Changing Geostrategic Realities: China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

By Misbah U. Azam, Ph.D.


Well known public intellectual, political analyst and TV anchor person, Mr. Farrukh Khan Pitafi once told me that years ago while he was interviewing Dr. Stephen P. Cohen — a famous American political scientist, a prominent expert on Pakistan, India, and South Asian security and senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution – he asked Dr. Cohen if there is any example in the world in his knowledge where the cordial relations between the states are not entirely base on the mutual interests. Dr. Cohen replied that in his recollection, China-Pakistan relations can be described as the states’ relations which are somewhat above their personal interests.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Islamabad is largely focused on broadening deep economic relations and military leadership in Pakistan will also brief President Xi on the progress in counter-militancy operations and efforts to promote peace in neighboring Afghanistan. China’s pledge of around US $45 billion of investment in development projects not only gain headlines in Pakistan media but the international media also highlighted it and argued that those development plans are only half of a strategy aimed at simultaneously improving the region’s security issues along with its economy. The New York Times highlighted the high profiled visit of Chinese leader to Pakistan and commented on the future of US-Pakistan relations. Times noted, “…laden with tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure and energy assistance on a scale the United States has never offered in the past decade of a close relationship, a gesture likely to confirm the decline of American influence in that nation”. Times also focused on the fact that “significant amount of assistance, including a port facility at Gwadar on the Arabian Sea, and rails and roads leading from the port across Baluchistan Province and into western China, will be in areas close to the tribal areas where the militant groups operate. The route from Gwadar to Kashgar, in Xinjiang — a project officially called the Economic Corridor — also serves as a short cut for the shipment of goods from Europe to China, avoiding the Strait of Malacca farther east”.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a plan worth $46 billion, is launched on Monday, April 20, 2015, is not only linking the economy of Pakistan to an economic giant but it also accentuates China’s economic ambitions and security concerns in Asia and beyond. Geographically, it is a 1,250-mile (2,000-kilometer) road and rail link connecting Kashgar, in the Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, to Pakistan’s South-western port of Gawadar. Economically, it consists of cooperation in financing, investment, measures on energy which covers coal power plants, hydroelectric, wind-generated power, solar power stations and supplies of coal. Chinese and Pakistani officials insist that the plan is expected to assist some of among the most under developed areas of Pakistan and China by reducing poverty and generating employments.
The pronounced benefit of China with CPEC is that it reduces transportation time of goods and energy from the oil rich Persian Gulf. Transportation from the Middle East, via the Strait of Malacca takes about 45 days at present, which could be reduced to less than 10 days only, if it will be done through Gwadar port. Another benefit China sees in investing in Pakistan is that after the CPEC will be operational, it will initiate more economical activities in the North-western Xingjian province which is for years tarnished by the separatist movements.

For three decades the export based economy of China grew almost at 10% rate but for last couple of years the growth rate has declined. This year it will be around 7%. Investing in infra-structure and energy sectors in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Middle East and Africa, will help reducing unemployment and stabilize the growth. However, for China there are more benefits then what are described above. In a broader view, the CPEC will not only closely connect Central Asia, West Asia, and Gulf States through economic and energy cooperation but also it will address some of the China’s crucial but excruciating security concerns as well which will be discussed here with some detail.

At the eve of President Xi Jinping’s visit of Pakistan, the CBS News quoted some Western diplomats saying that China’s increasing economic engagement with Pakistan should be seen in the context of Beijing’s “efforts to counter the US efforts to deepen alliances around the Asia-Pacific region”. The 2012 regional strategy of President Obama’s administration – The Pivot to East Asia — predominantly emphasizes the “strengthening bilateral security alliances; deepening working relationships with emerging powers, including China; engaging with regional multilateral institutions; expanding trade and investment; forging a broad-based military presence; and advancing democracy and human rights”. However, China sees the Pivot to East Asia strategy as a part of America’s policy to contain and confine the military power and economic expansion of China. Proponents of this theory in China’s ruling circle believe that United States needs a militarily, economically and socially weak and divided China so that US can continue its martial hegemony in Asia and Africa.

Territorial disputes over the handful of islands of the East and South China Sea have already thrashed relations between China and countries like Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei in recent years. The South China Sea region is the area that is home to a wealth of natural resources, fisheries, trade routes, and military bases. The Ministry of Geological Resources and Mining of the People’s Republic of China estimates that the South China Sea contains 17.7 billion tons of crude oil (compared to Kuwait which has some 13 billion tons of crude oil reserves), although, other sources claim that the reserves of oil in the South China Sea may only be about 1.1 billion tons. All of this is at stake in the increasingly frequent diplomatic stand-offs among the countries of the region. Some analysts in Asia and Europe believe that the Obama’s announced “Pivot in East Asia” policy further raised tensions in the already scorching region.

