies the consensus in Pakistan for cooperation with China over the CPEC project.
During the visit, six accords and memorandas of understanding (MoUs) of cooperation were signed between Pakistan and China in diverse fields that include framework of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiative and agreements on economic and technical cooperation. The worth of the accords is about $500 million. The long term plan for the CPEC project was also finalized and different agreements and MoUs were signed for the construction of Gwadar airport and East Bay expr¬e¬ssway, implementation of Havelian dry port and up gradation of the Main Line-1 railway track. Both sides decided to speed up the supplementary projects in and around Pakistan’s Gwadar Port such as establishment of special economic and industrial zones and the construction of the industrial parks along the corridor. The two sides discussed to strengthen cooperation on areas including anti-terrorism and security, increase in people to people contacts and to enhance coordination on major international and regional affairs.
While China and Pakistan are trying to connect with the region and even beyond region through CPEC and Silk route initiative, India has opposed to the project and has refused to attend the forum. The Indian attitude has been alarming for Pakistan and China. India believes that CPEC has been built in the disputed territory of Gilgit-Baltistan which it claims to be part of India. At the same time, India also considers OBOR initiative as the counter strategy to India’s Act East policy and China’s attempt to expand its influence and links across the three continents of Asia, Africa and Europe. Although China has rejected Indian concerns that CPEC had nothing to do with the dispute and invited India to participate in the New Silk Road but still India has boycotted the forum by stating that no country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereign and territorial integrity. This Indian move has been widely criticized in the international community. According to Global Times, if India had concerns regarding CPEC as a flagship project of OBOR initiative, then India’s joining the initiative would have bolstered its economic ties with the China and would have possibly shifted the initiative’s centre of gravity.
However, it is important to note that India is the only South Asian country which has not signed the OBOR project. All neighbouring countries of India with the exception of Bhutan attended the forum. The Indian attempts to isolate Pakistan at regional level went counterproductive and ironically Indian non-participation in BRF itself gave an impression that it is against Xi’s ambitious OBOR initiative. The Indian defence experts view OBOR initiative as a huge security threat to India and a plan to encircle India territorially and in the Indian Ocean Region. PM Nawaz Sharif also dismissed this Indian propaganda and said that CPEC must not be politicized and OBOR is not meant for encirclement of any country but it is about connectivity and emancipation. Pointing to India, the PM statement that CPEC has no geographical boundaries and is open to all states would encourage different countries to participate in the CPEC project.
Infact, OBOR Summit and Pakistan’s engagement with China holds great importance for the long term connectivity, opportunity, stability and peace prospects between the two countries. The proper implementation of CPEC would boost Pakistan’s flagging industries such as textiles, agriculture, manufacturing and would increase its exports and tourism. CPEC would open job opportunities, improve infrastructure, develop health and education sectors and help Pakistan fight its energy crisis. CPEC would shift Pakistan from agrarian country into a trade and investment hub. The attendance of BRF would not only elevate Pakistan’s global image but also strengthen its strategic and economic ties with China.
Article originally published in Pakistan Observer on May 20th, 2017.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.