Complied by: Asia Maqsood
Edited by: S. Sadia Kazmi
Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), Islamabad
SVI organized a Panel Discussion on “OBOR and CPEC from the Prism of China-Pakistan Bilateral Relations” on April 28, 2017 at the SVI premises. Chairperson SVI, Mr. Ross Masood Husain chaired the Panel Discussion. He extended most cordial welcome to all the distinguished panelists and to the Chief Guest of the event, Mr. Jiang Han, Chinese Political and Press Counselor, as well as to the participants of the event. He referred to “One Belt One Road” initiative as a revolutionary concept of present Chinese leadership, where never before in history such a huge investment was done by any country to establish a corridor that increases connectivity between different regions of the world. He said that Pakistan is the first link in One Belt One Road initiative; hence Pakistan is the starting point in this whole concept. He paid his gratitude for China’s extended support to Pakistan. Carrying on with the proceedings, Dr. Zafar Iqbal Cheema President/ Executive Director SVI requested Mr. Jiang Han, Chinese Political and Press Counselor to share his views on the subject.
Mr. Han expressed his thanks for being invited to speak on this significant topic. He commenced his speech by stating that the concept of CPEC has been transformed from a concept to a concrete project. He elaborated on this mega project by addressing three most pertinent questions. First, How did the CPEC come into being?; Second, What kind of benefits China and Pakistan can derive from CPEC?; And third, What are the future prospects? Addressing the first question he said that CPEC did not came into being in one day. It has very solid bilateral, political, economic and social basis following the trends of economic globalization as per the need of time. China and Pakistan maintain long term special friendly bilateral relationship and have always enjoyed mutual respect, equal treatment, and high level of mutual trust. Both the states are close neighbors and partners. Even before their engagement in the CPEC, both nations maintained close pragmatic cooperation for long time such as the construction of the Karakoram highway, industrial parks, Chashma nuclear power plants etc. And now the Gwadar Port and number of other projects have laid the solid foundation for the CPEC.
He further shared that the China-Pakistan friendship is deeply rooted in hearts of people of both countries. Both states aspire to strengthen the connectivity to enjoy demographic dividends, and use economic potentials to achieve common objective. Shedding light on the conception of CPEC, he said that in the year 2013, the fast evolving trends of economic globalization and regional cooperation prompted President Xi Jinping to propose Belt & Road Initiative. It provides the relevant countries with a platform based on mutual benefits and win-win cooperation. In Pakistan and China, the leadership of both countries made a farsighted decision and formally proposed the CPEC initiative in 2013. Later in the year 2015 President Xi Jinping paid a historic state visit to Pakistan during which both sides agreed to establish a one + four cooperative lay out with one as the CPEC at the center and Gwadar Port, energy, infrastructure, industrial cooperation as other four key areas. Both sides signed large number of projects under CPEC and formally started work on this project. Since then its construction has entered the fast track development phase. He gave credit to the firm bilateral relations, friendship and mutual trust of both countries of China and Pakistan for this progress. Addressing the second question as to what benefit China and Pakistan can derive from CPEC, he gave three concrete dimensions/scopes:
- a) CPEC as a corridor of prosperity. The main purpose of CPEC is the development. Both countries have given priority to energy sector, transportation and infrastructure hence through CPEC Pakistan hopes to meet its urgent needs for development, prosperity, and dynamics of economic development. According to relevant statistics Pakistan’s economy has gained more rapid and continuous development. The major international financial institutions have shown optimism for Pakistan’s economic outlook. Pakistan has uplifted its international image. As an important platform for these two countries, cooperation on CPEC would bring economic development to Pakistan.
- b) CPEC as a corridor leading to long lasting peace. The speaker maintained that the people of both countries are peace loving. It is a common aspiration of both countries to eradicate poverty by working hard to enjoy better education and other basic amenities such as good living conditions etc. Realizations of these dreams require peace and stable environment. A smooth working on CPEC itself requires peaceful environment hence will promote overall peace and development. Peace and development brought about by CPEC is a common dream of people of China and Pakistan for which both countries are working hard.
