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CPEC prospects of expansion: An analysis

By Sadia Kazmi

Recently there has been a lot of media hype about a number of states joining or showing inclination to join the CPEC. Both the print and electronic media as well as social networks are abuzz with the CPEC becoming the most sought after Regional Project with inevitable Global pull. Whether the commotion has any authenticity or not is altogether another debate but one cannot just ignore the fact that the CPEC has gained a lot of regional and global attention. Sometimes this attention has insecurities wrapped in the concerns expressed as is the case with India or the US. Even at its nascent stage the CPEC seems to hold a huge potential for the reshuffling of alliances. Most significant of which would be the one between China and Russia with Pakistan sitting at the center.

Once again despite the media hype, one can’t go over the board in proclaiming any country’s inclusion in the Project, however the possibility surely cannot be ruled it. Owing to the nature of this project and the huge dividends that it carries not just for the immediate region but beyond, the international community naturally feels inclined to be part of this mega billion dollars project. 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. In the same vein, there have been reports about different countries expressing proclivity to join.

Some of these as have been mentioned in the media are: Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, France, Saudi Arabia, UK, Germany, Belarus and Russia. One can witness an interesting fact that the countries that have traditionally not been able to get along well with each other, are simultaneously eager to be together in this venture. Iran and Saudi Arabia don’t seem to have any qualms reaping the benefits together. Not just that but Iran which now enjoys close association with India and has even received a lot of Indian investment in the construction of Chabahar Port: an alleged counter to Gwadar port, has itself shown the desire to be part of CPEC. The rational theory does seem to be at play where the self interests govern the states behaviors and decisions.

Also if these news reports are to be believed, then one can see very interesting prospects of expansion of this project not just connecting the Southeast Asian region to South and Central Asia, but extend further into Middle East, Europe and Russia. No wonder it is often being touted as the Game Changer. Russia if becomes part of it would get easy access to the warm waters. However Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation said in a press release that 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”. However the news is still doing the rounds. This might also imply that the traditional ally of India i.e. Russia is now willing to desert India for Pakistan. At the same time many assumptions keep appearing about the possible triangle between Russia, Pakistan and China, wherein the CPEC could be the possible launch pad for such an alliance. In connection to this 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. It was in November last year that Russia and Pakistan 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. India surely won’t be very happy at such a development owing to the historical enmity between India and Pakistan.

The media reports also claim UK showing desire to join CPEC. This would definitely give a huge ascent to the CPEC. Other European countries have also expressed desires such as France. This could have a domino effect on the other European states which might feel tempted to follow suit. France and Germany are already in the news regarding this. Italy, Spain and others could soon be joining in. Last year in November, 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. He further added that France is keen to further strengthen bilateral trade and economic relations between the two nations and views the CPEC as an opportunity to creating many business and investments.

One way of deciphering the authenticity of these media proclamations is to observe the responses of the states. Sensationalizing a small incident is the forte of News media but usually there is no smoke without fire. While one has to exercise maximum responsibility in reporting the news, the reactions of the states could provide enough credibility to the reported news. There is no doubt that the potential of the CPEC has been acknowledged worldwide. Only recently Mehbooba Mufti suggested the trans-Kashmir corridor, with diverse sub-corridors as a supplement to the CPEC. She expressed activation of all trade routes with Pakistan by stressing upon Azad Kashmir and Jammu and Kashmir being the nucleus of whole activity, eventually connecting the region to resource rich Central Asia. Hence the emerging and transforming geo-political and geo-strategic scenarios at the regional and global levels have made it imperative for the states to reevaluate their interests and proceed accordingly. These developments do take time but they provide enough fodder to the media to churn on.

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Sadia Kazmi

Sadia Kazmi works as a Senior Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute in Islamabad. She is a PhD candidate at the National Defense University

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