UPDATE 12:28 EST: Russia is not discussing the possibility of joining CPEC with Islamabad. “The Pakistani media reports about secret negotiations between Russia and Pakistan on the implementation of projects as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are not true to the facts,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation said in a press release.
The CPEC is apparently becoming a new association (like BRICS), as many countries are showing interest in being part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. With ambitions to even become a new union (like European Union, but not limited only to Europe), the CPEC, co-created by Pakistan and China, has already attracted big international players such as Russia, the U.K. and France.
The $51 billion project has been all over the news lately, not only because it’s a game-changer for China, Pakistan and Asia as a whole, but also because there’s a theory that India could start a military conflict over the CPEC. But seeing how many nations are siding with the CPEC, it’s very unlikely that India would start a war over it.
Interestingly, Russia’s bid to join the CPEC comes as a yet another indication that Moscow, which has been India’s key weapons supplier for decades, is abandoning India for Pakistan. It seems that Russia has more chances than any other country to join the CPEC, as theories about a possible China-Russia-Pakistan superpower triangle keep piling up. The CPEC may be that formal launchpad to form an alliance between Beijing, Moscow and Islamabad.
CPEC is foundation for China-Russia-Pakistan superpower triangle
But what’s all the fuss about? Is the CPEC really becoming the new BRICS? It could be so.
Just days ago, Russia and Pakistan reportedly held backdoor meetings which led Moscow to formally request access to Gwadar Port and ask China and Pakistan to be part of the lucrative multi-billion-dollar project. According to sources cited by Pakistan’s Daily Times, the chief of Russia’s intelligence agency, Federal Security Services, made a secret visit to Pakistan.
Russian intelligence officials and Pakistani high officials reportedly discussed strengthening their bilateral defense and military ties. The two nations also reportedly expressed interest in reshaping the cooperation between their intelligence agencies. The Russian intelligence chief was also said to have visited Gwadar, which is a key point of the CPEC, a 3,000-kilometer network of roads, railways and pipelines that connects Kashgar and Gwadar.
Russian officials were also reportedly satisfied with the economic opportunities offered by the CPEC and, according to the media outlet’s sources, even expressed interest in using Gwadar Port for international trade. The Russians were also said to have pledged to make investments in various sectors of Pakistan to deepen their economic ties.
Is CPEC the end of India and Russia’s friendship?
Although Russia and Pakistan were Cold War-era rivals, the two have greatly amended their relations in the last two years. Their new friendship, which has been backed by military deals and joint military exercises, is attributed to the fact that with the help of Islamabad, Russia wants to get closer to China, which is Pakistan’s traditional ally.
India, Pakistan’s traditional and historical enemy, can’t be happy about Russia’s warm ties with Islamabad of late. Russia is well aware that India is a strong opponent of the CPEC, and joining the project would probably mark the formal end of their friendly ties.
India has several problems with the CPEC and has already made several documented attempts to sabotage the project. But one of the biggest problems it has with the multi-billion-dollar China-Pakistan project is that it passes through the disputed Kashmir region. Both Islamabad and New Delhi claim Kashmir as their own territory and have already waged three wars over it. Tensions in the region were recently reignited after 19 Indian soldiers were, according to the Indian government, killed by Pakistan-based militants.
Joining the CPEC would mean Russia is serious about its intentions to turn away from India, which could eventually lead to forming a formal or informal alliance with Pakistan and China.
Is the CPEC the new EU for the U.K. after Brexit?
While Pakistan and China have yet to look into Russia’s request to join the CPEC, Vladimir Putin’s country is not the only nation that wants to join the lucrative project. The United Kingdom, Turkey and France have also been pretty assertive and vocal about their intentions to join the Pak-Chinese Corridor. Officials from other European countries are also reportedly in negotiations with Pakistani and Chinese officials to start projects regarding the CPEC.
But the most promising addition to the China-Pakistan project is probably the United Kingdom, which is currently in the long process of leaving the European Union. After Britons voted in favor of Brexit this past summer, the U.K. sees the need to bring its investments into non-EU projects, and the CPEC could become this very platform for investments.
U.K. Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Boris Johnson echoed his country’s interest in the CPEC during his most recent visit to Pakistan last Friday. Johnson even called the CPEC “a wonder project” and expressed his desire for U.K. companies to participate in various projects of it.
“I am very excited about the CPEC idea. And I would like UK firms to participate in the construction of this fabulous venture,” Johnson said while addressing the students and faculty of the Government College University in Lahore. “But this should be part of an even more ambitious vision that would revive the ancient Silk route and see the rebirth of trading caravans connecting East and West.”
Boris Johnson invites U.K. investors to Pakistan
Johnson also said that Karachi should be Asia’s “biggest trading entrepot” alongside Singapore and Shanghai. The British Secretary of State also pledged that his country will “play a part” in helping Pakistan achieve closer economic integration.
He praised Islamabad for making a huge progress in recent years, noting that national security in Pakistan has improved while democracy has been strengthened. Those are the two key points to attracting investors, as they serve as an indication of stability in the country. So his words may be interpreted as a direct invitation to British firms to invest in various sectors of Pakistan and become part of the CPEC.
“My message to you all is that Britain wants to be with you to make this journey. I believe that bilateral trade between our two countries – just £2.7 billion – is not enough given our closeness,” Johnson also said.
France keen on joining the CPEC
Investments from such major European countries as the U.K. could give a huge boost to the CPEC. In fact, many other European countries such as Germany, Italy, Spain and others could follow suit to also get a piece of the lucrative CPEC-pie.
France already seems to be onboard. Earlier this month, Jean Marc Fenet, head of the Embassy of France’s Regional Economic Department for India and South Asia, expressed his country’s interest in becoming part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Addressing the business community at the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI), Fenet said France views Pakistan as a huge and prosperous market for business.
Fenet added that his country is keen to further strengthen bilateral trade and economic relations between the two nations. Praising the CPEC for creating many business and investment opportunities, Fenet said that France is taking a huge interest in the South Asia country. In a message that was backed by the French Embassy’s Head of Economic Department, Philippe Fouet, Fenet also said that his country has what Pakistan needs to boost its economy – the advanced technology and expertise.
CPEC is China and Pakistan’s trump card
Pakistan seems to be open to welcoming others to become part of the CPEC. Last Wednesday, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said his country would be happy to see any country join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Sharif made the comments during his bilateral meeting with Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, which suggests that Islamabad is also inviting Turkmenistan to become part of the project.
Sharif praised the CPEC for being a project that brings prosperity to Pakistan, adding that the future of the people of Asia is directly linked to the project. Earlier this month, Sharif invited Turkey to invest in the project. During a Pakistan-Turkey roundtable with Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Sharif said Turkish investors should benefit from the CPEC.
If Turkish investors invest in the project, it would help strengthen economic ties between the two nations. Sharif’s pledges to boost bilateral ties between Ankara and Islamabad also gave birth to theories about a possible China-Russia-Pakistan-Turkey rectangle. While China and Turkey enjoy warm economic ties, Moscow and Ankara have also been strengthening their ties lately.
As the possibility of triangles or rectangles between nations remains vague, the CPEC may serve as a clear indication of which countries are ready to formally side with Pakistan and China.