China’s landmark investments in Pakistan

Published: April 21, 2015
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

Hype aside, a seminal shift is taking place in Pakistan’s strategic orientation, as it dramatically enhances its cooperation with China in the economic, political and defence areas. With the US thinning its presence in Afghanistan and the region, China’s footprint will be fast increasing. The projected investment of $45 billion in various projects — spread over 10 to 15 years — that China is pledging is a manifestation of its expanding interest in Pakistan. For China, this would be the biggest investment it has made in any country, if it were to fully materialise. China’s investments are in line with its overall political and strategic goals, and are a demonstration of its confidence in Pakistan’s future.

These investments, if properly executed, could be transformational. Pakistan’s greatest weakness is its dilapidated infrastructure. China’s investment aims at improving infrastructure, opening up of the neglected province of Balochistan and development of Gwadar as a strategic and commercial port. This in turn is likely to increase China’s and Pakistan’s presence in the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. The economic corridor will open up new business opportunities for both countries. Pakistan’s close alignment with China should partially contribute to countervailing India’s growing economic and military power.

Acquisition of eight Chinese submarines will strengthen Pakistan’s maritime capability in anti-submarine, anti-surface warfare, intelligence-gathering and strategic deterrence, and play an important role in the defence of the Gwadar and Karachi ports. This would lead to greater cooperation with the Chinese, as compatibility of equipment facilitates cooperation, particularly in the maritime area. The development of an economic corridor linking Gwadar will obviously increase the presence of the Chinese fleet in the region. Gains for China include opening up of the relatively less developed western region that will benefit from shorter access to the sea. China’s potential of forward deployment of its naval assets in the Gwadar and Karachi ports seems to be a cause of anxiety for the Indians. To allay India’s possible concerns as well as that of the West, Beijing has been trying to emphasise that its interests are essentially economic and commercial. Moreover, Gwadar-related infrastructure will take a few years to develop and as China has emphasised, its maritime deployment is not conceived to be offensive.

Pakistan’s substantial cooperation with China in the form of the “strategic framework” agreed for the next 10 years should lead to economic development and stability. At the same time, if these projects are implemented faithfully as planned, they could lead to greater integration of Pakistan’s natural resources and markets with the larger Chinese and global economy. This will require highly deft handling because experience teaches us that we are good at signing agreements but casual in implementing them. Hopefully, this will not recur as the entire credibility of Nawaz Sharif’s leadership and that of his party hinges on the turnaround of Pakistan’s economy in which successful completion of these projects will be a major component. If Pakistan loses this opportunity to lift its economy at such a critical juncture, then it will not be able to sustain the gains that the military has made in counterinsurgency operations in Fata.

China’s interest in Afghanistan appears to be increasing as US forces withdraw from the region. Initially, its involvement in Afghanistan was confined to economic activity and securing strategic materials, such as copper, iron, etc. The US and other Western countries have been complaining that China was taking undue advantage of the security umbrella provided by Nato and Isaf. They wanted it not only to be a consumer but also a provider of security. Now that the US and Nato are pulling out of Afghanistan, China is showing greater willingness to be more proactive in helping maintain the region’s security. Moreover, it realises that Afghanistan’s stability will have a positive impact on the restive Xinjiang province. China’s move to engage with the Taliban leadership and play a more proactive role in Afghanistan should be viewed in this backdrop.

What we are also witnessing is that China is projecting its soft power in our region through economic prowess and sophisticated diplomacy. Another element of China’s soft power that is less talked about is its political stability, notwithstanding its one-party rule. As far as the global projection of hard power is concerned, it will defer that until it has established an advanced and more sophisticated industrial and technological base that can fully support its own blue water navy and a state-of-the-art air force.

The Pakistani leadership should always keep in mind that as China’s footprint in global affairs rise, it would develop more nuanced policies towards Pakistan. While we can expect China to remain a solid and reliable ally, from our side we have to be sensitive to its concern about the activities of militant groups, particularly those of the Uzbekistan Islamic Movement and its allied groups.

