The central theme behind the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is to open new economic and trade avenues that would lead to the overall social and economic prosperity of the region. The fruit of this economic cooperation is a market far larger in scope than the one that exists because of economic conflict in the region. The envisaged economic route from Gwadar to Kashgar can serve as an alternative and economically shorter sea route instead of the far longer straits of Malacca. This has always been the most compelling reason for multilateral and regional cooperation.
Two of the most reputable theories that support the idea of regional stability, regional integration and strategic cooperation can be stated in terms of ‘economic opportunity cost hypothesis’ and ‘neo-functionalism’. The first theory assumes that trade and economic interdependence increases stakes amongst economically integrated nations and thereby reduces chances of conflicts erupting. Whereas the proponents of neo-functionalism are of the view that cooperation in one area produces cooperation in other areas.
CPEC will pass through Gilgit-Baltistan in the north which will connect Kashgar in China’s western province of Xinjiang. Almost 80% of China’s oil is currently transported through the Strait of Malacca to Shanghai. The calculated distance is almost 16,000km and takes two to three months, with Gwadar becoming operational, the distance would be reduced to less than 5,000km. When fully operational Gwadar will promote not only the economic development of Pakistan but also serve as a gateway to the Central Asian countries.
The dimension of CPEC that is ignored is its potential to defeat terrorism in the region by raising and improving socio-economic conditions of the people. The Sri Lankan polity, at first divided over the role of China in the region, has come to recognise that the Belt Road Initiative approach fits well with Colombo’s goals of rebuilding a war-torn economy through enhanced connectivity.
CPEC is often termed a game changer for the weak economy of Pakistan. The corridor project carries vital significance as it promises to elevate Islamabad’s economic growth. Unlike US aid, the Chinese aid to Pakistan has offered infrastructure and energy projects that would serve as a means to improve Pakistan’s economy. Despite the cheapness of land, Pakistan is lagging behind in connectivity which increases the trade cost. However, under the umbrella of CPEC the cost would be minimised and export incentives increased. Pakistan expects 4% of global trade. The kind of toll tax, rental fees that Pakistan will gain is roughly $6 billion to $8 billion by 2020.
A strategic and economic balance of power in the region would ensure peaceful resolution of conflicts but also enhance strategic stability leading to a win-win situation. CPEC, with its focus on Gwadar, has also given impetus to maritime cooperation between China and Pakistan. Both the states wish to enhance bilateral cooperation in the fields of maritime security, search and rescue, and the blue water economy. Hence it would not be wrong to say that CPEC has the potential of accruing strategic cooperation. This approach serves as strategic enabler in a rapidly transforming world order. It is therefore the need of time to move from archaic geopolitical vendetta of 19th and 20th centuries to interstate strategic play in the 21st century.
The pursuit of a state’s national interest in the international arena constitutes its foreign policy. A successful foreign policy should employ a balance of economic, diplomatic, and military tools. It is the national interest that shapes the possibilities of state to behave collectively. Through a balanced foreign policy approach, the South Asian region can achieve its mega development projects and establish into a peaceful integrated region. Confidence-building measures between regional players is the first step in this direction to uplift the socioeconomic standards of the people of this region.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 27th, 2018.