For the last few years, every government in Pakistan has waxed eloquently on how the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will solve all of Pakistan’s economic problems. Five years later, what we see is a worsening economy and the coming to light of certain provisions of CPEC that demonstrate our worst fears: that BRI is not “purely an economic project with peaceful intent” but that through CPEC China seeks to achieve its “military ambitions.”
According to a recent report in the New York Times “China’s biggest projects in Pakistan had clear strategic implications. A Chinese-built seaport and special economic zone in the Pakistani town of Gwadar is rooted in trade, giving China a quicker route to get goods to the Arabian Sea. But it also gives Beijing a strategic card to play against India and the United States if tensions worsen to the point of naval blockades as the two powers increasingly confront each other at sea.”
Further, “a less scrutinized component of Belt and Road is the central role Pakistan plays in China’s Beidou satellite navigation system. Pakistan is the only other country that has been granted access to the system’s military service, allowing more precise guidance for missiles, ships and aircraft. The cooperation is meant to be a blueprint for Beidou’s expansion to other Belt and Road nations, however, ostensibly ending its clients’ reliance on the American military-run GPS network that Chinese officials fear is monitored and manipulated by the United States.”
Furthermore, “Military analysts predict that China could use Gwadar to expand the naval footprint of its attack submarines, after agreeing in 2015 to sell eight submarines to Pakistan in a deal worth up to $6 billion. China could use the equipment it sells to the South Asian country to refuel its own submarines, extending its navy’s global reach.”
According to the New York Times report, “Pakistan already builds Chinese-designed JF-17 fighter jets, like this one. Under a secret proposal, Pakistan would also cooperate with China to build a new generation of fighters. According to the undisclosed proposal drawn up by the Pakistani Air Force and Chinese officials at the start of the year, a special economic zone under CPEC would be created in Pakistan to produce a new generation of fighter jets. For the first time, navigation systems, radar systems and onboard weapons would be built jointly by the countries at factories in Pakistan. The proposal, confirmed by officials at the Ministry of Planning and Development, would expand China and Pakistan’s current cooperation on the JF-17 fighter jet, which is assembled at Pakistan’s military-run Kamra Aeronautical Complex in Punjab Province. The Chinese-designed jets have given Pakistan an alternative to the American-built F-16 fighters that have become more difficult to obtain as Islamabad’s relationship with Washington frays.”
Finally, “Pakistan’s first debt repayments to China are set for next year, starting at about $300 million and gradually increasing to reach about $3.2 billion by 2026, according to officials. And Pakistan is already having trouble paying what it owes to Chinese companies.
The recently concluded meeting of progressive Pakistanis, the Saath Forum, passed a resolution on CPEC: “The participants of this Forum note with concern that the terms of agreement of China Pakistan Economic Corridor suffer from utter lack of transparency and open debate in the Parliament and media. The Forum, thus, demands that all bilateral and multilateral economic, political or other agreements that the government of Pakistan becomes party to, and all federal projects must ensure full transparency and equitable distribution of benefits that should be shared by all the federating units and territories.It is also a matter of grave concern that many CPEC related development projects are resulting in drastic changes in demography in Gilgit, Gawadar and other Baloch areas. There have been instances of forced migration especially from Dasht area of Balochistan under the garb of security to the CPEC corridor. In Gilgit, entire valleys are being vacated for the use of Chinese professionals working on the corridor. In Sindh, the Thar Coal project is producing extremely hazardous effects on the environment, climate change and health of the people. There needs to be a thorough environmental impact assessment of all these projects.The Forum demands that rights of all peoples be fully respected over the natural resources and wealth of the province. The government should ensure the inclusion of all communities and stakeholders in the decision-making regarding projects under China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CEPC).The Forum draws the attention of the parliament to China’s debt-trap diplomacy that it has long been employing while lending to developing nations especially in Africa and Sri Lanka. This policy has invariably brought suffering to the economy and peoples of these regions without being able to uplift the economic status of the people. The Forum urges the parliament and the government to meticulously safeguard Pakistani resources and people’s rights while agreeing to any arrangement with China.”