Daily Times, Editorial
SEPTEMBER 23, 2018
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s trip to the Middle East appears to have been worth the squeeze. For the Saudis are now committed to investing at least $10 billion in this country as Riyadhreadies to become the third CPEC partner. A turn of events that affords a better understanding of why the COAS was in Beijing at this time.
Details of the agreement are expected next month when a Saudi delegation is due to head this way. And since the PM has thus far been a little coy on the question of the $4 billion soft loanthat he had reportedly been seeking from the Kingdom — this has given way to speculation that the latter will invest in infrastructure projects, including Gwadar, rather than go for an all-out cash bailout.
Thus Riyadh’s inclusion into the Corridor looks good. On paper, at any rate. Though Islamabad needs to honestly clarify its unequivocal pledge to support Saudi Arabia strategically. Not least because there remain concerns that the Centre may do U-turn when it comes to deployingPakistani troops to Yemen. A country where the Saudi-led coalition risks being probed for war crimes.
Be that as it may, the Kingdom represents a not unnatural ally for Beijing. Indeed, back in 2010, China emerged as the latter’s largest trading partner. Then last summer, when Vice Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli visited the Kingdom, the two sides agreed to open a $20-billion joint Sino-Saudi investment fund. This came in the wake of some $65 billion worth of deals inked earlier in the year; ranging from energy to space technology. Fast-forward to the beginning of 2018 and China has called for tighter integration between Riyadh’s planned economic diversification away from crude oil and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It appears that the Saudis have taken this duly on board.
Pakistan will, however, have to tread carefully with Iran on this front. The last thing this country needs is to be dragged into proxy wars. Meaning that Islamabad must balance its regional alliances carefully. As far as US displeasure over the Kingdom surrendering to the dragon’s embrace goes, that is better left to Riyadh and Washington to resolve bilaterally. Especially given that the latter is already irked by Saudi efforts, announced last year, to partially cover its budget deficit in renminbi in a bid to reduce financial dependence on the dollar; thereby facilitating the rise of the petro-yuan. That being said, increased American belligerence in this neighbourhood will have far-reaching ramifications. After all, in its National Security Strategy for 2018 Washington named China as a regional adversary. And now the US fear is that Beijing will make use of this increased partnership with Saudi Arabia to consolidate inroads into the Middle East. This may well be welcomed by many of the region’s nations; which tend to see China as a more stable hegemonic power given that it does not pursue a militarised foreign policy.
In short, the balance of power is changing in this neck of the woods and beyond. And this time around, Pakistan appears to be partially behind the wheel. This can only be a good thing. As long as pragmatism remains the driving force of any new regional order. *
Published in Daily Times, September 23rd 2018.