The CPEC opportunity

Taller than the tallest mountain and deeper than the deepest sea is how President Xi Jinping epitomised the friendship between China and Pakistan when he addressed Pakistan Parliament on May 20, 2015 during his first visit to what he described as a brother’s home. To fathom this friendship we need to start from the very birth of Pakistan in 1947 and of China in 1949. The two neighbours share a common border over the roof top of the world along the lofty Karakoram and Himalayan mountain chains. The friendship is characterised by the umbilical cord of the Interstate Karakoram Highway that connects the two lands at Khunjrab Pass at about 15000 feet altitude. The Highway is a testimony to the ingenuity, resolution pluck and gumption against Himalayan-size challenges and is rightly dubbed as the 8th Wonder of the World. Superlatives are what describe the ever deepening and multifaceted relations between the two countries.

Pakistan was among the first countries to recognise Peoples Republic of China on May 21, 1951, soon after Chairman Mao won the War of Liberation in 1949. Respecting the neutrality and respect for each other both countries settled the border issues amicably in 1963 to look ahead and cement their relations. President Xi described the legacy of the bedrock relations beautifully in his article written about a week before his scheduled arrival in Islamabad,

“When I was young, I heard many touching stories about Pakistan and the friendship between our two countries. To name just a few, I learned that the Pakistani people were working hard to build their beautiful country, and that Pakistan opened an air corridor for China to reach out to the world and supported China in restoring its lawful seat in the United Nations. The stories have left me with a deep impression. I look forward to my upcoming state visit to Pakistan.”

It is amazing that the President would find time to pour his heart out with very compassionate words and recalls from the memory lane. It was obvious that upon his arrival he would dwell in the hearts of over 200 million Pakistanis which he had already endeared by his outpouring of the goodwill he carried for them.

Both countries have respected each other’s sovereign rights and are committed to non-interference in their internal affairs. Both support each other in their stands for the State of Jammu & Kashmir in favour of Pakistan, and Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang in favour of The PRC based on the internationally respected tenants of justice. The bilateral relations have continued to grow deeper in diplomatic, economic and military cooperation. Both countries are jointly manufacturing modern jet fighters and guided missile frigates. Greatly appreciating Chinese extraordinary strife to elevate the plight of over a billion of its people from the abyss of poverty, and colonially induced drug addiction, Pakistan supports Government of China’s stand on human rights considering the urgency of liberation from poverty as a precursor to broadening the protection for other human rights. The people of Pakistan recognise the intrinsic merit of the socio-political priorities of the Peoples Republic which are fast succeeding in elevating the quality of life of its people and generating the fastest economic growth in the world.

The two friends have complete understanding and consider the new wave of religious extremism as a common threat to both and China backs and appreciates the determined fight against terror by the valiant armed forces of Pakistan at a great cost in life, money, infrastructure and property. Pakistan clearly recognises the potential threat it poses to the Southern regions of China and is a joint partner in this fight with them. The ties and commitment of the two countries are inclusive of benefits for all and not aimed at the exclusion of any country. It provides a radiant model for bilateral ties.

No matter how deep, multifaceted and dynamic base of the existing friendship, it is now taking a quantum leap as part of the President Xi’s grand vision of Eurasian Connectivity through One Block One Road. The President saw the signing of numerous agreements within the framework of China Pakistan Economic Corridor. CPEC would be the most crucial strategic land link between China and the Indian Ocean through the deep-sea Pakistani port Gwadar. Gwadar port contract has already been awarded to China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC) for forty years for further development and operation. CPEC will connect Gwadar with Kashghar in Xinxiang Province in Southern China with about 3000 kilometer direct land route comprising all-weather motor way, rail road, oil and gas pipelines and optic fiber cable. The corridor will cross mountains where feasible and go under through tunnels where required.

China is the largest consumer as well importer of commercial energy in the world. Energy security has to be on top of its national priorities. It imports about 4 million barrels daily in oil and LNG from the countries in the Persian Gulf. After oil/LNG carrying ships cross Gwadar deep-sea port, these travel nearly 12000 miles through Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean, 500 miles narrow, busy and insecure Strait of Malacca and then the disputed South China Sea taking over months of shipping time involving high freight, insurance cost and evaporation losses. Some of cargoes travel thousands of kilometer westward on land by train/pipelines within China escalating greatly the end cost. Long shipping time, higher freight and losses, exposure in Malacca and South China Sea are elements of serious energy insecurity to the second largest economy. The CPEC provides a dramatic option of a secure and direct land route from Gwadar to Kashghar of about 1700 miles length. It provides great flexibility to China to optimally distribute the imports by the existing marine route and the CPEC keeping the end destination in mind. As other regional connections through Burma, Bangladesh develop, China could have the choice of optimal routes for the oil/LNG coming from Africa in addition to the remaining shipment from the Mid-East.

Gwadar is being developed into a free petroleum port; it will provide other strategic energy-related options to China. Some Chinese companies are already in line to set up large coastal refineries in Gwadar for catering to their own and export markets. The free petroleum deep-sea port will also strengthen global energy security by augmenting the capacity of the largest choke point of the Strait of Hormuz. Presently about 25 million barrels of oil/LNG travel daily through the Strait, which is projected to grow 4-5 % annually aggravating the congestion, travel time and costs involved. The major exporters of the Gulf oil/LNG could set up strategic storages at Gwadar and feed these by underwater pipelines for export by supertankers from Gwadar. These options promise a win-win arrangement for the energy exporters as well importers by by-passing the congested Strait.

The corridor will open extraordinary economic growth opportunities to the people of Pakistan all along its route. There would be industrial zones/parks strung along offering manufacturing, importing and exporting facilities. This would create jobs and boost local commerce. The Pakistan government attaches the highest importance to the construction and completion of the project and has commenced work on multiple sections. The Pakistan Army has raised an appropriately equipped special force for its security during construction and operation. Some units have already been deployed at selected locations. The Corridor will connect the 21st Century Silk Road on the Eurasian land mass with the 21st Century Marine Road to benefit not only the people of Eurasia, Central and South Asia but also to contribute significantly to the global trade and security.

This corridor will prove a game changer for Pakistan, China and indeed the region. It will energise Pakistan’s strategist potential of trading hub with Eurasia, Central Asia, West Asia and South Asia. The trading potential would strengthen economic activity and promote peace and stability in the broader region. There is a need for the government to exercise vigilance and not allow controversies that could delay the completion or cause unwanted friction among the stakeholders in Pakistan.