By Moneeb Ahmad Barlas Source:Global Times Published: 2018/8/15 20:43:40
Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned the IMF against providing Pakistan with a bailout package to rescue its fragile economy. US Secretary of Defense James Mattis has also voiced concerns about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), saying that the corridor passes through so-called "disputed territory." US apprehensions about Pakistan-China relations in general and the CPEC in particular stem from strategic calculations based on the geopolitics of this region.
The CPEC has the potential to be a game changer in international politics. It connects Kashgar in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to the southwestern Pakistani port of Gwadar in Balochistan province. Both countries have long sought to achieve security through development. The East Turkestan Islamic Movement has troubled China with secessionist activities in Xinjiang. The corridor is expected to usher in jobs and prosperity in the region while reducing the incentive for people to engage in subversive activities. Similarly, Balochistan has been a hotbed of terrorism in Pakistan. If the CPEC is implemented wisely and honestly, poverty-stricken Balochistan could benefit from infrastructure development and job creation, with more than $30 billion set to be invested in energy projects in Pakistan. In addition, if Pakistan receives a sizeable share of the profits generated at Gwadar Port, the country can build a sustainable economy and will not need further injections of aid. This creates a win-win situation for both countries, while also reducing Pakistan's dependence on the IMF.
But that runs contrary to what policymakers in Washington want. Pakistan holds immense strategic importance because of its location bordering Afghanistan in the north and the oil-rich Persian Gulf in the south. Whenever Pakistan refuses to heed US demands over strategic issues such as Afghanistan, the US wields international aid as a weapon. It either puts its aid on hold or at least reduces the amount being paid to Pakistan. Washington also makes it difficult for Pakistan to obtain IMF loans. Now, with the CPEC, Pakistan is experiencing a massive influx of Chinese investment and soft loans. Consequently, Islamabad is not only reducing its economic dependence on the US but is also depriving Washington of its coercive powers. The US dreads the idea of being replaced by China. Moreover, a troubled Xinjiang also suits US hegemonic designs. It keeps Beijing preoccupied with internal security problems, while reducing its capacity to exert its influence in international politics. Now that the CPEC is likely to overcome this internal security dilemma, Washington fears a more aggressive Chinese presence in the global arena.
The US is increasingly militarizing the Asia Pacific region. In 2012, former defense secretary Leon Panetta revealed US plans to shift more than half its naval power to the region. India has also established a sophisticated naval base at Andaman Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal. As China's major oil imports are routed through the Strait of Malacca, increased militarization of the region by Washington and New Delhi can be seen as a threat to China's seaborne trade. However, the CPEC offsets this dilemma as it bypasses the Strait of Malacca and provides Beijing with a shorter and safer alternative. In this way, the corridor deals another blow to US motives.
The CPEC facilitates intercontinental connectivity. It will link China with South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe through a faster and shorter route. It will also provide landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asian states with access to the Persian Gulf. Hence, Beijing's economic and strategic clout is likely to expand over the entire globe.
Evidently, this is a hard reality for the US to accept. This is why the US keeps whining about Pakistan-China ties. The US and its allies will use every possible means to sabotage the CPEC. Beijing and Islamabad can only respond with smooth and timely completion of the CPEC. In this regard, it is imperative for both countries to address the apprehensions surrounding the corridor.
The US and its allies have cashed in on the lack of information about the CPEC to spread misconceptions about China's intentions and the anticipated economic benefits for Pakistan. Western media reports have manufactured stories to discredit China's proactive trade and economic diplomacy, using slogans like "debt-trap diplomacy" and "predatory lending." And various measures are being taken to dissuade countries from trading with China. All this calls for a joint Pakistan-China diplomatic and media strategy to counter the hostile anti-CPEC propaganda.
The details of the agreements signed between Beijing and Islamabad need to be made public. Officials dealing with projects should be well prepared to take any questions concerning the CPEC at any domestic or international forum. Pakistan Television (PTV) and China Central Television (CCTV) can play important roles in educating the masses through joint production of documentaries and special reports on ongoing projects, highlighting their economic value and benefits for both countries. An informed and well-educated public would be less vulnerable to malicious propaganda.
The author is an independent researcher in public policy and international relations based in Pakistan. firstname.lastname@example.org