Pak-China road to pros­per­ity

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - M Omar Iftikhar Email: omariftikhar@hot­mail.com

RE­CENTLY China has been emerg­ing as an eco­nomic power by not only spread­ing its wing over Asia and South Asia, but en­cap­su­lat­ing un­der its in­flu­ence the Western coun­tries as well. Where Pak-China ties have been with­stand­ing the tests of time, they have been pur­su­ing projects of re­gional har­mony and the ones for­ti­fy­ing their bi­lat­eral re­la­tions. In­clud­ing such deals was the China-Pak­istan Free Trade Agree­ment signed be­tween the two coun­tries in 2007 ac­cord­ing to which the trade vol­ume be­tween them in­creased from $13 bil­lion (2013) to $20 bil­lion (2015).

How­ever, last year in April 2015, the two coun­tries signed an­other ma­jor agree­ment, which be­gan the work on the China-Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor, worth $46 bil­lion. This agree­ment has been the cor­ner­stone for re­viv­ing Pak­istan’s econ­omy and en­hanc­ing the trade be­tween Pak­istan and China. Also part of the OBOR is agree­ment to con­struct the Mar­itime Silk Road or the 21st Cen­tury Mar­itime Silk Road. The goal of this ini­tia­tive is to bol­ster al­liance in var­i­ous re­gions of Ocea­nia, North Africa, and South­east Asia via key mar­itime ar­eas, which are the In­dia Ocean, the South China Sea, and the South Pa­cific Ocean.

Where China’s in­vest­ment in Pak­istan will up­lift its econ­omy and pro­vide it with ini­tia­tives for job cre­ation, it will also cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­fras­truc­tural devel­op­ment in ar­eas where ex­trem­ist fac­tions re­side, hence re­duc­ing their threat, and bring­ing devel­op­ment in those ar­eas. There­fore, re­forms are likely to oc­cur in Balochis­tan and Khy­ber-Pakhtunkhwa. De­spite as­sur­ances from Islamabad and Bei­jing, the suc­cess of CPEC can­not be guar­an­teed as Pak­istan re­mains an agri­cul­ture coun­try, its man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor has been stag­nant, and it does not value in­no­va­tion, while the political in­flu­ence re­mains hov­er­ing over all its sec­tors and de­ci­sions.

More­over, Pak­istan may not be able to stay at par with China’s eco­nomic progress and the de­gree of in­no­va­tion it houses in its many sec­tors. Fur­ther­more, Pak­istan must as­sure that China’s re­cent in­vest­ments in Pak­istan must reach the stake­hold­ers and should not be con­cen­trated in the hands of the few – the ones who have been reap­ing fruits of such deals in the past.

In­dia’s pur­suit to gain re­gional hege­mony in South Asia might take a back seat with China in­vest­ing heav­ily in Pak­istan. In­dia might try to re­duce the pace of devel­op­ment works re­lated to the CPEC. How­ever, In­dia-China ties may also face fric­tion and there­fore af­fect Pak­istan-In­dia re­la­tions. In­dia’s re­cent am­bi­tion to be­come part of the 48-mem­ber exclusive Nu­clear Sup­pli­ers Group (NSG) may also ag­gra­vate the ten­sion that Pak­istan and In­dia have been fac­ing for decades.

In­dia would likely for­tify its re­la­tions with US, which it has be­gun do­ing fol­low­ing the re­cent visit of In­dia Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi to the US. More­over, new US Pres­i­dent who will take oath to of­fice on Jan­uary 20, 2017, will likely bring in new for­eign pol­icy ini­tia­tives for both Pak­istan and China and it can af­fect the CPEC or the OBOR. How­ever, with China al­ready ex­ert­ing its in­flu­ence on South Asia, it is un­likely that Wash­ing­ton may be able to sway China from its pri­mary eco­nomic ob­jec­tives and plan with Pak­istan. — The writer is a free­lance colum­nist based in Karachi.

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