China-Pakistan Belt And Road Initiative: Where To? – OpEd


President Xi Jinping put forward his dream project the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for international cooperation in 2013. BRI is the greatest global infrastructure initiative in history. China has lent over one trillion dollars to Third World countries, becoming a bigger lender than the World Bank, regional development banks, and western financiers combined. This worries the West presently embroiled in a new Cold War with China. To counter this West planned a rival infrastructure which got nowhere. As of January 2023, 151 countries were listed as having signed up to the BRI.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is also the part of this BRI program. CPEC is a $62 billion, initially valued at $47 billionpackage of projects ranging from transportation, energy, port construction, industrial cooperation, and even social sector development.  It has been estimated that besides creating two million new employment opportunities, Pakistan would benefit with at least two percent increase in its GDP per annum, and develop a wider regional connectivity to Central Asia through Afghanistan. Pakistan’s CPEC and the BRI have provided the springboard to the Chinese dragon to leap frog over continents post the US withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan.

Pakistan believed that BRI-CPEC will be their “Alladin’s Lamp and the Genie will full fill all their wishes.” CPEC was believed to be a ‘Game Changer’ for Pakistan with mushrooming up of new industries , increased exports , Gwadar will be the new Singapore-Honkong, all debts will be paid off,  generate jobs and bring prosperity to Pakistan. These dreams have been shattered as Pakistan has sunk in total debt defaults. According to IMF data, China holds roughly $30bn of Pakistan’s $126bn total external foreign debt. This is thrice its IMF debt ($7.8bn) and exceeds its borrowings from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank combined. Now debt-ridden Pakistan is begging around for loans to pay older loans.  

So the BRI-CPEC Alladin’s Lamp failed to get the Genie as Chinese are like any others want their pound of flesh as all is about profit and not philanthropy. Chinese are good businessman as they know how to identify desperate debtors and how to deal with them. The ‘Unbreakable Bonds’ of Pak-China friendship are under stress. “Pak-China friendship is higher than Himalayas, deeper than ocean, sweeter than honey, and stronger than steel.” Wonder why this Pak-China friendship is not coming to their rescue. 

Compare with Chinese involvement in Singapore which is 1,093 times smaller in area than Pakistan. But last year, FDI in Singapore was $92bn compared to $2bn for Pakistan. But Singapore is peaceful while Pakistan is violence prone because of ‘Jihadi’ terrorism. Notwithstanding a special force of 10,000 for protecting Chinese workers in Pakistan, they still live in fear.

Singapore has a workforce that is hard-working, highly skilled, and adaptive. This is untrue for Pakistan. Hence the virtual exclusion of Pakistanis from the BRI-CPEC projects being executed. Earlier promises crumbled away for this reason.

CPEC connects Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang Province with Gwadar Port in Pakistan to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea. More than 400 km of the CPEC Kara Koram Highway almost 900 km NH35 passes throughGilgit-Baltistan (GB) in PoK integral part of India which is located strategically. A long term project under CPEC involves construction of the 682km long Khunjerab Railway line between of Havelian and Khunjerab Pass, with extension to China’s Lanxin Railway (Southern Xinjiang) in Kashgar, Xinjiang. This railway will roughly parallel to KKH, and is expected to be completed by 2030. Chinese companies and labour force are everywhere in GB. Chinese have created ‘No-Go’ areas to prevent locals from accessing these areas. GB region is losing its ethnic identity with planned demographic invasion and settling of population from Sindh and Punjab.  

Pakistan has given China exclusive rights to operate ‘Gwadar Port’ for the next four decades as it is under huge Chinese debt. China’s debt-trap diplomacy has not spared Pakistan, which ranks as its sole strategic ally.  China will take away 91 percent of the port’s revenues. It also plans to build near the port an outpost for its navy. People of Baluchistan including women have been protesting against the sell out to China.

Economically Pakistan is in a greater mess than ever before. Foreign direct investment (FDI) key to economic growth and development is touching the lowest level one can imagine. According to a ‘AidData’ report based in Virginia, China has used debt rather than aid to establish a dominant position in the international finance market.  BRI is part of a grand strategy to build alliances, project influence, and reshape the international balance of power in Beijing’s favour in all spheres. Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port, along with more than 6,000 hectares of land transfer to Beijing on a 99-year lease is the most glaring example of this policy. Over 60 developing countries are believed to be now having debt crisis due to over-borrowing. BRI today instead of buying influence, winning friends is buying hostility.

CPEC may fail under its own weight, due to local resistance in GB and Baluchistan. Pakistan is going the Sri Lanka way like it got sold out through the Hambantota port to China. Pakistan’s BRI-CPEC and Gwadar Port will lead them the same garden path.

Pakistan gives tax exemptions to Chinese companies. BRI contracts are opaque and their terms generally secret and carry high interest rates. Duty-free imports from China have driven many local manufacturers to bankruptcy.  Ukraine stands  near ruined by war but has the West to support, but Pakistan will have to blame  itself for its own doing with no one to support including their  ‘Unbreakable Bonds’ of Pak-China friendship. Wonder why this Pak-China friendship is not coming to their rescue. 

Pakistan media is also now critical of the dream BRI-CPEC initiative. “You must have heard that Pakistan is going bankrupt or that a default or meltdown is taking place. We are living in a bankrupt country,” the defence minister said while addressing a ceremony in Sialkot on Feb 17. Everyone including the establishment, bureaucracy and politicians was to blame for the current economic mess as the law and constitution are not followed in Pakistan. The defence minister said “that standing on one’s own feet was crucial for Pakistan to stabilise itself.The solution to our problems lies within the country. The IMF does not have the solution to Pakistan’s problems.”

For any development a country has to have a peaceful healthy working environment which due to the disturbed prevailing situation because of terrorism and a failed economy does not exist. The emerging scenario in Pakistan is far worse than 1971 when East Pakistan separated to become Bangladesh. “China-Pakistan Belt and Road Initiative ultimately is leading to Nowhere in this emerging scenario.”

Patial RC

Patial RC is a retired Infantry officer of the Indian Army and possesses unique experience of serving in active CI Ops across the country and in Sri Lanka. Patial RC is a regular writer on military and travel matters in military professional journals. The veteran is a keen mountaineer and a trekker.

One thought on “China-Pakistan Belt And Road Initiative: Where To? – OpEd

  • February 21, 2023 at 10:22 pm

    Please stop making false analogies between Singapore & Pakistan premised on peace. Israel does not have peaceful neighbors.. it is has a GDP per Capita that would put India to shame.

    Pakistan’s problem is economic mismanagement whereby a military graduate lords over finest US-trained Pak minds. Unless military mis-management ends Pakistan will continue to be battered by storms preventable by intelligent managers.

    You should refrain from letting your Pakistan-obsession get the better of you P RC!


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