- c) CPEC as a corridor of win-win cooperation. The positive impact of CPEC is become evident by the day. It will bring inclusiveness and the benefits to all sectors of society in Pakistan. The venture has been attracting more Chinese enterprises to invest and carry out projects in Pakistan. It has added strong dynamics to Pakistan’s economic development by also attracting more foreign investment. Furthermore China through its companies is committed to fulfilling social responsibility and accomplishing serious projects to improve livelihood of local people. Eventually both China and Pakistan are the owners, beneficiaries and contributors in the CPEC and both are the winners.
Addressing the final question about the future prospects he opined that the CPEC has entered the implementation stage. There are 19 early harvest projects under construction which have created 20,000 jobs for the local people within the span of only two years. In the December last year, 6th GCC meeting was held in Beijing that was attended by the Ministers of Federal Government and Chief Ministers of provinces of Pakistan and the sides showed deep understanding and consensus for the long term planning. This very consensus has given impetus to the successful implementation of the CPEC project. He further explained that the whole project is divided into short term; medium and long term projects. This project carries an all-inclusive approach and promises to bring benefit to all the provinces/regions of Pakistan. This year is already about to witness comprehensive implementation of early harvest projects under CPEC. The energy projects under early harvest scheme will solve the problem of energy shortage in Pakistan. The construction of economic zones is also pacing up. Mr. Han further shared that China’s OBOR Forum provides a platform for the highest level of international conferences and that China fully supports an active participation by all the countries. Until now 20 states have confirmed their participation in the upcoming Belt and Road Summit by their scholars, official entrepreneurs, media personals, and financial institution. On this forum, participants from Pakistan would explore details of cooperation plans while the forum will surely open up new vistas for international cooperation for Belt & Road Initiative.
Mr. Han concluded by saying that Sino-Pak bilateral relations as along with CPEC have extensive and active support from China. He urged to work collectively towards the shared future of China-Pakistan community and to take the opportunity of CPEC to further promote friendship and progress.
The second speaker Dr. Zhang Jiegen, Associate Professor, Fudan University, Shanghai, China, shared his views on “OBOR and CPEC from Chinese Perspective”. He stated that the US dominated world order is on a decline and this century is going to be the Asian century. He further elaborated on three dimensions of CPEC initiative; the regional dimension which is being pursued through Silk Road Economic Belt and is a multidimensional program of building infrastructure projects like network of roads, railways, pipelines industrial parks, trade centers. Silk Road Economic Belt will link China with Russia, Europe, West Asia, South East Asia, and Africa. Talking about the bilateral dimension he mentioned that there are six economic corridors proposed under this initiative. The third dimension is domestic which is to create domestic connections to help Pakistan in its development process within Pakistan. The prevailing world order, trends of globalization, regionalization, peaceful development, values, cultural inclusiveness and connectivity through OBOR and CPEC has now evolved from being an initiative to a strategy. In order to ensure regional connectivity it is important to carry out timely policy coordination, facilitate connectivity and encouragement of people to people bond. OBOR initiative aims to connect most of Asia, European and Africa that would essentially decrease threat perceptions. He further emphasized upon the need for consistency in pursuing policies which are dedicated to bring peace, stability and common development. In the coming decade, the improved connectivity between the energy rich Central Asian States and energy deficit South Asian states would make progress in agriculture, commerce, human development and contribute to peaceful co-existence not only between the regional states but also increase cooperation for common development and common security for all regions including Europe and Africa. Summing up his speech he said that this century would be Asian Century.
Mr. Hassan Daud Butt, Project Director CPEC, Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform, shared his views on “OBOR and CPEC: Opportunities for Pakistan”. Recently being back from China, he expressed pleasure at witnessing excitement among students, academia, project managers/management about the upcoming Belt and Road summit in China. He further shared the current status of CPEC. As far as energy sector is concerned, most of the projects are in the early harvest phase which is expected to generate 7000 megawatt of energy by 2018. Eastern corridor will be completed in December 2018 while Western corridor will be completed in July 2018. He shared that the initial idea at the time of conception of CPEC was to incrementally take the projects by initiating the easier one first. The idea was primarily concerned with energy, infrastructure and connectivity across northern, southern, eastern and western regions of country. Now the CPEC has entered into industrialization phase wherein by now one meeting of the Joint Working Group of Industrial Cooperation was held in December last year. Now another one is expected regarding the nine economic zones in each part of country. There has emerged a trend of healthy competition between the provinces where each of them are expressing eagerness towards the development and are displaying their own capabilities too e.g. the recently held road show by KPK garnered a lot of appreciation. He also shared that Chinese investors are eager to invest in Pakistan. Pakistan has also invited former World Bank advisor to carry out consultations on Special Economic Zones (SEZ) and to devise industrial policies. Proposals have been floated for exchange visits between academia, universities to help and to come up with effective policies as far as industrial cooperation is concerned. It is hoped that the upcoming Belt and Road Summit on May 14 will help to initiate some work on Gwadar Airport. Mr. Daud said that Pakistan has shared the draft of Long Term Plans (LTP) with China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) for approval and consideration for signing during Belt and Road Summit. In long term plans there are sections about urban cities, agriculture, tourism and people to people interactions.
