From the beginning, critics of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) have been struggling to prove that the military has a lot to gain from the project. However, Islamabad and Beijing, without mincing their words, denounced such statements. Indeed, there are certain factors which create the impression that the military might gain from the CPEC due to its links to the Gwadar port.
The growing geopolitical and economic influence of China, in the region, and across the world, have raised alarm bells for both the United States and India. While India continues to maintain important bilateral and trade ties with China, it is worried about Beijing’s increasing influence in the neighborhood. Washington, on the other hand, has imposed sanctions against Chinese entities due to their purchase of military hardware from Russia, such as the S-400 surface to air missiles and the SU-27 fighter jets.
On December 18, last year, a New York Times (NYT) report stated that: “Chinese officials have repeatedly said that the Belt and Road Initiative is purely an economic project with peaceful intent. But with its plan for Pakistan, China is for the first time explicitly tying a Belt and Road proposal to its military ambitions and confirming the concerns of a host of nations who suspect the infrastructure initiative is really about helping China project armed might.”
Both Chinese and Pakistani officials had publicly dismissed the notion of the military using CPEC and the Gwadar port. On December 27, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Dr. Mohammad Faisal reiterated: “The CPEC has helped Pakistan improve its economy, particularly energy and infrastructure sectors. The CPEC is a bilateral economic project, which is not against any country.” Additionally, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, said: “According to our information, the relevant report is not true.”
Despite the clarifications issued by China and Pakistan, several analysts maintain that in addition to economy and trade, the CPEC would have military dimensions, too. They are convinced that the project is building roads that will be used for military purposes. According to the NYT report: “A Chinese-built seaport and special economic zone in the Pakistani town of Gwadar is rooted in trade, giving China a quicker route to get goods to the Arabian Sea. But it also gives Beijing a strategic card to play against India and the United States if tensions worsen to the point of naval blockades as the two powers increasingly confront each other at sea.”
They assert that the build-up of roads is the extension of China’s ‘String of Pearls’ maritime strategy. The strategy refers to “the network of Chinese military and commercial facilities and relationships along with its sea lines of communication, which extend from the Chinese mainland to Port Sudan in the Horn of Africa.”
China has been cultivating friendly and cooperative relations with the Indian Ocean littoral states by investing in their infrastructure buildup in ports near the Strait of Malacca on Cocos Keeling Island, the Chittagong port in Bangladesh, and a port in Hambantota on the southeastern part of Sri Lanka. China has been assisting Pakistan in the construction of a new deep-sea port on the Arabian Sea in Gwadar, in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, too.
The geographical location of Gwadar makes it strategically significant for the neighboring countries and regions such as Afghanistan, China, West Asia, Central Asia, and Eurasia. The port will establish unprecedented sea and road links between West Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, and Eurasia due to the development of the CPEC and the BRI. Therefore, many countries, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, have planned to invest in the mega-project, with reports stating last week that “Pakistan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have finalized the Memorandum of Understanding for the construction of a multi-billion dollar Saudi Aramco oil refinery in Gwadar”.
Analysts from India claim that Pakistan had permitted China to build a naval base including the docking facility for its conventional submarines at Gwadar. They believe that China — through its String of Pearls and CPEC – will encircle India and obstructs its role in the Indian Ocean region. They are of the opinion that with the control of Gwadar would have strategic position in the northern Indian Ocean.
In reality, the perception that Pakistan will give its control to any other state, including China is incorrect. China’s assistance in the building of the Gwadar port does not infer that its control automatically would be transferred to China. Indeed, the Gwadar port is a significant addition to the regional maritime landscape. However, it is a purely commercial project without any military facet to it.
Meanwhile, both the countries concluded the 8th Round of the Pakistan-China Consular Consultations in Islamabad in a cordial and cooperative atmosphere. The two sides discussed the entire range of consular issues and reiterated their resolve to further extend facilitation in all areas including visa & immigration; consular matters; prisoner’s issues and implementation of the Treaty between the People’s Republic of China and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons signed during the visit of the Prime Minister to China in November last year. Ms. Ayesha Ali led the Pakistani delegation while the Chinese side was led by Deputy Director-General, Mr. Tong Defa and both the sides agreed to hold next round of Pakistan-China Consular Consultations in 2020 at Beijing.
Earlier, Vice-Chairman of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Gao Yunlong along with a high powered Chinese delegation paid a visit to Pakistan and underlined the importance of interaction between business people, expansion of trade and creation of joint ventures investment between Pakistani and Chinese nations.
He met with President Dr Arif Aliv and other top leadership in Pakistan. President Dr Arif Alvi Friday called for efforts to further enhance people-to-people contact between China and Pakistan believing that increased interaction between different institutions, academia and think tanks of the two countries would further strengthen mutual trust and understanding. He said Pakistan and China were all-weather strategic cooperative partners, said a President House statement. He said friendship with China was the cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy.
The president emphasized that Pakistan attached great importance to CPEC and was committed to its early completion. He added that the next phase of CPEC would focus on socioeconomic development, agriculture cooperation, industrial capacity, job creation, poverty alleviation, trade and commerce, science and technology and climate change. He hoped that some Special Economic Zones (SEZ) would be inaugurated this year. President Alvi underlined that bilateral visits at the leadership level had been a hallmark of traditional friendship and warm relations between both countries.
He added that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to China last year was very successful which reaffirmed strong brotherly relations and understanding. He highlighted that China’s willingness to address the large trade deficit was a welcome development. The president viewed that more Chinese investment and trade delegations might be encouraged to visit Pakistan to identify Pakistani products for Chinese markets. He said there was a huge potential for enhancing cooperation in tourism sector and both sides should explore different avenues in this regard.
President, All- China Chamber of Industry and Commerce (ACCIC) Gao Yunlong also interacted with representatives of business community to underline the importance of interaction between business people, expansion of trade and creation of joint ventures investment between Pakistani and Chinese nations. In a meeting with FPCCI President Engr. Daroo Khan Achakzai and members of the Federation Chinese delegation led by Gao Yunlong discussed various bilateral trade and economic related issued between Pakistan and China during the meeting held at the Federation’s Islamabad office.
While welcoming the delegation, Engr. Daroo Khan Achakzai, highlighted the contribution of China in economic development of Pakistan. He also talked about the level playing field and significant share of Pakistan in imports of China for reducing trade deficit. He acknowledged the Chinese investment in Pakistan in the backdrop of CPEC which will improve infrastructure and energy situation of Pakistan. Gao Yunlong stated that Pakistan and China relations had entered into strategic partnership which would go a long way in economic and social development of both the countries.
In the meanwhile Leader of the House in Pakistani Senate, Syed Shibli Faraz and Vice Chairman of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) Gao Yunlong underscored diplomatic, Political and economic ties have always remained on a positive trajectory and both sides have complemented each other at all international forums.
Both the sides termed friendship with China most important and said that Pakistan places bilateral relations with China at high esteem and there is huge scope to further broaden the cordial relations. They expressed the confidence that the visit would further pave the way for enhanced linkages at different levels. Leader of the Chinese delegation said that China values its ties with Pakistan, and it is one of the shining examples of close neighborly ties. He said that China would further encourage Chinese investment in Pakistan. Pakistan and China were all weather strategic cooperative partners and both had a shared vision for regional growth and prosperity.
Shibli said that Pakistan attaches great importance to China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and is committed to it early completion. He stressed that Pakistan is trying to expand cooperation under CPEC on socio-economic development, agriculture cooperation, industrial capacity, job creation, poverty alleviation, trade and commerce, besides, broadening Special Economic Zones base.