About a quarter of oil supplies, mainly from Persian Gulf suppliers, which goes to South Korea, Japan and China, carried by sea, has to pass through the 1.5 nautical mile wide Strait of Malacca. According to one media report, more than half China’s oil supply comes from the Malacca strait.

Strait of Malacca

With the changing geopolitical realities and formation of new allegedly hostile alliances, China has fears that if the dispute in the East and South China Sea is aggravated and such alliance is ever materialized, it may have a potential to impose a naval blockade on the narrow Malacca strait and strangle China economically. China believes that it must pre-empt the situation and form its own alliances to counter the possible hostility against China.
Significant number of Chinese believe that allowing Taiwan independence is simply a signing its own death warrant. They insist if ever in the future Taiwan would try to become a separate entity, China will have no choice but to launch a massive military action. This fear is not very far-fetched. During my days as Ph. D. student at Arizona State University, I had some friends from Taiwan who were the student leaders and activists for Taiwan’s independence. They used to invite me to their monthly forum where they also invite some intellectuals and experts on Taiwan history and politics. One day, one of the expert who was a well established Dentist, insisted, while talking to me, that although Taiwanese are Mandarin speakers but they are actually closer to Japanese then Chinese. Chinese rightly believe that if Taiwan will ever become independent, it will be heavily influenced and controlled by Japan. The relationship between China and Japan has been strained at times by Japan’s refusal to acknowledge its wartime past to the satisfaction of China (According to a 2014 BBC World Service Poll, just 5% of Chinese people view Japanese influence positively, with 90% expressing a negative view, the most negative perception of Japan in the world). The independent Taiwan and Japan with help of Philippines and Vietnam can assert their influence on Chinese interests in East and South China Sea and can suffocate China economically by depriving China from its right of the wealth of sea and trade corridors.

China’s Concern

Helping Pakistan in building the infra-structure is strongly attached to China own interest and the first step to counter such possibilities. One can observe the location of Pakistan is like a channel which connects Northwestern China and take it to the warm waters of Arabian Sea, which is a gateway to the oil rich Persian Gulf. With Pakistan politically, militarily and economically stable, with strongly allied to China, the alleged “China Containment Policy” loses its significance because China will continue influencing Asia and Africa militarily and economically through Pakistan.

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)

China is facing this situation for some decades, but such huge investment came after lots of painstaking efforts by the Pakistani leadership. Although, the credit for building such close relation with China goes to a long list of civilian and military leaders. However, looking at past decades, President Syed Asif Ali Zardari, Chief Minister Punjab Mian Shahbaz Sharif and General Raheel Sharif should be given most of the credit to rebuild this relation. In Feb. 2013, President Zardari handed over the contract of operation of Gwadar port to China after the agreement was transferred from the Port of Singapore Authority to China Overseas Ports Holding Company Limited. This action brought a huge positive shift in Sino-Pakistan relationship. Shahbaz Sharif also involved China in numerous development projects in Punjab and worked very closely with Chinese business. Unlike the “thinking” General Ashfaq Pervez Kyani, General Sharif has proven to be a professional soldier and competent war time commander. General Sharif, not only stood up against the abhorrent anti-democracy movement — which was also influenced by Gen. Sisi’s anti-democracy actions — led by Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan but also, he launched a decisive military operation against the terrorists in the tribal belt and stood behind the Pakistan Rangers’ operations inside Pakistan settled area.

In coming days, the overall geopolitical situation of the region has potential to change significantly. China’s expansion in the Indian Ocean, Mid East and in Africa will be the matter of concern for the West. Pakistan seems to be leaning more towards east while India’s tilt will be increasing more towards west. The Times of India reported this month that Pakistan and Russia have agreed to hold first-ever joint military exercises as part of their enhanced defence cooperation, which is indeed a sign of increasing closeness between the Cold War-era adversaries. Pakistan’s virtual refusal to dispatch combat soldiers to Yemen quagmire and its implicit snub to its old ally Saudi Arabia demonstrates maturity in the civil/military leadership and its self-confidence and understanding about the changing realities of the region. With the operation Zarb-e-Azb, now the civilian and military leadership can face their Chinese counterparts who have serious concerns about the growing terrorism inside Pakistan borders which was spreading to China’s Xinjiang province. Now this is an opportunity for Pakistan government to exploit this ground reality and channel all the benefits to common people who are the actual stakeholders of these relations. It is the duty of Pakistani civilian leadership to work even harder to bring Baloch insurgents to the peace table and take actions on their genuine and rightful demands. In tribal belt, those who agree to surrender and want to join the state, must be engaged and allowed to live their lives in peace as long as they pledge not to join militant groups to infiltrate in other neighbors. Pakistan must make every effort to reduce tension with India, Iran and Afghanistan which are – besides China – are most important countries for Pakistan’s security and flourishing economy in the future. Although it is true that the growing bonhomie between India and West makes Indian leadership and security establishment over confident and they are trying to exploit this love affair to inflict maximum diplomatic damage to Pakistan but Pakistan should keep its house in order. Last but not least, Pakistan should work with every country but make sure – at one hand — not to become the crony of some small rich or big powers who would want to use Pakistan to fulfill their imperial ambitions and – at the other hand – Pakistan should not damage its relationship with its old allies and trade partners in Asia, America and Europe.