Some other collaborative projects include inter-academia interactions, developing Pakistan Academy for Social Sciences in collaboration with China’s Academy of Social Sciences, and cooperation between top five business schools from Pakistan with top five business schools in China. While concluding his speech he said that with the guidance of leaders on both sides, the states are set to accrue maximum benefits from this great opportunity. Gwadar being the hub of all activities will see major development which also includes the establishment of Gwadar University in future.
The next speaker, Amb (R) Akram Zaki, Chairman PICSS shared an insightful presentation on “Belt and Road: A Creative Initiative for a New International Order”. He opined that President Xi Jinping, the dynamic supreme leader of China and the entire Chinese leadership are making determined efforts to fulfill Chinese dream of the rejuvenation of the great Chinese nation, reviving glorious achievements of five thousand years old Chinese Civilization. They are also making efforts for building a peaceful, stable and harmonious world by promoting a new type of relationship between big powers, based on cooperation and mutual benefit rather than confrontation and conflict. Their aim is to build a community of shared destiny of all humanity.
China, being the second largest economy in the world is poised soon to become number one economy, ahead of US in terms of GDP. In fact it is believed already to be number one in terms of purchasing power parity. Fast growing and self-confident China has taken a new positive and creative initiative of sharing the fruits of its development with other countries of Central Asia, South East Asia, West Asia, and Africa by promoting “One Belt & One Road” proposal.
He said that it is an outstanding example of Creative Diplomacy. It is a vision for creation of New International Order where sovereign states can voluntarily cooperate for achieving the goals of shared development and peace. To give a touch of realism to the vision of shared development and common destiny, adequate financial resources have been provided.
The creation of Silk Road Fund (SRF), the establishment of Asian Infrastructure Bank and China-ASEAN Maritime Cooperation Fund has given financial strength to this initiative of improving connectivity and common development. The importance of Belt and Road-Creative Initiative for a New International Order will become more explicit if we look at the development in international politics since the Second World War.
Giving a brief overview on the historical struggles for the creation of New International Order, he told that in 1945 after WWII the victorious states along with a total of 51 states singed a Charter to establish a New International Order and created United Nations Organization with six principle organs to maintain peace, resolve conflicts and promote economic and social development. The primary responsibility of maintaining peace and preventing conflicts rested with the Security Council, which required cooperation and agreement of five major allies: US, USSR, UK, France, and China. Due to ideological and political differences between the US and USSR, the international order based on consensus of five big powers was transformed into Bi-polar World Order. Peace between these two major powers or between two power blocks was maintained by Balance of Terror based on Mutually Assured Destruction. While the World War was prevented, endless struggle between two power blocs for political influence and control of resources continued in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Both sides used clandestine means including spying, sabotage, terrorism and violence, and warfare by organizing private armies of non-state actors.
The bipolar World Order was finally destroyed through the extensive use of subversion, by creating and supporting non-state actors like AL-Qaeda during the decade of 1980s in the battlefield of Afghanistan. This had serious consequences for Pakistan from which it still has not recovered. USSR disintegrated into 14 states and a much smaller/ weaker Russian Federation inherited the permanent seat in UN Security Council. The US emerged victorious. It claimed that it was the sole super power and proclaimed a New World Order with the intentions for Pax Americana on the world. It claimed the right to keep permanent forces in Europe, Middle East and Far East. Secondly it claimed the right to prevent any rival power from emerging anywhere through preemptive strike and thirdly to change regimes which did not cooperate and opposed US policies.
United States and NATO extended their influence and area of operations to East Europe and Central Asia. They also managed and manipulated the Arab Spring in North Africa and Middle East. After 9/11 the global war rather crusade was launched against terrorism. Afghanistan was attacked in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. Both wars failed to achieve their aims.
