CPEC, China, Foreign Policy

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a bilateral project between Pakistan and China. It aims to enhance economic prosperity not only for both the countries but also for the region as a whole. The projects under CPEC are divided in four categories with the total worth of $62 billion. The project will potentially boost the local business of Pakistan; cater to the energy crisis of Pakistan; develop the infrastructure such as in Gwadar and other economic zones; and make the communication and transportation of goods easier by infrastructural reforms. Hence, CPEC is a move away from Pakistan’s perennial focus on defence towards the security of its economic interests. In this regard, the idea of this paper is to analyze the paradigm shift in foreign policy of Pakistan from a security to an economic centric policy, after the evolution of CPEC.

This joint economic venture of China and Pakistan can be compared to the European Union (EU). The CPEC is acting as a means of economic integration as it has implications on different levels: national, regional, and international. It provides impetus to view Pakistan from an economic lens, rather than the traditional security centric approach. The idea rests on the notion of allowing Pakistan to act as a gateway for micro and macro-economic integration alongside stabilizing the region which has been privy to instability in the recent past. Although it is a bilateral agreement between China and Pakistan, it also enhances the geo-strategic value of Pakistan. Thus, extra-regional states have shown their interest in CPEC including Russia, Central Asian Republics (CARs) and Turkey who are at the top of the list. Within the region, the neighboring countries have also disclosed their interest in the CPEC including Afghanistan, Iran and China.

Pakistan has recently attained the membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) which is a step in the right direction with regards to its relations with regional powers. The SCO consists of seven other states besides Pakistan. It is to be noted that CPEC is one of the headline issues under the SCO framework. In Qingdao meeting of SCO in June 2018, the observing country Afghanistan showed interest in the project and was encouraged by Pakistan and China both. In the trilateral meeting of Foreign Ministers, the Chinese Foreign Minister Mr. Wang stated that, ‘China and Pakistan are willing to look at with Afghanistan, on the basis of win-win, mutually beneficial principles, using an appropriate means to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan’.

CPEC would strengthen economic ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The cooperation will also boost the counter-terror and counter-insurgency efforts of both countries due to increased collaboration and continuous communication. Likewise, Iran’s Involvement in the CPEC could bring a major change by making Gwadar and Chabahar sister ports. After the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, Iran is more willing to be a part of CPEC as it is looking forward to possibilities of robust relations with emerging powers, and CPEC is one such base for Iran to improve its relations with China, Russia etc.

Delhi’s aversion is worrisome to some extent but having all other important regional players on board for this project will automatically undermine Indian efforts to hamper the endeavor.

India has remained the only country in the region that has showed resentment regarding CPEC. In the recent meeting of SCO in Qingdao, Indian Prime Minister Modi declared that Delhi does not support CPEC. India has objected the CPEC route from Azad Jammu and Kashmir because it considers Jammu and Kashmir a part of it. Delhi’s aversion is worrisome to some extent but having all other important regional players on board for this project will automatically undermine Indian efforts to hamper the endeavor. It is expected that SCO will bridge the gap between the two neighboring countries. Initially, SAARC was established for this purpose but it was politicized. Russia and China, as major powers of SCO, could likely help both countries to negotiate their disputes.

Pakistan has also welcomed Turkish involvement in CPEC. The Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI) invited Turkish officials and businessmen to elaborate on where both countries can cooperate under the banner of CPEC. A number of Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) have been signed between Turkey and Pakistan while the net trade of both countries stands at $900 million, a figure that is likely to increase. Meanwhile, the CARs are the hub of natural resources and Pakistan is seeking a route towards them via CPEC. Pakistan has always had good relations with the CARs. In addition to this, Russia and Pakistan have also pledged new relations for future progress due to the change in the contemporary world order. In this regard, both states also performed joint military exercises.

CPEC plays a vital role in regional and extra-regional connectivity. Regional integration not only connects the region but also causes complex interdependence among states. Its basic idea is that due to extensive trade among states at various levels, the interdependence of states increases. Such sensitivity and vulnerability forces states not to wage war against each other because it affects their own economic condition severely. CPEC provides a platform to the states where they can cooperate with each other extensively. The regional integration of Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan will also counter the Chinese neo-imperialist threat in the region. Pakistan’s economic integration with China heralds a new chapter in the chronicles of its foreign policy.

Moreover, CPEC also provides Pakistan with an opportunity to not only establish good relations with extra-regional states, but also the European countries which have also shown their interest in the CPEC. Pakistan could seize the opportunity for establishing better bilateral and multilateral ties with European countries and the European Union respectively. Prior to this, Pakistan’s foreign policy in the region was Indian-centric, and beyond the region was US-centric. The reason was to maximize its security to counter the Indian threat in the region. But in recent years, the US’ attitude towards Pakistan has changed from being a strategic ally to that of a defaulter, while India has continued its efforts to isolate Pakistan in the region. In this scenario, CPEC has emerged as an opportunity for Pakistan to boost its economic relations in the region and beyond.

The economic integration of China, Pakistan and India alone can make it the biggest economic zone in history, leaving the US far behind. Being the flagship project of the greater Belt and Road Initiative, CPEC will have a global impact. The regional integration of CPEC including, Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and Iran increases regional stability and peace aswell. Furthermore, the inclusion of India in the integration may cause a complex interdependence of regional states. The mistrust among states due to misinterpretation could be overcome by interdependence and extensive communication at various levels. Nonetheless, the intention here is not to make an impression that Pakistan has to stop concentrating on its military industrial complex. Even CPEC requires a strong military support and improved law and order condition at back end to overcome any hurdle that comes forward. However, a paradigm shift is observable in the foreign policy of Pakistan. In comparison to the 2001-2013 era, a policy shift in Pakistan’s security centric approach to economic centric approach can be observed which is crucial for its energy deficient and debt-ridden economy.

Muhammad Mehran Iqbal

has done BS(Hons) in International Relations from the University of Gujrat (UoG) and is currently pursuing his M.Phil in Peace and Conflict Studies from National Defense University. He has interned at Islamabad Policy Research Institute and is presently working at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Research and Analysis, National Defense University.

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