Human beings have always craved community and connection. It is evident from a cursory look at history to realize that the world today, with all its technological and social development, cultural diversity, languages, and heritage is the result of millennia of intermingling of different peoples – sharing ideologies, cultures, and enriching each other. The creations that come from shared experience have built our societies and led to our most monumental inventions and deepest insights about the world around us. Geographical isolation on the other hand has always been seen as the main hindrance to economic progress and development.
Connectivity has, therefore, emerged as a defining feature of the modern economy and a leading trend of the 21st century which is reflected in the increasing demand for resources to be invested in linking communities, economies, and countries.
Connectivity is now considered a cornerstone not only for regional but also for global economic cooperation and integration and has become a key priority, particularly for the countries of Asia and the Pacific. In Asia ASEAN is an example of the benefits of connectivity while in Europe we see the EU benefitting through the application of both soft and hard aspects of connectivity. Improving the flow of people, goods, and services allows for greater efficiency in the distribution of resources. Creating better access to larger markets also increases trade and production, encouraging the growth of local economies.
Whether it was the ancient Silk Route, Grand Trunk Road, RCD rail connection, KKH, Eurasian land bridge, Trans-Siberian Rail or now BRI and CPEC connecting China to the rest of Asia, Africa, Middle East, and Europe have all enriched and developed the nations along these routes. President Xi’s vision of regional connectivity and people-centric development model through BRI should be seen in this context and the established trend of Globalization.
Connectivity has greatly increased the prospects of interstate cooperation which in turn has facilitated trade and economic growth. Enhanced global connectivity and shrinking trade and transport costs have grown in tandem with a proliferation of regional and multilateral trade agreements. Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aims at enhancing regional and international connectivity and represents a win-win model of international cooperation providing new opportunities for economic rejuvenation and prosperity of all countries.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is an important part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its flagship project with Gwadar Port as the Jewel in the crown of CPEC.
The strategic concept of connectivity between Pakistan and China has been in the works for decades. It originated with the decision to build the Karakoram Highway linking Pakistan and China through Khunjrab Pass. The two sides moved towards translating the concept into reality with the decision in 2001 to construct a deep sea port at Gwadar. The financial package for linking KKH to Gwadar port with a network of roads and bridges, reviving the energy sector of Pakistan, establishing Special Economic Zones (SEZs), and project layout of CPEC was agreed upon in April 2015 during President Xi”s visit to Pakistan taking a big stride forward for accomplishing the vision of connectivity and development.
As we celebrate 10 years of this project, CPEC has become a distinctive symbol of enduring friendship with China and occupies a central position in the development agenda of Pakistan. This model of development fully resonates with Pakistan’s own vision and firm belief that CPEC is a “game-changer” not only for Pakistan but the entire region. Connecting Gwadar Port to China through a network of highways, railways, pipelines to transport goods, technology, oil and gas,, and fiber optic cable for the flow of knowledge, presents enormous opportunities to people from Gwadar to Kashgar and beyond.
Robert D Kaplan said that “the word Pakistan sums up the Indian Sub-continent” Pakistan is blessed with a profound blend of landscapes, ranging from the coastal areas of the Arabian Sea in the South and to the mountains of the Karakoram Range in the North. Geologically Pakistan overlaps the Eurasian, Iranian, and Indian tectonic plates. Pakistan has a long coastal line of over 1050 Km along the Indian Ocean, which stretches along the provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan. In addition to this Pakistan’s maritime sovereignty includes Exclusive Economic Zones (EES) of 240,000 sq. Km and 50,000 Sq. Km of the Continental Shelf, which become greater than the combined area of the provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This vast swathe of sea area is not only a route for international maritime trade but also rich in bio-productivity and bio-diversity.
Additionally, Pakistan is situated at the nexus of the four most dynamic regions of the world – China, South and South-East Asia, the Middle East, and Central Asia. In the current changing world scenario, China has assumed great importance in the region where Pakistan is a close partner of China to pursue peace and stability in the region. Through CPEC Pakistan and China should aim at the establishment of an efficient and integrated system of communications and transport, in order for both to benefit from and contribute to the regional dynamism. If Pakistan wants to be part of the global production networks and value chain, we have to fully grasp the concept of economic corridors and cross-country partnerships. The success of economic corridors in Asia is based on the concept of how domestic trade and subsidy policy can be linked to SEZs and trade agreements.