In 2006, under a New Middle East Policy, chaos, confusion and instability were created to destabilize the whole region stretching from Lebanon to Syria, Iraq and Gulf, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. This was called “creative instability” to redraw the maps of whole region. Non-State actors such as Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra, ISIL and Daesh were created and are still being supported and patronized. The Neocon Doctrine of world domination by military might and neo-liberal ideas of “humanitarian intervention to promote democracy and human rights” are guiding policies of the United States. The People’s Republic of China, established on October 1, 1949 is pursuing policies of peace and shared development which are invoking much interest in less developed countries and their people. It is well known that in its first 25 years under the leadership of Mao Zedong, China has consolidated its national independence and territorial integrity and has provided basic necessities of food, health shelter, and employment to its people.
Towards the end of 1978 under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, China embarked upon a program of modernization, reforms and opening to the outside world. National development and raising GDP were declared supreme national aims and China adopted low profile foreign policy. By 1991 with the collapse of bipolar world, China had become a fast developing country with active economic and commercial relations with countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America and even with Europe and the US. Fast developing China with extensive economic relations in various regions had considerable political influence because of its positive role in UNSC. China did not accept the New World Order dominated by single power or a group of countries. It opposed hegemonism and power politics. China follows a policy of peace based on Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. It supported the principle of sovereign equality of states, big and small, as enshrined in the UN Charter. It advocated peaceful settlement of disputes. China supported a New International Order which is just and equitable. Thus China won the goodwill of many Third World Countries. Now the geo-economic and geo-political center of gravity has shifted from Euro-Atlantic to Asia-Pacific, where a confident China has launched the creative initiative of “One Belt One Road”. Amb Zaki further gave a brief historical context of ancient silk routes and elaborated two components of One Belt One Road Initiative as following;
First one is the Silk Road Economic Belt, which is the revival of the ancient silk road, started more than 200 BC, during the Han Dynasty and flourished during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), expanding trade, exchange of ideas and inventions and promoting contacts and understanding between nations of Asia, Africa and Europe, their cultures, religions, thus creating people to people interaction and friendship and contributing to peace and stability.
Similarly the 21st century Maritime Silk Road is the revival of old private sector trade between China and nations along sea routes up to Africa. This maritime trade received official patronage under the Song Dynasty (960-1280) and flourished under the Ming Dynasty (1271- 1638). During early 15th Century, under a Chinese Muslim Admiral Zheng He, a large Chinese Naval Fleet conducted seven exploratory voyages (1405-1433) in East Asian Waters, Indian Ocean, Arab Waters and along African East Coast and developed trading posts and friendly relations with more than thirty countries. Later, European empire builders began to ride the waves and controlled maritime trade. The 21st century Maritime Silk Road will again link Asia, Africa and Europe for peaceful commerce and trade.
He shared that the Silk Road Economic Belt is multidimensional program of building infrastructure projects such as a network of roads, fast track railways, pipelines, industrial parks, trade centers and Custom Posts to link China with Russia, Europe, West Asia and South East Asia and Africa. The Belt will pass through the vast land area of Eurasia, which the British strategist, Halford Mackinder called “The Pivot Area” or “the Heartland”. He wrote that whosoever controls the Heartland controls the World Island and dominates the world. American strategic thinker, Zabigniew Brezezinski who had much influence on America Foreign Policy, also attached great importance to this region. After the disintegration of USSR, he advocated that the US should have strong presence in this vital and energy surplus region and NATO began determined advance Eastwards.
The United States and NATO continue to retain some role in Afghanistan by maintaining their limited strategic military presence. West Asia or the Middle East with its energy resources and strategic location is in a real mess. It has multiple crises and each crisis has many dimensions. Every crisis has the potential to provoke a major global conflict. China, Russia and four Central Asian States created Shanghai Cooperation Organization to fight terrorism, extremism and separatism. Russia and several republics of former USSR have signed Collective Security Treaty Organization. The regional countries, CSTO, SCO, China and Pakistan can contribute to peace and stability in the region for the safety of Silk Road Economic Belt.
In view of India’s negative reaction to Maritime Silk Road Initiative, the safety of the sea lanes and security of sea ports such as Chittagong in Bangladesh, Hambantota & Colombo in Sri Lanka, and Gwadar in Pakistan assumed greater importance. The proposed construction of Kra canal across Kra Isthmus in Thailand can help to avoid the crowded Malacca Strait and make sea routes shorter and safer.
