Power to influence others is an essential and common trait of inter-state diplomacy which can be classified in the domains of military, economic, political and visionary prospects of countries which may be in the form of soft power or the hard one. China is the real time example of soft power empowered by economic power through the tool of political power as it is said by the Jose saramago (Noble prize winner of 1998) that, “It is the economic power that determines political power and the government becomes the political functionaries of economic power” so, BRI generally and CPEC especially, is a unique apprehension of Chinese soft foreign policy. These days, CPEC has become the most widely discussed strand of Pak-China relations in the regional and global political discourse. The beginning of this bilateral relationship took place during the cold war, the time when in world politics ‘Security’ was a dominating phenomenon, and the common security threat i.e. India became the central point of this mutual partnership. That is why the China-Pak relations were developed mainly in two main domains of political and military collaboration. Both sides supported each other on all international and regional forums and also signed the mutual defense pacts.
Today, the prominent driver of Chinese foreign policy is the ‘geo-economics’. So, the CPEC is an ambitious project which aims to change geo-economics of the region as it consists of multiple; road and rail networks along with the infrastructure development, energy generation units, and special economic zones (SEZs). It will connect the western autonomous region of China i.e. Xinjiang with the Gawadar port of Pakistan located on a critical choke point in the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean. Therefore, the signing of this commercial agreement i.e. CPEC, Pak-China friendship has entered a new era of socio-economic cooperation. This corridor entails a lot of opportunities and challenges as well for both countries. For instance, apart from infrastructure CPEC supposed to bring a wave of social interactions which is not experienced yet by both allies as social interaction remained the lowest ebb of this time tested strategic partnership, which remained a balancer in maintenance of peace in South Asia. Similarly, other than security, there are several challenges which Pakistan is facing and will face in the future too as the project proceeds. Governance issues, innovation less industry, absence of the integrated policies mechanism to have a comprehensive legal framework to ensure transparency, ethnic politics, implementation issues, current economic constraints of Pakistan, and the external challenges especially the Indian opposition and hybrid warfare challenge to CPEC. While on other hand China is also supposed to face multiple local, regional and global challenges like the US administration’s new policy i.e. Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy. In this connection, the completion of CPEC will ensure the accomplishment of BRI which in turn generate a complex competition of economic power projection across the world. Therefore, CPEC has emerged as a challenging dimension of Pakistan-China relations because it will not only reinvigorate the ailing economy of Pakistan but will also end China’s ‘Malacca dilemma’ if completed as it is perceived.
Challenges to CPEC for China & Pakistan
There is no doubt in the fact that, China has emerged as a great power in the 21st century, but it does not mean that great powers do not have, or do not have to face problems. The same is the case with China. For instance, domestically Bejing still has to resolve the problem of ‘separatism’ in Uyghur- the autonomous region of Xinjiang-where the Kashgar city is located, the terminal point of CPEC from the Chinese side. Beijing’s policy towards the Chinese Muslim population of Uyghur has produced negative news reports in international media which generates a bad image of China in the eyes of Muslims of other states. Especially many quarters of the Pakistani population feel worried about Beijing’s policies towards Chinese Muslims and their only source of information is western media outlets. Moreover, China is surrounded by several problems: on one side on land there are separatists of Tibet and Xinjiang, however, on the other hand towards the sea there are disputes of the South and Eastern China Sea. Thus, CPEC is a judicious blend of domestic needs cautiously amalgamated in foreign policy goals. There is a particular Chinese political phrase that we should combine two policies, the domestic and international so, apart from the expansion of Chinese economic outreach, China also wants to overcome or remove some of its domestic problems through the successful culmination of CPEC.
If we talk about Pakistan, we all know that the political system of a state works as a software of national development. We all aware of the fact that a cell phone cannot work if its software is not working so exactly, same is the case with a state. A state cannot work properly unless its ‘political system’ works efficiently and smoothly without any crashes. Unfortunately, the tumultuous political history of Pakistan is root cause of absence of a coherent political system where there are strong issues of Civil-military tussles, ethnic politics, politically driven projects, poor governance, and lack of farsightedness. Pakistan’s Political, judicial and governance institutions lack capacity and policy directions. This situation breeds impediments in ways of national development and no doubt CPEC is a road map for national development of Pakistan but at many platforms federal government lacks the capacity to address concerns of smaller provinces.
