The pragmatic and “un-ignorable” China

By Sadia Kazmi

As if the CPEC wasn’t already enticing enough for the world, the recently adopted UN Security Council Resolution has made it even more lucrative project. All the trouble spots are being managed systematically, leaving no place for any undue resistance in making the CPEC a concrete reality. The resolution that was passed on March 19, 2017 has openly backed China’s “One Belt, One Road” project that includes the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) through Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). The resolution also extended the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) by one year but more importantly it called on the countries to strengthen the process of regional economic cooperation. There has been a special mention of measures to facilitate regional connectivity, trade, and transit. It also carries clear reference to the CPEC by suggesting achieving the regional economic cooperation through regional development initiatives such as the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road (the Belt and Road) Initiative. It also mentioned other “regional development projects”, such as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project, the Central Asia South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project (CASA-1000), Chabahar port project, agreed between Afghanistan, India and the Islamic Republic of lran. While this is great news for China and specifically for Pakistan, it also shows that the world has formally acknowledged the positive potential of China’s Belt and Road initiative on this biggest global forum. Not just that but the fact that President Xi-Jinping’s initiatives of Belt and Road and community of shared destiny have been given reference to in the resolution, is a big diplomatic win for China.

In another equally significant political development, the UK has shown interest in China’s led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The AIIB, first proposed by China in October 2013, is a development bank dedicated to providing financial assistance for projects regarding infrastructure. In 2015, China announced that over one trillion Yuan ($160 billion) of infrastructure projects were in planning or construction. This $50bn bank is designed with the aim to provide infrastructure funds to the Asia-Pacific region. 21 Asian countries signed up in last October and the number has now risen up to 27, with the launch expected at the end of the year. However, it is viewed with great suspicion by the US officials. In the Western circle it is seen as a rival to the World Bank. There is a widespread suspicion that China will use the bank to extend its soft power in the region.

Despite these concerns by the US, the British Politician George Osborne has been keen on becoming a founding member from UK. This is especially notable because the US has its reservations against AIIB and its closest ally is keen on pursuing closer linkage with China. In fact within the US also, there are evidences of inclination towards embracing China’s initiatives. Jack Lew, the US Attorney along with George Osborne, is extending active support to developing closer ties between Britain and China. They are both not only working towards encouraging the Chinese investment in next generation civil nuclear power plant in Britain but in a statement it has been mentioned that the measures are being taken to “ensure that the City of London would become the base for the first clearing house for the Yuan outside Asia”. This also means that the UK is the first Western country to seek to become a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). It is also being speculated that it shows the declining strength of the US and growing Chinese influence globally. One also cannot ignore the possibility that this decision by the UK could be a prelude to joining the CPEC. Since before that in January this year, the British High Commissioner has been reported as saying that the British government is interested in being part of the CPEC. It is keen to be a part of it but at the moment closely evaluating the security situation and projects. At the same time there is a belief and recognition that the security situation of Pakistan has improved considerably.

While both these recent developments raised concerns and reactions from India and the US, the unshakable reality i.e. rise of China is not to be easily undermined anymore. While the efforts by the US to keep the states from joining AIIB have been clearly failed, simultaneously the Indian efforts to isolate Pakistan and causing hindrances in the way of CPEC have also fallen flat to the ground. The US has expressed its displeasure about UK joining AIIB and has openly stated that the “trend” of accepting and embracing China is not in line with the US interests. The US has its strong suspicions towards “constant accommodation” of China at the global level which in itself is helping China’s ambitions of becoming a great power. The US is also repeatedly urging other nations to step back from the AIIB on the pretext of this bank lacking higher governance standards as befits a multilateral institution. Concurrently the UNSC resolution in favor of China would be conducive to progress with the One Belt one Road objectives, but India on the other hand is wary of the UNSC resolution as it has several times shown its grievances against the CPEC for violating its territorial sovereignty.

Nonetheless the wise line of action for both the US and India would be to not view these two developments as a source of tension between China, West and India. Historical events show that the major economic powers have been part of the regional economic setups before. Caribbean Development Bank is one example where the major economies like UK are part of the regional development bank. Instead of taking it as a point for geo-political concern, it should be seen in a broader perspective as a step towards the betterment of the whole world. US might not be able to get over with its obsession of viewing China with skepticism for all its justified reasons, but the evolving global realities should also not be ignored. Similarly India should shun its policy of obstinate repulsion to CPEC and deliberate seriously upon Chinese offer to be part of it. It is time that the states should objectively think through the changing international dynamics and find enough reason to support China in its pragmatic global approach.

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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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