The CPEC for the development of Gwadar port and its link to Kashgar, 3000 km up north by a network of roads, railways, telecommunications and pipelines is very significant for the security and development of western China’s region, and for the trade with energy rich Middle East as well as with Africa and Europe. He highlighted Pakistan’s geopolitical location ideally sitting at an energy and trade corridor between West Asia, China and South Asia. The pipelines and electricity projects such as TAPI, IPI (now IP) and CASA prove this point. The idea of China-Pakistan trade and energy corridors have been under discussion from time to time. Now the fully developed master plan for building a comprehensive, multidimensional CPEC has been formally launched with great fanfare. It has been called game changer.
Both China and Pakistan are all weather strategic partners. They have a shared destiny. They will implement the plans to ensure regional security and common development. All the provinces and regions of Pakistan will be benefiting from CPEC. It is also a gift of God for the development of Pakistan. Road and Belt has plans for several corridors but CPEC is being given top priority because it will link the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. He opined that any plans to contain or limit the outreach of China will be neutralized. The extensive development of infrastructure, massive investment in energy production and major development of deep sea port and port city at Gwadar will greatly enhance the importance of Pakistan.
It is especially important to consistently pursue policies dedicated to peace, stability and common development. In the next decade, the energy rich Central Asia and West Asia, and the energy deficit South Asia can improve connectivity and make all round progress in agriculture, industry, human development and contribute to peaceful coexistence not only between the states of this region but also enhance cooperation for common development and common security for all region including Europe and Africa. He emphasized on President Xi Jinping’s belief that the whole mankind should share a common destiny. President Xi has been making efforts to build new types of major country relationship between China and the US. This has been discussed between their top leadership, previously with Obama and now with Trump. This will be good for Asia and the world. China which has long tradition of peace will play a leading role in avoiding conflicts, promoting mutual cooperation between sovereign states on the basis of equality mutual respect and mutual benefit and will build a stable, peaceful, harmonious world.
He concluded his presentation by enumerating few important points: First, the Belt and Road is a creative initiative for the establishment of the New International Order committed to peace and shared development among all nations, whether big or small, on the basis of equality. Second, any World Order imposed by single country or group of countries is not in the interest of mankind. Third, the policy of creating alliance leads to counter alliances which generate tensions. However, Belt and Road is not to create an alliance. Fourth, the regional blocs, apart from excluding others impose some limitations on sovereignty which is partly transferred to central authority. Belt and Road is not to create a regional bloc. Fifth, internet has brought nations together by reducing distances virtually; Belt and Road will reduce distances physically and improve connectivity between regions. Sixth, all countries along the Belt and Road are free to join and cooperate to enjoy the benefits of common development and to safeguard peace and security.
Lastly, it is a framework of cooperation between sovereign states. They are to cooperate voluntarily for shared development. This idea is to build an open, inclusive clean and beautiful world of lasting peace, universal security and common prosperity.
In his concluding remarks Mr. Zaki said that the vision of Belt and Road has caught the imagination of the people everywhere. More than seventy countries and 20 plus international entities have voluntarily agreed to become partners of this cooperative venture. For the unstable world in turmoil, it offers new hope. Belt and Road have several regional corridors but work on CPEC is advancing faster than elsewhere. Pakistan is destined to receive great benefits and will also get to play along with China an important role in the emerging New International Economic and Political Order which will be fair, just and equitable.
