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New Chinese ambassador to Pak to prioritise, promote CPEC

B0y Mrityunjoy Kumar Jha

New Delhi, Sep 26 (IANS): Nong Rong, Chinese ambassador-designate to Pakistan, is an expert in trade and commerce, is currently a minister in a Guangxi provincial government. Nongs primary role will be to promote the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) -- a $62 billion programme under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

As the CPEC enters its second phase, Nong will try to deepen China's economic links with other countries.

He is not the only political or non-career diplomat appointee. In the 1950s, General Geng Biao too was a political appointee when Mao sent him as the Chinese ambassador to Pakistan. Known as the chief architect of China-Pakistan relations, General Geng -- a Mao confidante, arrived in Pakistan when General Ayub Khan had done a successful coup de tat.

A senior Pakistani journalist says the CPEC is not a newly conceived idea but "is the cultivation of a thought process which Chairman Mao and General Geng had conceived."

Mao had asked Geng about opening a new route to China from its western borders into Pakistan. He told Geng: "This is your new task. Look after Pakistan. It is China's window to the west."

The idea was well perceived in Pakistan and eventually led to the construction of the Karakoram Highway, passing through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

It is likely that Geng's work regarding creating road linkages between the two countries also influenced President Xi Jinping's One Belt, One Road (OBOR) policy. While Xi was staff officer to Geng, he learned a lot about Pakistan and developed his vision about the strategic importance of Pakistan-China friendship.

Pakistani eggs in China basket

A Chinese general Xiong Guangkai had once famously quipped "Pakistan is China's Israel."

But unlike Israel, Pakistan refuses to be self-reliant. Having been dependent on the US over the past 70 years, Pakistan has now chosen to integrate itself into China in the new global order. With the $62 billion CPEC, and in light of Pakistan's ‘generous' concessions to China through sovereign guarantees in return, Pakistan has become a satellite state of China.

The Chinese Master Plan of CPEC Vision 2025 conceives a picture where the majority of Pakistani socio-economic sectors are deeply penetrated by Chinese companies and culture. In fact, Chinese companies are building and managing the country's key transport networks, from national highways to Lahore's metro. China even bought a stake in Pakistan's stock exchange.

It is building Pakistan's power sector, coal plant by coal plant, and will eventually, many experts believe, have a say in how much Pakistani citizens pay their government for electricity.

"There are fears that Pakistan will become just another province of China, or will be reduced to being a ‘vassal state'," says S. Akbar Zaidi, a US-based Pakistani political economist.

The Pakistani illusion of CPEC

However, there are many Pakistanis who believe that China's forays into the Pakistani economy and society are altruistic, and that China has an innate desire to uplift the lot of the people of the country.

They say that the ‘all-weather friend' and "iron brother" has stalled Pakistan's otherwise rapid descent into the abyss of bankruptcy. Such thinkers choose to ignore China's track record of snaring vulnerable smaller countries into vicious debt traps through the much touted BRI and are actively and assertively encouraged to propagate CPEC by the Pakistani ruling establishment.

This is hardly surprising, given that the Pakistani elite—especially the stalwarts of the military establishment—stand to gain the most from the corridor.

A few months back, the Pakistani media reported that PM Imran Khan's aides Razak Dawood and Nadeem Baber were among the beneficiaries of the deals for the CPEC power projects. A new name was added to the corruption list—Lt General Aseem Salim Bajwa, CPEC Chairman and special advisor to the Prime Minister.

Reportedly, China is not happy as it does not want any controversy over the CPEC.

China's focus is on the second phase of the CPEC. Unable to pay off the debt, Pakistan was ‘forced' to lease the Gwadar port to a Chinese company for 40 years. Beijing has also designed its CPEC agreements to ensure full recovery of its investments through a port-park-city (PPC) model. Under the PPC model, the development of the Gwadar port will be followed by the construction of a China-funded industrial park with amenities like hospitals, schools, university, airport and a golf resort on a nearby free trade zone spread over an area of 2,281 acres.

CPEC brings Han Chinese to Balochistan

Being constructed at an estimated cost of US$150-million, the gated ‘proxy colony' is expected to exclusively house 500,000 Han Chinese, who will come to work in the area by 2022. The ongoing work under the PPC model has already dislocated many natives and fisherfolk from the port city, leading to protests in Balochistan.

Turning a blind eye to the misery caused by the CPEC projects, especially around Gwadar, Khan declared, "BRI with CPEC as its flagship is destined to succeed despite all odds and Pakistan Army shall ensure security of CPEC at all costs." Since then, the migration of the Chinese people to Pakistan has increased exponentially, with about 10,000 Chinese said to be living in Islamabad and another 35,000 in other parts of the country.

The growing Chinese influence has also increased anti-state sentiments among the people of Balochistan, which is meant to be the biggest beneficiary of the CPEC in Pakistan. With the rampant exploitation of resources through CPEC projects and promises of jobs not materializing, the Baloch people have found themselves pushed further to the margins of the economy.

Groups like the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) have intensified demands for Baloch independence, blaming Beijing for exploiting and making the province more volatile. It has also accused China of being Pakistan's "partner in crime."

By 2048, the BLA fears that the local population will be outnumbered by Han immigrants, giving rise to a similar situation as the Uyghurs face in Xinjiang. The Pakistan government has resorted to quashing the Baloch separatist movement using similar tactics as China does against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Over 47,000 Baloch are thought to have gone missing or disappeared, and in 2019 alone, more than 241 people were killed, 568 persons went missing, and numerous protesting students were targeted.

At the end of the day, CPEC remains a Chinese priority for China's strategic interests, as Pakistan turns into a vassal state, "South Asia's North Korea." For the common Pakistanis, the worst of the Chinese and the CPEC is yet to come


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