  • The Observer

    khud tera sheikh zayed al nahyan dubai mein nahi boltan, tu kaun hain be 2 takey kein

  • imran pratapgarhi


  • tajender

    this man,imraan, is absolute fool.

  • kaalchakra

    tajender bhai, once again you are calling a good Muslim an absolute fool!

    The man may be a second-rate poet, but don’t you agree that Baba Ramdev is carrying out terrorist activities and that if Muslims the world over have anything to do with anything else, it is only with their imaan and zam zam?

    Modi sarkar of Hindu fascists is busy maligning Muslims. All good Muslims must come together and walk with their jaan hatheli pe…

    This is not the time to call good Muslims absolute fools. Let’s not cause divisions.

  • Mohan

    Pakistani Man Accused of Raping 30 Sheep in Saudi Arabia

  • Kamath.

    Recently a well known colomnist General Quadir (Retd) in Dawn re: May 1st, 2015 wrote,”….Foremost is the fact that the money promised us is neither by way of aid nor loans at concessionary rates; these are sums intended to finance specific projects….”
    Politicians and patriotic Pakistanis may be riding in 6th heaven that Nawaz Sharif has struck a master stroke and Pakistan is on the way to economic prosperity. But wait ! He says not everything itransparent. It very much depends on how projects are manAged by Pakistanis themselves!

  • kaalchakra

    Now, Aam Aurat Party!

    Moral and rational revolutions never cease in India –

    On the urgings of the great Indian rationalist and moral messiah, Mr Tyagi, Kejriwal has renamed his party as Aam Aurat Party and Rastrapati Bhavan will henceforth be known as Rastrapatni bhavan! We simple folks can’t but be impressed.

  • tajender

    aam aurat is made by yogender yadav and mr bhushant bhushan.inagurted by baba ramdev.

  • haroon
  • Mohan
  • Mohan

    Rahul Gandhi caught copying condolence note

    Pappu can’t write saala.

  • haroon
  • haroon

    tajender bhai, once again you are calling a good Muslim an absolute fool

    sorry i take my words.ramdev is idiot not terrorist.imraan is good.

  • tajender

    kaal i was right about him.

  • The Observer

    ranger ‘You smash the banking system,everybody is equal.’

    Very interesting thought, first of all i can empathise with you since stocks have taken a big hit and will continue bleed till about 26,000-25,000 levels where they have resistance…

    On your thoughts, you smash banking system, the strongest physically shall win; you grow the checks and balances ie. Banks institutions et al the strongest in mind games shall win, we want the latter , which is a success in developed world as it is far better , does not lead to anarchy and collapse of the ecosystem like how you are witnessing in 75% muslim countries from africa to asia where only the book rules n all have become zombies ie keedhas

  • Mohan

    No free Chinese lunch

    THAT loud slurping you have been hearing this last fortnight is the sound of politicians, pundits and punters drooling over the prospect of $46 billion in Chinese investment coming to Pakistan.

    Obviously, an impoverished country like ours can’t afford to look a gift horse in the mouth, especially if the horse in question is Chinese, and happens to be the only ride in town. ‘Game-changer’ is the expression most commonly being bandied about to describe the windfall. If we were to believe the TV anchors and their chat show guests, it’s as though we had hit the jackpot, and could all retire to Dubai.

    Full article –

  • tajender

    observer..Those in India lamenting horrifying killing of Sabeen Mahmud in Pak, have they also heard of Govind Pansare & Narendra Dabholkar?

    all muslim countries run on reason not religion including pakistan,which runs on theft.

  • tajender

    ranger,..Nehru’s respect for d liberal ethos of India involved keeping clerics of all faiths firmly beyond d pale of politics

  • The Observer

    tje ‘including pakistan,which runs on theft.’