Beijing is most sensitive to any disturbance in the Xinjiang province that has suffered turbulence over years. It has zero tolerance for any militancy emanating from Pakistan’s territory. The Turkic Uighurs have rioted against Beijing and seek more autonomy and independence. Some of their rebel groups belonging to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement have found sanctuary in our tribal belt. But Pakistan has since taken several measures to curb their activities and yet the problem persists, albeit in a less serious manner.

China’s new place in the world and especially in the region has positive implications for Pakistan, provided our security situation normalises and we are able to build an infrastructure that can absorb and properly utilise the investments that it is making. China features prominently in Pakistan’s grand strategy but to really benefit from it, we will require to put in continuous effort at fulfilling our side of the bargain. For Pakistan, this is a historic opportunity to benefit from its partnership with China. Much would, however, depend on our ability to transform the state by prudently managing the economic resources and political goodwill being extended to it.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd,  2015.

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Reader Comments (19)

  • Aussie
    Apr 22, 2015 - 2:00AM

    Superb article, General Sahib; not much else remains to be said.Recommend

  • sabi
    Apr 22, 2015 - 2:03AM

    I give the whole credit to NS. He is sincere and has great vision.His sincerity for Pakistan has finally helped him find a great soldier who can keep his government safe from power hungry generals.Fortune favours the braves.Good job NS.Recommend

  • ajeet
    Apr 22, 2015 - 2:46AM

    Any advantage that china had over India got neutralized when India developed and tested strategic weapons a decade back.Recommend

  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Apr 22, 2015 - 3:19AM

    Last year Chinese Exports to Pakistan were over ten billion dollars whereas Pakistan’s exports to China were about half a million dollars. If my mathematics is correct the ratio is about 150000 to 1. With new infrastructure and easy access, I would say goodbye to rest of our industry.Recommend

  • Pir Roshan
    Apr 22, 2015 - 4:30AM

    The Corridor was supposed to be built in the most backward, terrorist hit areas of GB, PKP, FATA & Baluchistan. But it has been diverted to Lahore, the most prosperous area of Pakistan. It reminds me of mineral curse of Africa, which leads to misery & disintegration. This corridor follows the map of Balkanized Pakistan printed in US Defence journal. This is utter joke with the federation. Unfortunately the Nawaz Govt is only Punjab Government, as we saw on TV screens. So this project is mismanaged by the Government from the world go. It is more like China-Punjab Corridor.Recommend

  • Another Indian
    Apr 22, 2015 - 6:18AM

    “Allay India’s concerns”…

    India is concerned?Recommend

  • raider
    Apr 22, 2015 - 9:04AM

    you should write a book on mian sb, his achievements, his money laundering, his plan at model town, etc, etcRecommend

  • Apr 22, 2015 - 11:20AM

    China is now ready to loot pakistan as they r creating business corridore for their export of goods in middle east & other places .but pakistan only concerning about friendship why they are given free hand to other country . Recommend

  • Feroz
    Apr 22, 2015 - 11:33AM

    At best the security situation can be marginally improved, eliminating it is impossible unless a new power structure comes into existence after sidelining those who created and supported the terror infrastructure built. All these investments proposed without a change in orientation is akin to putting the cart before the horse. Recommend

  • jun
    Apr 22, 2015 - 2:27PM

    For Pakistani and Chinese politicians,good for both,their and their relatives’ companies.Now both will loot Pakistan’s resourses in the name of economy,and beside the table,Pakistan generals would have fiesta.I don’t trust all these corrupt people,they have always fooled the public.Of course,US and West who are not our honey friends,but their policies,economical and military interests are far more transparent,not corrupt.If one makes a business deal with honest guy,of course,one can trust that deal.Chinese politicians are very corrupt,more than Pakistanis.Their families,their bank balances in foreign countries,when we read about them,our eyes will open.To some extend,some progress of course.These politicians will spread little makkan on the rotis of ordinary,but the rest of the honey will go to their banks in Swiss banks.Thief would of course shake hand with his type of people,not some honest guy,simple as that.But good try TM Sahib.I always enjoy your commentary.15 years are not far away,lets see what happens.Hope Allah put some fear in the hearts of these politicians which I doubt,even 20% of spending on public would be a great achievement for themRecommend