The next panelist, Lt. Gen. (R) Khalid Naeem Lodhi shared his views on the “CPEC from Pakistani Perspective”. He said that while talking about CPEC and Chinese concept of OBOR, it is pertinent to highlight the Chinese desire for the development of its western region and win-win partnership in the region. Chinese outlet in the Indian Ocean is a new pearl in nucleus in the shape of Gwadar. He mentioned that the geopolitics operates on the twin pillars of geo-economy and geo-strategy. Hence security is the crucial point for the progress of CPEC project. Pakistan hopes to enjoy connectivity, economic progress, national integration, political stability, as well as increased security. He further elaborated on each of the expected outcomes as:
In terms of connectivity the roads, railways, pipelines, and fiber optic links with neighboring regional countries would foster good relations and mutual understanding. Building road connections with all bordering provinces of Afghanistan will encourage people to people contact, trade volume will be increased, will promote better social integration, and elimination of mutual distrust would pave the way for the resolution of militancy. Similarly if the link is developed between Chahbahar and Gwadar, it will enhance connectivity with Iran. India may also be called for wahgha-Kabul connection upward to China and Central Asian Republics. In terms of India -Pakistan relations this would serve as corridor of prosperity and connectivity. Regarding Kashmir issue, a step by step relief should be given to Kashmiris and later multiple routes should be worked out including Khokha Par railway that will eventually ease up tension between the two South Asian nuclear rival states. Russian desire to join CPEC if materializes, will fulfill its century old dream of reaching warm waters. Apparently there don’t seem to be any hitches but there are larger geo-strategic concerns. There might be strong counter move against the Russian desire. But if Russo-China bloc emerges, it would help to create great strategic move.
Presently the US, Russia, China, and India have competing interests in CARs. Pakistan after establishing connection through China-Afghanistan-Iran not only can carve out large area of activity but can also consolidate political clout and strengthen relations. Thus this connection of CPEC is extended to CARs tremendous opportunities and multiple nationalities. As far as economic progress is concerned, if CPEC is being seen as the economic game changer for Pakistan, there are large numbers of prerequisites that must be taken. There is a need to hammer out suitable, profitable model with investors, banks and Chinese government. Training of manpower must be ensured. Laying down of priorities regarding establishment of various industrial and economic zones in deprived areas must be ensured. In terms of national integration the benefits and opportunities must be distributed evenly across the entire length and width of the country. CPEC provides excellent opportunity to heal some old wounds and enhance integration by dedicated entities, interested in this task.
Talking about the next expected outcome of CPEC which is political stability, he opined that there will be a corollary of economy, security, and justice. The inter-institutional mistrust and rivalry may cause a problem. In order to address this problem strong and independent judiciary and executive parliament will have to assert themselves for scrutinizing all the aspects of CPEC. He suggested that CPEC should be seen as a national interest and all political parties must be taken on board regarding all aspects of CPEC.
He further highlighted the prospect of improved security where geo-strategically the, external powers will attempt to cause hurdles in the way of this corridor. The regions not integrated in this economic bonanza will oppose by all means. India has openly declared its opposition against this project by citing number of reasons. He shared that hundred millions of dollars have been set aside to scuttle CPEC. Apparently the US has shown little appreciation for this concept. It is only natural for the US to resist China’s access to India Ocean. Similarly Russia’s growing interest in the region is equally upsetting for the US. Pakistan also needs to carefully analyze its policy options in the current situation. There is a need to keep a collaborative instead of confrontational attitude with the neighboring states closer to Gwadar. Despite the best of efforts and collaborative attitudes, the resistance will be there against the completion of this dream. This should be fought back rudimentarily at diplomatic, political, economic, and military levels. So on one hand there needs to be put consolidated efforts while simultaneously there is a need to be active and vigilant to put down all ugly designs. In his concluding remarks he stated that this project requires security arrangements. This is a game changer that is asking us to learn the new games. Probably we are not used to it before. To secure ourselves from economic exploitation, the employers and entrepreneurs should stay away from bogging down into big powers’ rivalry. There is a need to prepare the traders, industry engineers, and technical supervisors to become a useful part of this project. Last not the least a powerful, competent, and coordinated policy must be created to realize this wonder full dream.
Dr. Talat Farooq, Senior Research Fellow and Editor, SVI, shared her views on “China-Pakistan Relations: Political Dimension of CPEC”. She commenced her speech with a brief overview of China-Pakistan bilateral diplomatic relations. She said that on January 9, 1950, Pakistan recognized newly established People’s Republic of China. Following the relations, both states signed the Agreement of 1963, and ever since then the relations remain constant in the face of ups and downs in international politics and in momentous transformation of domestic global political landscape.
Quoting a realist philosophy she stated that the mutual trust is in short supply in the existing international system given the anarchic environment, security dilemma can never escape in international politics. However China-Pakistan relations have flourished especially because of trust emerging from the commonality of interests. As IR theorist said that “strong states traditionally not together to promote cooperation, can do so only if they are relatively trust worthy.” China fits the bill. Others remain caught in the Cold War mind set of strategic containment and encirclement. She opined that the OBOR vision promises to bring further cooperation and constructive engagement and could become the harbinger of peace and prosperity through economic interdependence and pooling of shared interests overseen/supervised by institutional norms. She referred to Joseph Nye and Robert Keohane who have propounded the concept of soft power and supported multilateralism but Beijing was farthest from their minds. As the key component of OBOR, the CPEC project along Kashgar-Gwadar route by interlinked infrastructure can be seen as a logical outcome of mutual and long lasting trust underpinning China-Pakistan relations.