    Finally budhene kuch to sahin bola… I agree wuth you, yesterday one so called brigadier from pakiland came on arnab goswami the great’s show…the debate was about resettlement of pandits in kashmir valley, this choot of a brigadier started speaking about how his ‘forefathers’ ruled hindus for 1000 years; arnab removed him from the program immediately, that is the new Hindu ahankaar, theek hai arnab ne jo kiya so kiya but i liked brigadier’s candour – haraami finally accepted he was a bastardised product -his forefathers having been forced upon by the occupiers from the arab world

    Hello brigadier, not all contemporaries of your forefathers were bastards, a billion of them survived with their genes intact and their heads held high….continuing their thousands of years old vedic traditions.. Into modern India, we are proud of our culture

    Not without any reason we have 350BCE Ashoka’s emblem as our national symbol , you can go bootlick the arabs whose progenies you so worship

  • tajender

    arnab is mentally unbalance person .woh bhadbhadia hai.never allow others to speech.full show he beat his own drum.never come up with any good argument.just insult others and go on repeating it.he is a fool

    when turks entered india vedic traditions finished.a hindu should have chutia,janau and havan thrice a day.nobody do it even now.vedas are first testament while holy qoran is last.
    now india is ruled by fascists not by vedic hindus.jews are vegetarians we copied them.ghar vapsi is their programm we are copying them.we indians were living together from centuries.seprate colonies for all castes is jewish zoinists ideas.kashmiri pundits were living side by side with muslims for centuries.why make ghaza for them.90%of kashmiri muslims are brhmin convert.
    tum log jisse pyaar karte ho usko barbaad karte ho.ur mother cow dies slow agonizing death with 30 kg plastic in stomach.another mother is ganga maiyya.
    u fkd her so nicely that it will take 18 years to clean.50%of our water resources are spoiled because this foolish snaan.running water cannot be aqua guard.brhmns never go to snaan but send chutia indian to remove sins.
    another is bharat mata ,sons of that mother are even behind palestanian in human index.
    zoinism is shaitani power,hindus are enslaved by them.uthey are injecting their poison in name of hinduism destroying everything.

    The most striking feature of this Hindu value system makes us think that wealth brings prestige, position, happiness and recognition. This is the most dangerous value which is killing this country.till u kick theem out from ur mind and actions india will become middle east.

  • The Observer

    Tje ke 1000 line kachrein mein sein eik theek line ko aage lejayenge ‘90%of kashmiri muslims are brhmin convert.’

    I agree phir ulta chor kotwal ko daantein ?

  • tajender

    brhmns have race not religion.they hide among local population and fk zoinists are hiding among jews.u people are hiding among hindus.will u marry ur daughter to hindu of other caste.saudi rulers are hiding among arabs.american zoinists are hiding among christians.
    arnab is an idiot rascist is also correct.

  • tajender

    Markandey Katju
    Go mata ki jai
    Hindus object to slaughter of go mata ( mother cow ). But most of them do not mind if tens of thousands of their mothers ( cows ) starve painfully to death by being driven out after they are old and/or past their milk producing stage, or cannot produce milk for some reason. They do not mind if their mothers eat filth and garbage, and discarded polythene bags on the roadside, which cause a horribly painful death.That does not bother these lovers of their mothers at all.

    Like · Comment · Share

  • Kamath.

    “. Hindus object to slaughter of go mata ( mother cow ). But most of them do not mind if tens of thousands of their mothers ( cows ) starve painfully to death ……”

    You are absolutely right this time. Not all Hindus think that way But BJP Bhakhts do.

    BTW do have any fultime or part time or do you lie down next to Computer and Internet ?

  • awesome

    Gwadar-Kashgar connectivity is good for India also. In the last two decades Pakistan has developed an excellent countrywide world-class motorway system. India, particularly its northwestern states can access Central Asia through Kashgar via Pakistan for two-way trade. Such connectivity will relieve India from going through the highly unstable and unpredictable Afghanistan.

  • Mohan

    A Congress MLA from the city, who had praised Gujarat Chief Minister Anandi Patel through advertisements published in local newspapers, today tendered his written apology to party leaders for doing so.

    The legislator, Gyasuddin Shaikh, who represents Dariyapur seat of the city, said in a statement that he submitted his written apology to the Gujarat Congress Legislature Party chief whip Balwantsinh Rajput today.

    “I am sorry for my conduct. If it has hurt the feelings of my party and its leaders, including state Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki and Leader of Opposition in Gujarat Assembly Shankersinh Vaghela, I apologise,” Shaikh said in the letter.

    The state unit of Congress had issued a show-cause notice to Shaikh for praising Patel through the advertisement he published in March this year.

    In the notice, Rajput had reprimanded Shaikh for breaching the discipline of the party and asked why action should not be taken against him.

    The notice further stated that Shaikh’s act of praising the party in power has hurt the sentiments of Congress and it has also hurt damaged the reputation of the party.

    In the advertisement, which carried a photo of Anandi Patel, Shaikh congratulated her, Health Minister Nitin Patel as well as Minister of State for Health Shankar Chowdhary for announcing Rs 2 lakh medical assistance in case of serious illness related to heart, kidney and cancer for families whose income is lower than Rs 1.20 lakh per year.

    Lauding Patel and her team for the scheme, the advertisement said the decision would benefit three crore people of Gujarat.