If we talk about Economic Challenges, Pakistan was envisioned as a ‘welfare state’ for Muslims of Indian subcontinent. But political circumstances, especially the inherited rivalry from partition of India over the Kashmir dispute turned it into a ‘security state’. The net victim of the turbulent political past and security-driven foreign policy of Pakistan is the ‘Economy of Pakistan’. The inherent geopolitical rivalry of South Asia has hampered the steady economic development of Pakistan, particularly after 9/11, the spillover of the Global war on the terror (GWOT) from Afghanistan to Pakistan has caused colossal damage to the national economy. Presently, Pakistan’s economy is crippled due to the overwhelming debt, low growth rate, unsteady and low exports, and current account deficit. Specifically speaking, the unending energy crisis is another bitter addition to the ailments of the economy which badly affected the industrial base of Pakistan. But in this gloomy picture, CPEC has emerged as the only ray of hope for the crippling economy of Pakistan as it aims to bring a lot of the infrastructural development along with access to new markets for Pakistani goods. To get the maximum benefits out of CPEC, Pakistan needs to do some structural changes and development of new policies to improve its industrial competitiveness. In this connection, there is much ado about working on CPEC, but in the policy discourse industrial competitiveness is missing. Pakistan needs to make CPEC an engine of innovation to reap the maximum benefits of this mega project particularly required by the SMEs which lacks innovation and create narrow down effects on Pakistan’s export market therefore, Pakistan needs to develop policy frameworks for the innovation-driven industry along with new tax regimes concerning CPEC.
The Project not only surrounded by political and economic challenges but its social component has a unique bilateral equation. For instance, Chinese population follows a Chinese folk religion while the majority of the Pakistani population practices Islam. Both are ideologically different too. As the emergence of PRC (People’s Republic of China) is associated with communism. Whereas, the culmination of the Pakistan is the result of the ‘Two-Nation Theory’ based on the Islamic principles. Similarly, there has neither been any common cultural, lingual, or social bridge, nor any other commonality between the Chinese and the Pakistani middle classes let alone for business, for work, or tourism. But contrarily, CPEC has brought a great opportunity for ‘social and cultural engagement’ for both countries now, the question is how it will work? People-to-people engagement is the biggest challenge for both countries at the moment because the Chinese are coming particularly because of the CPEC nut influx of Pakistanis in China is minimal in other parts Pakistani culture as a tool of Pakistani ‘soft power’ is not being projected yet in China. Despite many Chinese language and cultural centers, but still there exist a severe disconnect between the youth of the two countries.
Today, Chinese language centers are working in almost every big city of Pakistan but very few centers are teaching the Urdu language in China which is a huge gap between peoples of both countries. Many Chinese nationals are working on multiple projects in Pakistan and more are expected to come in near future so for them, new arrangements are required but the Pakistani population is not yet encouraged in a systematic way to visit China. Pakistanis do not tend to visit China for tourism, they know very little instead nothing about Chinese culture, social norms, laws, and the market environment. Also, joint film making, screening of Chinese movies and dramas in Pakistan and vice versa are still unexplored areas of social domains. In fact small efforts are made in this domain these days but still there is a dire need to connect people of both sides to develop a harmonious social bond which require a new policy not only to deepen the cultural bond but to encompass a broader social spectrum for mutual engagement according to the current needs. In this connection, indeed, the social challenge needs attention otherwise it may cost a negative shadow on the development of the CPEC.
It is concluded that, South Asia is one of the world’s most vulnerable region in terms of security but it is equally significant because of its strategic location and it is the geographical proximity which turned the two neighbors into a strategic partnership. On one side the Indo-Pak traditional rivalry always destabilizes regional peace while on the other side the Pak-China bilateral equation always stabilizes the regional peace but in today’s technological driven globalized world balance of power is also maintained through economic alliances. Thus, Geo-strategic location of Pakistan makes CPEC of vital importance among other corridors of BRI. Hence, CPEC is a grand plan of re-invigoration of Pak-China relationship from political and military partnership now, towards enhanced socioeconomic engagement. It is a win-win trajectory for both Pakistan and China though it became a paradox of multiple perceptions but we must not forget that no great game or strategic plan is devoid of challenges so, tackling challenges with political will and rigorous efforts can make China and Pakistan achieve the desired results.
[box type=”note” align=”” class=”” width=””]The Author is MD IRP/ Faculty Department of H&SS, Bahria University Karachi/ National Coordinator of Blue Economy [/box]