CPEC can potentially translate their close political cooperation into multifaceted economic collaboration. Economically CPEC presents both China and Pakistan with some promising opportunities which if exercise sensibly, may open new aspects of economic growth for both countries. In addition to the economic side, the CPEC has various other dimensions such as strategic, cultural, political and geopolitical. In fact the success of the economic corridor is very much dependent upon the political landscape and domestic intertwined factors that are relevant to both Pakistan and China. The first such factor concerning the political stability is the laying down of domestic security and to figure out how the political actors could deal with the problems presented by non-state actors within the two countries. Internally Pakistan is still fighting the menace of terrorism in its various manifestations. Although Zarb-e-Azb had reached noticeable dividends, political solutions to the problems is still awaited. CPEC can reinvigorate Pakistan’s economy and create stability in Pakistan and China’s western periphery, particularly the province of Xinjiang. She said that once CPEC is operational it will lead to more economic Initiatives in the north western province of China and will help China in the execution of its western development strategy. The physical proximity of Xinjiang province with Pakistan takes the less developed part of China to the warm waters of Arabian Sea. China also has long been concerned with the extremist movements in its western region. The political outcomes of the CPEC in the form of enhanced security and cooperation between China and Pakistan can help alleviate the challenges posed by political extremist, radicals and Jihadists. CPEC remains an important in the political debate in Pakistan regarding diverse issues of sovereignty and demographic change to re-payment of Chinese loans, local employment and investments, local industry, transparency, and sharing of details on CPEC etc. However the crux of matter remains that the CPEC will disproportionately benefit Punjab at the expense of other provinces. Notably however none of the political actors have opposed this. In democracies like Pakistan, such dissatisfaction can also lead to reforms and improvements in governance.
She said that CPEC could stimulate greater stability if the local governments utilize its dividends to foster an inclusive and sustainable socio-economic growth. She explained that CPEC is not just about the exchange of material goods but also includes exchange of ideas. Cultural considerations and public relations should also be taken into account while evaluating the prospects of CPEC for economic success. She further stated that the ordinary citizens in China and Pakistan are not familiar with each other. The countries’ leaders have built all weather friendship and close political relationships over the years but such an equation is yet to be developed between the societies.
She opined that the positive developmental spillover of CPEC depends on the practical details of implementation. The distribution of benefits should be equally done between both Chinese and Pakistani stakeholders as well as the ruling elite and the population. More comprehensive policies focusing on fostering human security is required instead of the regime and state centric security policies. She told that the CPEC is not a game changer in and of itself but it is the project that demands both visionary and practical planning. Education and training of manpower are the key areas that must not be undermined by political pressures and their vested interests. CPEC project is multifaceted with political, economic, strategic, social and cultural dimension. It must not be treated as a monolith. Each issue and reservation must be addressed openly and empirically on merit by both Beijing and Islamabad. She explained that the bilateral inter-state relations, however can- not exist in isolation. They must be assessed in the context of regional and global power politics. There are a number of regional and international players which are relevant in the context of CPEC. The growing Indo-US economic and military ties underscore US’ objective of building India as counterweight to China. No doubt China is the most important trade partner of the US but security oriented great power rivalry will continue to play out. She also stated that CPEC thus has to be understood in the context of China’s geopolitical interests in East Asia and the way the US has challenged them. Given its significance in terms of energy and economic security, threat of piracy, Indian Ocean region remains important for China. These factors highlight the importance of development of the CPEC with logical support from the strategic location of Gwadar Port. She reminded that China has military and commercial presence in several nations around India, Burma, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Somalia. CPEC appears to have an immense impact on regional dynamics and largely exaggerated Indian fears of Chinese encirclement in the so called string of pearls phenomenon. In its bid to contain China and to disallow any strategic advantage to Pakistan accruing from the CPEC, New Delhi is making its efforts to sabotage the progress on the project.
