THE CPEC FACTOR
US started to move out, China began to rapidly scale up its engagement. China’s stakes in Pakistan were dramatically raised soon after Xi’s new government took over in 2013. That same year, Xi told the Communist Party’s central committee that ‘peripheral diplomacy’ would be his focus, starting with a plan to revive the old Silk Road through a land ‘belt’ to Central Asia and a ‘maritime silk road’ to the Indian Ocean. Xi decided Pakistan would be the fulcrum of the plan, named the ‘Belt and Road’, with the land and sea arms converging on the unlikely location of Gwadar, a dusty port in Balochistan that had come under Chinese management after the Singaporeans withdrew, citing huge losses.
Beijing will in the next decade complete what it calls the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), linking Kashgar, in China’s western Xinjiang province, to Gwadar, comprising $35 billion worth of energy deals and infrastructure projects costing $11 billion. The idea is to correct the imbalance in China’s ties with Pakistan, says Han Hua, a leading South Asia strategic expert at Peking University. “We have largely only had a military relationship, but now we are adding a whole new component,” she says. So for the first time, China will be shipping in tens of thousands of engineers, workers and personnel into Pakistan, as well as pouring in billions of dollars. For better or for worse, Beijing is now deeply invested in the country’s success.