Pakistan is now actively promoting economic corridors and the experiences of China and ASEAN countries in promoting and developing regional and sub-regional corridors will benefit Pakistan/ China, countries of South and Central Asia, and beyond.
Simultaneously the world is witnessing significant political, strategic, and economic transformation and it would not be wrong to say that the world is in flux. The end of the cold war heralded the emergence of numerous fast-developing economies in Asia, South America, Africa, and the phenomenal rise of China, strengthening the expectation of the establishment of a multipolar world by the middle of the 21st Century. On the other hand, slow economic growth and rising domestic pressures are weakening the ability of developed economies to maintain their authority on the global platform.
In this scenario, crucial geopolitical variables that will influence global development over the next few decades include the ability of main emerging markets to successfully deliver on substantial economic and political reforms, and the willingness of leading powers to cooperate economically and on global governance issues. Thus, across the world, the tension between the domestic imperatives of growth and stability is setting the mood for international relations.
U.S.-China containment currently forms the most important instance of great-power Competition. As a result, it holds within itself the key to the all-important question of global stability and continued peace. The intensification of Sino-American competition has come about as a result of the belated realization by the U.S. of the systemic challenge that China’s unhampered rise by means of its peaceful development poses to the unparalleled hegemony enjoyed by the U.S. in the world system. It seems that this realization by the strong combination of long Sino-American economic interdependence, the lingering strategic compass of Cold War thinking and behavior, and the strategic sluggishness induced by the brief spell of American unipolarity. As China emerges, it is important to understand what role it will play and the security perceptions it has of both Asia and the world.
President Xi announced the holding of the Belt and Road Forum in 2023. The return of the forum signals not only a renewed drive but an extremely significant landmark as the BRI, launched in Astana and then Jakarta in 2013, will be celebrating its 10th anniversary. This will certainly set the tone for 2023 across the whole geopolitical and geo-economic spectrum. China is keenly focused on solidifying concentric spheres of geoeconomic influence across the Global South.
In West Asia, BRI projects will advance especially fast in Iran, as part of the 25-year deal signed between Beijing and Tehran and the definitive demise of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – or Iran nuclear deal – which will translate into no European investment in the Iranian economy.
In the Arab world, china is already increasing its influence both political and economic. President Xi’s December 2022 visit to Saudi Arabia is the diplomatic blueprint on how to rapidly establish a post-modern quid pro quo between two ancient, proud civilizations to facilitate a New Silk Road revival. Similarly, China is keen to work with the GCC to set up a new paradigm of all-dimensional energy cooperation within a timeline of three to five years. BRI’s future is further strengthened by a proactive Chinese economy and connectivity with both East and South Asia. For China, the stakes could not be higher, as the drive behind expanding BRI across the Global South is not to allow China to be dependent on Western markets. Evidence of this is in its combined approach towards Iran and the Arab world.
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is one the most component components of BRI the lynchpin to the success of the CPEC is the Gwadar port. The China–US competition has serious Implications for Pakistan. Being a key littoral state of the IOR, it is the responsibility of Pakistan to not only safeguard its interest but also remain out of any potential conflicts. This is not easy due to the political power play in the Indian Ocean. The rivalry between China and India in which the latter is being supported by the US has made Pakistan a party to the conflict and yet another implication is the Indian efforts to isolate Pakistan on the global front. The Indian government has made strong ties with the Gulf countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia that have traditionally supported Pakistan in international forums.
