In April, China struck 51 agreements with all-weather ally Pakistan, including the multibillion dollar economic corridor through the PoK that will expand the communist giant’s influence in India’s neighbourhood.
Before we deep dive, let’s first know historical background
- The origin of the Sino-Pak equation could be traced in China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), finds root to the Border Agreement of 1963, considered a milestone in China-Pakistan relations.
- The agreement ceded the 5000 plus square mile Trans Karakorum Tract to China and served as a precursor to the Karakoram Highway, conceived later as a strategic link defining China and Pakistan’s ‘all-weather friendship’.
- The then Defence Minister of India, Krishna Menon, elaborately enunciated India’s position on the issue at the UN, condemning the agreement as illegitimate.
- Besides, India lodged an “emphatic protest” to China and conveyed its concerns in a letter of protest.
- Decades down the line, while India’s policy orientation and broader claim on Gilgit Baltistan remains unchanged, its stance on Chinese investments in the Karakoram Highway, and Chinese efforts to leverage this territorial link to build a strategic corridor, is perceived to be weakening over time.
What is the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project?
- The China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is biggest connectivity project aims to connect Gwadar Port in southwestern Pakistan to China’s northwestern autonomous region of Xinjiang, via a network of highways, railways and pipelines to transport oil and gas.
- The economic corridor is considered central to China–Pakistan relations and will run about 3,000 km from Gwadar to Kashgar.
- The Corridor is an extension of China’s proposed 21st century Silk Road initiative.
- According to a Firstpost report, this is the biggest overseas investment by China announced yet and the corridor is expected to be operational within 3 years.
Why Gwadar Port is strategically so important to China?
- Gwadar forms the crux of the CPEC project, as it is envisaged to be the link between China’s ambitious One Belt, One Road (OBOR) in Maritime Silk Road project.
- In total, more than $1 billion worth of projects are to be developed around the port of Gwadar by December 2017.
But, what are the geopolitical reasons to China’s OBOR project?
- There are compelling geopolitical reasons, such as energy security, for China to push forward with its One Belt, One Road plans at a time when its trading partners are potentially excluding it from strategic agreements.
- Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the EU-Japan agreement show comprehensive liberalisation agendas, but do not include China and have the potential to increase trading costs.
- In response, China plans to negotiate free-trade agreements with 65 countries along the OBOR.
- Until now China has signed 12 free-trade agreements including Singapore, Pakistan, Chile, Peru, Costa Rica, Iceland, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
- Further 8 are under negotiation with Japan, Korea, Australia, Sri Lanka, Norway, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, Asean and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
How will CPEC benefits to Pakistan ? Is it a Game changer for Pak?
- China and Pakistan hope the massive investment plan will transform Pakistan into a regional economic hub as well as further boost the growing ties between Pakistan and China.
- The CPEC is considered a significant project that seeks to cement Sino-Pakistan bilateral ties and further consolidate their strategic ties.
- According to The Guardian, “The Chinese are not just offering to build much-needed infrastructure but also make Pakistan a key partner in its grand economic and strategic ambitions.”
What’s the claim from India in CPEC?
- The corridor will run through India’s periphery, more significantly, Gilgit Baltistan, claimed by India as part of the erstwhile princely state of J&K.
- In due course, this geographical reality of the CPEC could potentially impinge upon India’s geopolitical calculations and pose a strategic challenge.
How does China look at CPEC?
- In December 2014, the Chinese state-run Xinhua published a statement announcing the closure of the strategic Khunjerab Pass and in the process referred to Gilgit Baltistan as part of Pakistan.
- Until then, China had maintained that J&K was a bilateral problem/dispute between India and Pakistan.
- Whether terming Gilgit Baltistan as part of Pakistan reflected a possible shift in the Chinese position on the J&K— a change from its previously held neutral position – was debated in the Indian media for a while.
- In the Gilgit Baltistan segment, the CPEC project design includes a major expansion of the Karakoram Highway, establishing industrial parks in special economic zones, constructing hydropower projects, railway line and road building.
- The project also entails building hydropower projects and motorways/highways in the so-called Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).
What’s the India’s claim and response to it?
- India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan, noted: “India has no worry over the construction of Pakistan-China Economic Corridor as an economically strong Pakistan would bring stability in the region.”
- India is yet to comprehensively articulate its approach towards the CPEC despite the fact that the corridor bodes strategic implications for India.
- The corridor will pass through the Gilgit Baltistan region where China has invested in the past in infrastructure and hydropower projects.
- India has occasionally raised objections to Chinese infrastructure investment in the region.
- New Delhi’s move to raise objections to Pakistan’s plan of holding an election in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir’s Gilgit-Baltistan region may appear to be an afterthought.
- In fact, the belated assertion of a simple principle: In a dispute, express your maximal position, rather than the one you will compromise on.
Is it India’s Dilemma?
- Is it because of a realization that in a changed strategic landscape, the options for India vis-a-vis a project like CPEC are limited and complicated?
- Is India conflicted about whether to engage itself in the mega connectivity network project or stay out of it in accordance with its stated position on Gilgit Baltistan and the so-called AJK?
How does it pose a policy challenge to India?
- Participating in the project would require a major alteration in India’s policy.
- Overlooking the territorial dimension could be interpreted as a massive climb-down from its stated position.
- It may even be construed as acquiescing to the China-Pakistan alliance in the region and beyond.
- Thus, the CPEC poses a policy challenge to India on how best to strike a precarious balance between securing its strategic/territorial interests without at the same time being confrontational.
- Charting a policy course is essential since China has, of late, through stray remarks extended an invitation for India to participate in the Silk Route ‘one route one belt’ project.
How will CPEC get materialised despite scepticism?
- Ironically, in Pakistan itself, there is growing cynicism about the CPEC’s prospects and feasibility because of security-related concerns and inter-provincial political discord on route preferences.
- Nevertheless, given the Chinese determination to find a route to oil-rich West Asia through Pakistan, and the Pakistani desperation to provide every possible assurance to China about safeguarding its investments, the project is likely to be implemented, even if its scope may be limited.
- One has to remember that China and Pakistan have weathered geographical and logistical extremes in the past to build the highest metalled road on one of the toughest terrain, i.e. the Karakoram Highway.
- Moreover, the Pakistani decision to raise a special security division to protect Chinese workers and interests in Pakistan, indicates its resolve to implement the project in all earnestness.
The Way forward
- While India’s overall stance on PoK remains understated, the commencement of the CPEC warrants more serious attention than what has been accorded so far.
- There is a need to carefully weigh the situation and devise a suitable and sustainable approach that could serve India’s long-term interests.
- It is imperative that some of the explicit strategic concerns regarding the CPEC figure in the bilateral round of talks during the Indian Prime Minister’s forthcoming visit to Pakistan.
What do you think on such a big triangular geostrategic politics? How will it resolved from Sino-India relations? Let us know!