Is ChiPak Com­ing Un­stuck?

India Today - - UPFRONT - By Ananth Kr­ish­nan

Beijing’s man­darins like to de­scribe re­la­tions with Pak­istan as “all-weather”. But in re­cent weeks, the sunny fore­cast has turned to a rare bout of stormy weather. On De­cem­ber 8, the Chi­nese em­bassy in Is­lam­abad is­sued a pub­lic warn­ing, say­ing “ter­ror­ists are plan­ning a se­ries of at­tacks tar­get­ing Chi­nese or­gan­i­sa­tions and peo­ple in Pak­istan”. The warn­ing, cov­ered widely in the Chi­nese me­dia, led an ex­pert in Shang­hai to say “the at­tacks could threaten Chi­nese in­vest­ment in Pak­istan”.

The sub­text, ac­cord­ing to two Asian diplo­mats in Beijing, is a grow­ing Chi­nese dis­com­fort over both se­cu­rity and other ar­range­ments for on­go­ing projects un­der the $46 bil­lion Chi­naPak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (CPEC), a net­work of roads and power projects run­ning from Kash­gar to the Gwadar port on the Ara­bian Sea, run­ning through Pak­istan-oc­cu­pied Kash­mir.

In May, two young Chi­nese were ab­ducted and mur­dered in Quetta. Pak­istan ac­cused them of il­le­gally preach­ing for South Korean mis­sion­ar­ies, and Beijing duly lim­ited me­dia cov­er­age at home over their deaths.

Per­haps the big­ger con­cern for Beijing is dif­fer­ences over sev­eral CPEC projects. First, Pak­istan sur­prised Beijing by an­nounc­ing days be­fore a CPEC plan­ning meet­ing that it had with­drawn the $14 bil­lion Di­amer Bhasha hy­del project be­cause of “strict” Chi­nese fi­nanc­ing con­di­tions that were “against our [Pak­istan’s] in­ter­ests”.

Then, a Chi­nese com­pany all but stopped work on the $2 bil­lion La­hore-Ma­tiari trans­mis­sion line be­cause of “dif­fer­ences with the gov­ern­ment” over set­ting up a re­volv­ing fund, re­ported Pak­istani news­pa­per Dawn, which also claimed that at the Novem­ber plan­ning meet­ing, Beijing con­veyed it would stop fund­ing for three ma­jor road projects as well be­cause of cor­rup­tion con­cerns. Chi­nese of­fi­cials, how­ever, in­sist the meet­ing went smoothly. “We com­mend Pak­istan for at­tach­ing high im­por­tance to both the project and safety of Chi­nese cit­i­zens,” for­eign min­istry spokesper­son Lu Kang said on De­cem­ber 11.

The view among some schol­ars in Beijing is that CPEC’s long-term vi­a­bil­ity is un­cer­tain un­less it can be linked up with other re­gional projects un­der the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) plan. Some of­fi­cials say this would re­quire bring­ing on board In­dia, which is the re­gion’s big­gest mar­ket but op­posed OBOR as its flag­ship cor­ri­dor vi­o­lates In­dia’s sovereignty in PoK. Cu­ri­ously, China’s en­voy to In­dia, Luo Zhao­hui, last month again re­vived his of­fer to re­name CPEC to ac­knowl­edge In­dia’s con­cerns. Luo was speak­ing at Delhi’s JNU, but whether he had Beijing’s back­ing re­mains un­clear as the Chi­nese for­eign min­istry de­clined to en­dorse his of­fer.

In­dian of­fi­cials be­lieve the like­li­hood of China re­nam­ing CPEC or, as Luo sug­gested, build­ing an al­ter­na­tive cor­ri­dor to J&K, re­mains re­mote, con­sid­er­ing China’s gen­eral def­er­ence to Pak­istani sen­si­tiv­i­ties. Whether the gath­er­ing of storm clouds over the “all-weather” re­la­tion­ship will al­ter that equa­tion still re­mains un­clear.

TRACK RECORD A Pak­istani po­lice­man guards Chi­nese work­ers dur­ing the inau­gu­ra­tion of a metro train line in La­hore on Oc­to­ber 8, 2017 ARIF ALI/AFP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.