As the diplomatic relationship between China and the United States continues to evolve, the East Asian nation also has reason to cosy up to Pakistan. In recent months, the government of Pakistan have made certain decisions which have inevitably led to the country being drawn further into China’s geopolitical attention.
China-Pakistan CPEC Agreement
Traditionally, China and Pakistan have had a relatively profitable relationship. For over half a century, diplomatic relations between the two countries were pretty warm and friendly. However, the recent unveiling of the 2,900 km China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) during a visit to Pakistan by Chinese President Xi Jinping has had a significantly positive influence over the relationship.
The project in question is worth $46 billion, and involved as part of its remit is the construction of roads, railroads and power plants. This is an extremely broad-based infrastructure project, which will take 15 years to complete. Although this was a particularly significant landmark in Pakistan-China relations, it can also be seen in the wider context of numerous other agreements in the fields of military, energy and infrastructure in particular.
CPEC is one of numerous bilateral agreements being initiated in the world at the moment which is of geostrategic importance. CPEC is also buttressed by some earlier agreements between the two nations, ensuring that its qualitative importance is increased. In April of this year, China was granted operation rights to the port of Gwadar on the Indian Ocean, in a strategically important location of the heart of the Persian Gulf. In exchange for this privilege, Beijing is later expected by analysts to invest over $1.5 billion in the region.
CPEC to offer China economic benefits
Gwadar will be the point at which the CPEC project begins, and winds its way down to Kashgar in Western China. This will be extremely beneficial for the oil requirements of China, as once the CPEC project is operational and the port comes into the auspices of the East Asian country, it will be able to transport a significant amount of oil through the port. Naturally this will help meet the energy requirements of the world’s most populous nation, but it will also serve the vital purpose of saving billions of dollars, not to mention precious time and manpower. It has also been noted by observers of the region that China will now be able to circumnavigate the potentially vulnerable Malacca Strait.
In short, Gwadar will rapidly play an extremely important role in China’s land and maritime operation, with the East Asian nation also expected to utilize it for silk exportation and importation. This new network will link China to central Asia and beyond, and will become of critical economic importance to the rapidly industrializing nation.
Another vital aspect of the CPEC project to note is that although Gwadar is being constructed as a commercial port, in the future it could be possible to develop it into a naval facility. This would unquestionably lead to maritime competition in the Indian Ocean.
CPEC complicates China-India relations
Although China has been an obvious beneficiary of this agreement, it is pretty obvious that Pakistan would not enter into it without gaining something in return. Thus, another rather less publicized aspect of this CPEC arrangement has been the Asian subcontinental nation’s purchase of eight diesel-powered attack submarines. Although this conjures up images of nuclear weapons, it is important to emphasize that these are conventionally harmed, but it nonetheless represents Pakistan upping the ante of its military provisions.
Once Pakistan has purchased these submarines, then serious complications would result in any attempt of India to blockade Karachi or Gwadar. The sale would further cement China as Pakistan’s principal arms provider, and complicate its relationship with the Asian subcontinent.
The immediate economic benefits for China are obvious; Pakistan is already the destination of 60 percent of Chinese arms sales. But the obvious tension between India and Pakistan, and the fact that China had previously forged a favorable relationship with China, will complicate the diplomatic position of this nation of over one-billion people.
China has been happy to welcome India into the BRICS grouping of nations, but it may be increasingly indifferent about the prospects of India considering its recent economic malaise. China quite obviously benefits from a close and bilateral relationship with Russia, but with India desperately struggling against its huge economic, demographic and infrastructure issues, it could be that China now views this relationship as less beneficial than it once was.
The geopolitical implications of CPEC
Meanwhile, China’s interest in deepening involvement with Pakistan is neither new nor particularly difficult to understand. With the United States having ended official military operations in Afghanistan in 2015, its interest in the region has declined somewhat, and China has effectively stepped into the vacuum created by America’s diminishing interest in Pakistan and the Asian subcontinent.
Thus, the East Asian nation has increased its long-term economic and strategic interest in Pakistan with the aim of strengthening its position in the world. In accordance with this overall strategy, China’s political leaders have been prepared to invest in Pakistani infrastructure, a decision which has obviously met with approval in the country that has struggled with economic and terrorism-related issues in recent years. The question which would obviously arise for policymakers in Washington is how this project will affect American interests in the region.
The completion of this CPEC project would also enable China to link up with its significant economic and oil interests in neighboring Afghanistan. It is thus of interest that the former Afghanistan president, Hamid Karzai, has recently explicitly warned China and Russia of dangers emanating from ISIS involvement in Afghanistan. It could be that China is moving to cement its interest in the region at the moment with the CPEC project, while one can also see Afghanistan being a significant theater of conflict in the future between the Anglo-American old word order and the new BRIC-based superpowers.
Thus, the CPEC project may not be particularly common knowledge in the Western world at the moment, but it will almost inevitably play a role in a wide variety of geopolitical issues that will play out on the world stage in the coming years.