  • goldconsumer
    Apr 22, 2015 - 4:45PM

    To all those geniuses concerned about pakistan being looted, please have a look at how gccN port cities.Namely dubai and abu dahbi progresed..Recommend

  • jun
    Apr 22, 2015 - 6:35PM

    @goldconsumer: you are genius,comparing those nations with Pakistan,difference between zameen&asman.How many times,how many decades we have tested our politicians.We should be fools to believe who cuts our pockets time after time,telling us to believe thieves.Would you invite a well known thief for a dinner?simpleRecommend

  • Nadeem
    Apr 22, 2015 - 6:56PM

    a million dollar investment by chinese government will lead Pakistan towards Economic boom…New projects New businesses and new investors will come in Pakistan……….due to huge capital inflow employment opportunities will create ….Not only GDP will goes upward as well as there will be economic development in the future years qualitative changes will occur…most important it will fulfill the Government and corporations demand of loanable funds…i expect that interest rate is going to increase……This all will occur if and only our government execute these projects effectively and efficiently….
    our currency Pakistani rupee will also appreciate with the passage of time.
    But punjab is more beneficial province as mian sahb belongs to lahore which is already a develop city as compare to other.And every Pakistani know they are best in corruption and there team is best in fraud and making false statements..these are the drawbacks Recommend

  • salman
    Apr 22, 2015 - 10:29PM

    All I can see by reading comments that most of the people who are talking about looting are PTI supporters or butt hurt Indians.Recommend

  • observer
    Apr 23, 2015 - 9:48AM


    “To all those geniuses concerned about pakistan being looted, please have a look at how gccN port cities.Namely dubai and abu dahbi progresed..”

    The gulf states can’t be compared with Pakistan. These states have huge oil money and can afford to finance any project.

    Pakistan, on the other hand is broke and saddled with terrorism and bad governance. Who in the right mind will invest in Pakistan? The euphoria of $46B Chinese investment is just a pie in the sky as yet. The Chinese will invest only when they can be certain of safe and big payback with steep interest. Any chinese money is not going to be free unlike the American and Saudi largesse. Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Apr 23, 2015 - 2:13PM

    To allay India’s possible concerns as well as that of the West, Beijing has been trying to emphasise that its interests are essentially economic and commercial.

    The General forgot to add ‘demographic’ need in the equation. The Chinese population require “lebens raum” a space to develope further and survive: Adolf Hitler used the military force which China may have to use eventualy in pacific area but across the Himalays and the Europe continent it is using a softer line by acquiring sea ports and economic corridors.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Rex Minor
    Apr 23, 2015 - 2:29PM

    @Pir Roshan:
    The project is long term and can only include the areas of control by Pakistan federal forces, unless you imagine the scenario of Pakistan military guards accompanying the chinese workers. It is no longer a secret that both KPK and Baluchistan are vying for independence similar to what the people of Bengal did!

    Rex Minor Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Apr 23, 2015 - 2:38PM

    You are a great dreamer sir! Unless the people of Pakistan themselves put in their sweat and brain for the land, the infra structure made by the Chinese workers will be ultimately utilised by the Chinese military arsenal.

    Rex Minor Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Apr 23, 2015 - 10:24PM

    @Ch. Allah Daad

    Pakistan Sir has gas and oil reserves as well as other mineral resources under their feet but has not learned to bring them to surface whereas the Chinese have the expertise and the manpower to do the job. Pakistan continues to invest in its large army which has proven itself to loose half of the country from its original size. The Chinese do not require imports but access to world markets for their industry.

    Rex MinorRecommend

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