“China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will move the world”
Napoleon Bonaparte would be doing back-flips in his grave seeing how true his words turned out to be two centuries later. China has been under the rogue scrutiny of the world for quite some years, and why should it not be? Being a human being, I would also be skeptical if a former weakling was growing stronger and stronger each day without me understanding how it is doing what it is doing and here, we are talking about states in a realist world. Yes, USA. We feel you buddy. But was China ever a weakling or were we a little too short sighted? In the case of China, what we fail to understand is the fact that China’s rise has not been over night. Nor is it unexpected. After all, Napoleon, among many other things recognized China’s true potential and it is evident that China has started capitalizing on that dormant asset.
While the world was busy prioritizing geo-politics, China took a step, with a consideration of possible repercussions but a leap of faith nevertheless, to change its future endeavors from geopolitics to geo-economics. Mind you, that was the time when the Big Daddy, also known as the United States of America, had things under its control and China’s leap of faith was met with humor around the world. After all, we were realists at heart, and we never believed that a bottom-up approach would benefit the world system at large. China continued working on its agenda of changing the mode of politics and has now been successful in finding new markets, providing quite an audience to its products and also, creating a storm in the tea cup as we see China’s rise being taken as a threat to the liberal world order.
China is not just gaining momentum globally, but the regional statistics and the events tell us that China has a lot planned for this particular region as well. We all have by now heard, memorized and written several essays on CPEC or the China Pakistan Economic Corridor and we feel quite knowledgeable about it too. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, commonly known as CPEC is a flagship project of a larger One Belt One Road initiative (OBOR) by China. China, as history validates has always been a center for trade and commerce. Every person, even if through literature has read and heard of the Silk Route which served as an important connection for all sorts of trade and businesses throughout China and Central Asia. It was an important land route which helped expand China’s foreign trade and provided a boost to the economy. Although WW1 and the consequent WW2 ruined most of this medieval route, the importance of this concept could not be diminished from the pages of history.
CPEC, if called a modern-day Silk Route would be nothing short of an apt description. CPEC, being a multistage project will be implemented in different phases. One out of the three phases of this project has been completed which includes the construction of the infrastructure and removal of the hurdles faced in the energy sector. Quite a lot of work has already been completed. A total of 1544KM have already been constructed with 1456KM under construction. In the energy sector, 5320MW of electric power has been summed up to the national grid while 4170MW power projects are nearing completion. The optical fiber cable linkage connecting Khunjerab to Rawalpindi has been completed. Among the completed projects, stands the star of the show, the city of Gwadar, which is recognized now, across the globe, as the upcoming hub of all trade by the Indian Ocean.
The aim and end goals of this mega project include better resource management encouraging bilateral connectivity, providing a boost to the economy of both the countries, more and better opportunities for the people of both countries to enhance their trade and commerce, financial cooperation, socio-economic development including alleviation of poverty and people to people connection and an overall attempt to provide livelihood and better living standards and sustenance to the people of both the nations. Promotion of tourism is also an important factor.
This multi-billion project has vast implications on the globe, the region and also Pakistan which is serving as a crown jewel in the OBOR initiative of China through Gwadar. These implications will start becoming evident not just in the long run but in our day to day matters as well since it allegedly comes as an answer to many of our existing problems. You name it and CPEC is supposed to provide it. Poverty reduction, energy sector improvement, infrastructure, revenue generation and augmentation of social indicators, inter connectivity of the region vis-à-vis a cheaper land route and a share in the global GDP are aspects credited to the benevolence of this project.
With all the sunshine, dense stormy clouds of criticism, mystery and conspiracy also surround CPEC. Globally it is seen as a threat and by that, I mean a threat to the global hegemony of the USA. USA views China from a realist lens of power maximization and believes that this economic growth is a pretext to enhance the military might. Narratives have been constructed, discourses generated, painting this project in bad light. Once again, we see a quasi-Cold War scenario of an imperial war between the Godly and the Godless, the capitalists vs the communists and China portrayed as a devil with long horns. Although this narrative is only evident in the undertones, but we are being fed with the same knowledge with an intended aim of jeopardizing the brand image of CPEC. USA and the other world powers have rallied against CHINA in the form of QUAD and AUKUS, both are alliances to counter China and seize the trade back as CPEC not just promises land connectivity but through Gwadar also cuts down the transaction cost of moving through the Malacca Strait which is under American dominance. While these are seemingly concrete steps taken by the great powers which the Western bloc denies taking, soft balancing of power is also being done by letting IMF and the World Bank unhinge its jaws in the form of denial of loan requests and other sanctions and tariffs. All this for a hot second does make us second guess the righteousness of China’s intentions towards Pakistan and the region. China has gotten the control and authorized access to the port areas of other countries in the region such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and now it is Gwadar whose development is being done by China. China is accused of working on an expansionist policy and becoming the neo-East India Company of this region. Pakistanis too have concerns regarding CPEC, which are not entirely fueled by the western discourse. We as Pakistanis view CPEC as another charity programmer not acknowledging the fact that Pakistan is the one providing a transit trade route to China, saving it from the controversial South China Sea issues, and not the other way around. Hence, our own directions, aims and end goals with this project need to be known. Engagement of private sector should be limited to benefit the State of Pakistan. Till now we are just going with the flow, letting the waves carry us wherever putting CPEC and China on a divine pedestal. It is good to be optimistic, but it is always safe to not be delusional and create an undue hype. This project should aim to create a win-win situation for both the countries and not a negative sum game where Pakistan, despite providing the most important piece of this strategic puzzle, gets the shorter end of the stick. The western discourse regarding the CPEC and China’s policies cannot be all together cancelled but Pakistan can keep things low profile for a certain amount of time and keep the negativity at bay working towards the sustainability of this project and not let Gwadar and the aspirations of millions of our people go down the drain. With the right intentions, directions and focused end goal, things seem half as bad. But again, it is just another rhetoric we manifest to validate our choices. After all it all comes down to the choices we make as we must live with their consequences