Silk Road Pol­i­tics

China may have its own in­ter­ests in res­ur­rect­ing the Silk Road but it falls upon the other coun­tries in the re­gion to make the most of the op­por­tu­ni­ties of­fered.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Si­jal Fawad

Rem­i­nis­cent of the an­cient Silk Road that Marco Polo tra­versed, though only a sea-based ver­sion of it, the China Mar­itime Silk Road has at­tracted a lot of at­ten­tion lately. The am­bi­tious Mar­itime Silk Road ( MSR) also has a land-based com­po­nent called the Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt (SREB).

With the help of linked projects and sev­eral in­fras­truc­tural ini­tia­tives along the way, the MSR is planned to reach Europe, orig­i­nat­ing from China’s south­east­ern coast. What arouses in­ter­na­tional in­ter­est in this sea-based route is the num­ber of in­ter­na­tional ports and coun­tries that will link the sea route. It passes through Viet­nam and In­done­sia and sev­eral South Asian coun­tries, such as Bangladesh, In­dia, Sri Lanka, and the Mal­dives. It also passes along East Africa, with Bei­jing’s plans to de­velop ports in Kenya, Dji­bouti, Tan­za­nia, and Mozam­bique. Sub­se­quently, it will come across the Red Sea, Suez Canal be­fore fi­nally end­ing in Athens.

China’s high–pro­file plans have at­tracted a lot of con­tro­versy from in­ter­na­tional cir­cles, par­tic­u­larly as far as the route go­ing through South Asia is con­cerned. With China’s ri­val emerg­ing econ­omy, In­dia, con­cerned over the coun­try’s ris­ing in­flu­ence over the In­dian Ocean, the re­gional po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion be­comes quite com­pli­cated for China.

Now that China has dis­cussed gen­er­ous plans of bring­ing Pak­istan into the Silk Road pro­ject through the China-Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (CPEC) and re­lated in­fras­truc­tural de­vel­op­ment sup­port at the Gwadar Port, re­gional pol­i­tics be­come even more com­pli­cated, con­sid­er­ing the his­tor­i­cal ri­valry be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan. Clearly, the MSR and the China-Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor plans are not go­ing down very well with In­dia and the coun­try does have a lot of in­flu­ence over South Asian po­lit­i­cal dy­nam­ics, as it is the big­gest coun­try in the bloc and the strong­est eco­nomic clout.

Yet, de­spite the roller-coaster re­la­tions be­tween Pak­istan and In­dia on the one side and their re­spec­tive bi­lat­eral ties with China on the other, for­eign pol­icy re­quire­ments war­rant that China main­tain close ties with South Asia as the coun­try has im­por­tant his­toric, com­mer­cial, eco­nomic and diplo­matic in­ter­ests in the re­gion. Like other re­gional blocs, South Asia also holds prom­ise for China in terms of ac­cess to raw ma­te­ri­als and a vast mar­ket. The strength and ex­tent of China’s plans and her com­mit­ment to fol­low through with them has given her an edge over In­dia as far as the re­gional power strug­gle is con­cerned. Yet, se­cu­rity con­cerns and eco­nomic con­straints of other South Asian coun­tries have con­trib­uted to slug­gish progress as far as the MSR is con­cerned.

Take the case of the China-Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor. The pre­car­i­ous se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in Pak­istan, es­pe­cially along the Gwadar coast with the deep rooted in­ter­nal tur­moil in Balochis­tan, means that the promised de­vel­op­ment of the Gwadar Port has borne fruit at a rather slug­gish rate. Last Septem­ber,

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