To safely navigate through this period of flux both China and Pakistan need to single-mindedly focus on the completion of BRI, particularly the successful completion of CPEC which is the buckle that holds BRI together with Gwadar Port the jewel in the crown of CPEC. Gwadar has a great strategic location. This sand will become gold. However for this dream to become a reality, Gwadar port needs to become fully operational and start to handle much greater volumes of cargo than being done presently. This will only happen once all the planned SEZs are developed and industries start to operate and export products in both East and West words.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), in this case, serves not only as a lifeline for Pakistan’s traditional economy but also serves as a womb for the birth of Pakistan’s blue economy. CPEC-which is not just a single road project but a multi-sectorial direct Chines investment in Pakistan, has galvanized many sectors of Pakistan’s economy. Under these lofty Chinese investments, Pakistan’s blue economy shines like gold.
CPEC offers immense opportunities to explore and exploit the untapped blue economy of Pakistan.
Along with regional connectivity, an enhanced maritime partnership between China and Pakistan under CPEC can ensure sustained economic growth for Pakistan in particular and the region in general. Being a signatory of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG-14), Pakistan has already taken the path of Blue development. However, under the umbrella of CPEC Pakistan can not only learn from China’s maritime advancement but can also transform its relationship with China on the basis of a ‘Blue Partnership’. This partnership has already started with the development of the Gwadar Port, which is considered a harbinger of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Owing to Pakistan’s geography and vast maritime sovereignty, looking towards the seas for sustained economic growth remains the only viable option for Pakistan to support its falling economy.
China also makes strong links to the UN SDGs and uses the 2030 Agenda to frame its development efforts. China is increasing its emphasis on governance, climate change, health, humanitarian assistance, agriculture, food security, infrastructure, as well as education and training. China is now exploring and focusing on sectors and expanding investments in areas strongly linked to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The recently announced Global Development Initiative of China squarely focuses on socio-economic development and mitigating the effects of climate change menacing venerable countries like Pakistan.
Pakistan’s unique geostrategic position presents both opportunities and challenges. In the development of marine trade and ports, geographic location, investment and timely implementation of policies are crucial factors for the success of the blue economy in Pakistan. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) roads and rail networks have the potential to increase economic activity for Pakistan and its neighboring countries, and the ports along the Arabian Sea will provide access to markets across the major regions of the world.
Trade operations in Pakistan’s waters and specifically Gwadar port will result in an increase in workload for the shipping and shipbuilding industries. Growing in each of these areas will help Pakistan’s economy and open the way to financial independence.
Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aims at enhancing regional and international connectivity and represents a win-win model of international cooperation providing new opportunities for economic rejuvenation and prosperity of all countries. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is an important part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its flagship project with Gwadar Port as the Jewel in the crown of CPEC. Pakistan is situated at the nexus of the four most dynamic regions of the world – China, South and South-East Asia, the Middle East, and Central Asia. In the current changing world scenario, China has assumed great importance in the region where Pakistan is a close partner of China to pursue peace and stability in the region.
Despite the strong opposition of the West to BRI, an increasing number of countries around the world, including European states are joining the BRI as they realize that this trend of comprehensive connectivity in the 21st century is irreversible. Although the West criticizes BRI and targets China’s peaceful intentions, it realizes that connectivity is the way forward to global peace and development and the US has therefore announced its own connectivity initiative and has allocated US dollars six billion for the project. Therefore it is my considered view that BRI and its flagship project CPEC will not only be completed but will be central to ensuring the peace and development of not only the region but beyond.
the Author is a retired diplomat with over 37 years of distinguished service in the Foreign Service of Pakistan. During her career, she held key positions, including Ambassador to China, the European Union, Ireland. She also served as Deputy Head of Mission to China and Denmark. With expertise in various areas, she held significant roles at the Foreign Office, including Additional Foreign Secretary for America’s and Director General Policy Planning.
In addition to her diplomatic career, she is actively engaged as Vice Chair of the Council on Global Policy and a member of the Board of Directors of First Women Bank. She serves as an advisor to the China Study Center at ISSI and Kestral International. Furthermore, she is a prolific writer, contributing regularly to esteemed magazines and newspapers. As an accomplished author, she has published several books, including “Magnificent Pakistan” and “Pakistan-China-All Weather Friendship.” Her dedication and expertise continue to impact the field of international relations. She tweets @AmbNaghmanaHash.