There is an evidence that Indian intelligence RAW has presence in Pakistan and is engaged in mobilizing terrorist to disrupt progress on CPEC. Despite the fact that one of the OBOR corridors involves India itself along with Bangladesh and Myanmar, it will still be challenging as India has its own aspiration for regional hegemony and control of the Indian Ocean. She said that Afghanistan remains an important link in this chain. There appears a convergence of Russia-China-Pakistan security interests vis-a-viz peace in Afghanistan through political and diplomatic means to avoid rise of ISIS. The conflict settlement can play a huge role in the smooth implementation of CPEC project and will allow it to fully develop its lucrative linkages which could bring benefits not only to China and Pakistan but to the entire region.
She summed up her presentation by saying that OBOR marks onset of paradigm shift in the way regions and states will interact with each other. It gives us the glimpse of new international order that could be in place in the second half of 21st century and beyond. The key component is that CPEC servers as a crucial bridge. It offers political opportunity in more ways than one and has the potential to encourage a less conflictual domestic and regional security environment. The talks were followed by an interactive question and answer session.
Mr. Danish asked the Chinese Political Counselor to elaborate on some of his observations where as per the gap analysis approach, one can see a huge gap in what is being projected and marketed and what is actually being delivered on ground regarding CPEC project. Additionally there is a huge information warfare directed towards Chinese and Pakistani interests mainly from India and the US. Also it seems that China in its pursuits of meeting deadlines on OBOR has not focused much on people to people contact in terms of countering the fight on wrong propaganda against CPEC. Since there exists a huge gap in perception management, what kind of initiative is to be taken for that? Mr. Jiang Han agreed that there is huge propaganda launched against CPEC but most of these voices do not have correct information. To solve this problem an official website on CPEC has been developed to give correct information regarding this matter. Mr. Hassan Daud added to the discussion and we should challenge the adversary by delivering, this will shut down the negative voices. We have our own media cell to observe the trend as far as negative propaganda is concerned. In this regard national harmony is of great importance which will draw out the negative voices and will show CPEC as a reality. It is important that people should carry out research before believing certain information. The correct details and information are all available on the website, even about the structure of payment. He urged People to visit the CPEC website to get updated information on daily basis on financing modes and pictures of site-activities. Dr. Talat added that it is the responsibility of academia, both in China and Pakistan to answer such criticism in scholarly manner at international level. They should work on joint project by collaborating with each other.
Mr. Atique-ur-Rehman, lecturer at NUML University asked what kind of steps should be taken against India’s intentions to sabotage CPEC and what steps should both countries take regarding the progress of project? Mr. Zhang Jiegen addressed this question by saying that the solid bilateral relations can help scuttle India’s negative aspirations against CPEC project. A negative approach cannot change the venture. Keeping the aspirations for all stakeholders in mind, the project has the potential to transform the economics of the region for better.
Amb. (R) Ali Sarwar Naqvi asked Mr. Hasan Daud Butt to comment on the idea that a proper handling of CPEC project requires an independent, fully focused autonomous authority for administration instead of leaving it to Planning Commission as larger institution. Mr. Butt shared that all the current discussions and progress on CPEC is due to the Planning Commission and because of the active participation of Mr. Ahsan Iqbal. He being the champion of CPEC has furthered the cause of CPEC at each forum everywhere.
Mr. Waseem Malik, Assistant Professor, University of Islamabad, commented that CPEC is facing India’s opposition while the biggest problem is the security problem. He added that the terrorist in Western China were not imported by Pakistan but by the US after the fall of the Tajik government, as a result of the USSR disintegration. China has wonderful history between Chinese and Chinese Muslims. The Muslim Chinese made great contribution to the development of modern China. However, today some negativity between government of China and Chinese Muslims is prevailing such as a ban on Muslim names. He commented that Chinese president Xi Jinping in his speech stressed upon the need for paradigm shift in 2015 and despite propagating soft diplomacy he is still seen as bad guy. He suggested that the academics need to address these core topics; corrupt capitalism, and weakness and failures of pseudo-democracy. For the connectivity, Chinese people and Pakistani people must respect each other’s values and cultures.
In the end Dr. Cheema profoundly thanked the six speakers for gracing the panel discussion with their enlightening and multidimensional perspectives.
Media covered the proceeding of panel discussion on OBOR and CPEC from the Prism of China-Pakistan Bilateral Relations.