By Preity Upala
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), formerly known as One Belt, One Road (OBOR) is China’s imperialistic and expansionist agenda in large parts of Eurasia, South-Asia and Africa. Dubbed as “The New Silk Road”, it connects China to Africa through seaways and highways. A flagship of the BRI, is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a collection of infrastructure projects that are currently under construction throughout Pakistan. Originally valued at $46 billion, the estimate of CPEC projects is $87 billion in funding today, only a quarter of which have been completed today. CPEC was intended to rapidly modernize Pakistani infrastructure and strengthen its economy by the construction of modern transportation networks, numerous energy projects and special economic zones (SEZs). However, according to the Centre for Strategic and International studies (CSIS), these SEZs remain largely empty today and the long-standing challenges have only become more exacerbated. Facing unsustainable debt levels, growth rates down to 3 percent, 5-year high inflation rates and soaring deficits, Pakistan’s economy is definitely moving in the reverse direction.
CPEC is based on a false premise that a nation needs these massive economic projects to be prosperous. It is being apparent that no one is willing to pay for these projects in the end, as they will never make any money from it. Analysts have famously quoted ‘These are bridges that don’t go anywhere. Some of the ambitious projects like a high-speed train from Beijing to Moscow will never have any takers’. The debt quotient of this corridor is about 80 Billion, 90% of which will be paid for by Pakistan in the form of national debt. They themselves know they will not be able to pay China back and will slowly loose sovereignty of their own land. These projects do not appear to have the potential to be profitable or successful and will not prove to be a good economic investment for China.
Ultimately, this is a Chinese ‘Colonial’ adventure that will never bear fruit. There have been many reports out of China that indicate the Pakistani government itself is trying to sabotage the CPEC project. Chinese officials have been recorded as being incredibly frustrated with the Pakistan’s actions or lack there of so far. Like most adventures, there is no transparency, China sets the price, Pakistan gets the bill and ends up with a sub-standard infrastructure it cannot service. Dr.Samir Saran director of think tank ORF notes that ‘China is famous for it’s debt-trap diplomacy and loan in exchange for sovereignty. It believes in the tribune system now disguised as the BRI.’ Geo-political experts are stating that it is already starting to take shape as “the Trillion dollar blunder”.
There are a number of criticisms of CPEC namely, Finances, Trade imbalances, Baloch nationalists, concerns of the Gwadahar port residents and the resistance of local actors whom this rollout may directly impact. Another big setback is the resolution passed against CPEC by the Provincial Assembly of Khyber Pakhtunwah (KP) province in which the projects are to be constructed in. However, now there is a new legal issue that China will need to overcome. And this is where India comes in.
CPEC could be deemed illegal in international legal terms. After the abrogation of Article 370 by the Government of India in August 2019, there was also a bi-furcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir into 2 Union territories. This changes the landscape of Indian sovereignty throughout the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir. The area of Kashmir that has been illegally occupied by Pakistan since 1947 is known as ‘POK’- Pakistan occupied Kashmir. This also includes the area of Gilgit-Baltistan. The new reconfiguration of Kashmir gives more power to the central government of India, weaking the Pakistani arm of influence that are known to fund indoctrination, separatist movements and terrorism. Kashmir will now follow the Indian constitution, its flag and anthem. In a sense, the whole of Jammu and Kashmir is intact and merges back with the Indian republic.
Following International law, China will not be able to build anything in this POK area, as it is legitimately part of the Indian state. Even the United Nations accepts that this is Indian land first as per the 1948 resolution.
General Mattis of the United States, who has been in the news recently noted, “The most dangerous country in the world in Pakistan. They look at the world through their hostility towards India. They are not an ally of the US”. The Pakistan prime minster Imran Khan at an interview during G20 Summit in 2019, had already owned up to the fact that there are atleast 45,000 terrorists in Pakistan. We can only imagine how many are undeclared. The over dependency on Pakistan in the pulling out of troops in Afghanistan poses a conundrum for the US with relation to it’s other main ally in the region, India and in maintaining peace in the region. It cannot be trusted as an ally- as they are known to thwart US’s efforts against the proverbial “War against terror”.
As far as China is concerned, the more powerful they get, the more arrogant and aggressive they become. They want a hegemonic Asia without any peer competitors. They see India as their main competitor, not just in the region but also in the world at large. Dr. Saran notes ‘Unlike India that wants to see open seas, renewable energy and a stable region, China is not interested in a Multipolar Asia. Although the two share a working trade relationship, trade will never bring peace, the trust deficient factor from the Indian side is enormous.’ The most important relationship in the second half of this century with be that between India and China. Will this be based on cooperation and a rule-based relationship or the beginning of a Himalayan Cold-war?
The recent stand off between the two along the LAC- ‘Line of Actual Control’ in Ladakh, where Chinese were seen to be building up with armor and troops on their side of the LAC. This is a new India who which is not willing to accept infiltration into their territory. The latest stand-off in Galwan Valley, Ladakh, a legitimate Indian territory which claimed the lives of atleast 20 Indian soldiers and upto a 100 Chinese soldiers is highly explosive and will call for the highest levels of diplomatic negotiations between both countries. Due to China’s presence in international territory there may have been violations of the Vienna conventions. India will see this as an opportunity to show the world they will protect their territorial integrity and have the capacity to give China a bloody nose.
Seems that the CPEC Colonial adventure has failed before it has even begun. In a way, Chinese strategy for land encroachment and Pakistan’s gluttonous desire for land grabbing may end up being their own downfall!
Preity Upala is Geo-political Expert and an award-winning International Columnist who also hosts a weekly podcast and appears as a regular radio and TV commentator. Her work has appeared in more than a hundred publications, including the The Observer, The National Telegraph, Business Standard and the Times of India. She has spoken at various Think Tanks and has been a keynote speaker at global summits such as HORASIS, WEF among others. Her first book is due to be published soon. Having visited 100 countries, she focuses on global and cultural issues. Her expertise is on Foreign Policy, US-India relations, South Asian Politics, Counter- terrorism, Conflict-resolution and Women’s issues. Twitter: @ThePreityEffect