By Bhavdeep Modi
The China Pakistan Economic Corridor or simply CPEC, is the flagship initiative of Chinese investments in Pakistan under the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI). Announced in 2014 by Xi Jinping, it is a 15-year package investment in Pakistan by China till the year 2030. The project is valued at $62 billion, as of 2017. This amount is much higher than the total investment injected in Pakistan by the United States in total, till date. Under this initiative, various projects on energy development, infrastructural development, port development and railway lines development have been signed by both the countries. It has been estimated by Pakistani experts that the development of CPEC would lead to creation of at least 2.3 million jobs by 2030. It will serve as the bedrock of growing strategic relations between Islamabad and Beijing, while posing serious threats to various state-actors in the region.
There have been growing concerns among Indian strategic experts & analysts regarding the security implications that are going to emanate from the development of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. These concerns led to India rejecting Chinese requests to join the Belt & Road Initiative on various occasions, citing the violation of its national security and sovereignty. A separate faction of experts and analysts were of the view that joining BRI would give India a much-needed economic boost, especially in the north-eastern states of India, which still remain relatively isolated from developmental projects. However, the security concerns far outweighed the economic advantages that the CPEC posed to India, and India eventually decided to stay out of the Belt & Road Initiative.
To begin with, it would be pertinent to borrow from what James Schwemlein mentioned in a special report for United States Institute For Peace in 2019. He explained China’s investment in CPEC in three ways:
- The development of CPEC would point to China’s attractiveness as a partner.
- That China’s economic model can be exported.
- To use Pakistan as an element of its strategic connection with the United States and India.
China has often managed to win influence over countries by pumping large amounts of money into them, eventually making them dependent on Chinese money. This tactic has been termed as ‘Debt Trap Diplomacy’ in International Relations, a tactic China is adept at playing. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor is a classic example of the same. Post the stoppage of aid from Washington, Pakistan turned to China. Many analysts believe that China timed the offer of CPEC to Pakistan extremely well. The offer came at a time when Pakistan was in a deep economic crisis as a result of being overburdened with debts taken by it through the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Moreover, CPEC serves China’s strategic interests as well, since Pakistan can serve as a major deterrent to India. This fact has always been leveraged by Beijing in order to balance India and exert its influence in the region. And with regards to the advent of CPEC, security implications for India seem to have increased manifold, something which the Indian policymakers and security analysts have been taking into consideration.
Firstly, the biggest security threat posed by the China Pakistan Economic Corridor stems from the increased naval presence that shall follow post its completion. China has already built a military naval base in Djibouti in order to safeguard its interests in the Indian Ocean. At the same time, a meeting between a top official of the Central Military Commission of China and a Pakistani Lieutenant General in 2018, hinted towards the building of another military base similar to the one in Djibouti, near Gwadar, on the Jiwani Peninsula. These threats are in consonance with China’s ‘String of Pearls’ tactic, which aims to strategically encircle India. In this regard, China already has a naval presence in various countries neighboring India, such as Sri Lanka (the Hambantota Port is a recent example), Bangladesh, and Myanmar. Through this, it can easily pose a threat to the Indian national security, since China has a history of maintaining dual purpose ports i.e. ones that can serve both military and civil purposes. Moreover, the naval base intended to be built on the Jiwani peninsula is only 400 nautical miles away from the state of Gujarat, again posing a serious security threat to India. China had also supplied Pakistan with 8 submarines in order to safeguard its interests in the Indian Ocean and near Gwadar.
In line with the naval threat that is pertinent to India in the wake of CPEC, China’s ‘Malacca Dilemma’ also comes into play. According to this theory, China fears that in case it faces a military confrontation from India or the United States, its foes might attempt to block its trade routes through the Malacca Strait. The Malacca Strait serves as a major trade route for China for its energy imports from the Middle East. In order to mitigate this risk, it has been planning to build a canal at Kra Islands in Thailand. Again, this canal would serve a dual purpose, which means that military naval presence can be expected in the future if and when this canal is built. Moreover, this canal would serve as a bypass to the Malacca Strait and open directly into the Andaman Sea, which is a sovereign part of India’s Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Thus, it could pose a serious security threat to India’s national security and sovereignty.
Secondly, security threats also emanate from China Pakistan Economic Corridor in the sense of military presence of China in Pakistan. In this regard, it has been estimated that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China plans to deploy 30,000 of its soldiers to protect various critical infrastructure that will be built as a part of projects undertaken through CPEC. Moreover, the Corridor enters into the Gilgit-Baltistan area in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) through the Khunjerab Pass, which is a strategic area claimed by India. Again, China has undertaken this project in areas that are considered disputed between India and Pakistan. And since China is an all-weather friend of Pakistan, India will be at a relatively weaker position to stake its claim to these regions.
Thus, China’s idea of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) under the Belt & Road Initiative is not just aimed at economic cooperation with Pakistan, but to also serve the purpose of Chinese expansionism in the region. Recently, we have seen India and China engaged in the LAC Standoff, and in the past too, India and China have been embroiled in various border disputes such as Doklam and even the 1962 Sino-India War. To this date, China claims the state of Arunachal Pradesh in north-east India in its entirety, along with the region of Ladakh. India has taken some steps in the right direction by starting naval engagements with countries like Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka. At the same time, India has increased its cooperation with Japan, which shares similar security concerns as India, with respect to China. Recently, India and Japan also held naval exercises in the Indian Ocean, much to the dismay of Beijing. On the same note, India and Australia have also pledged to tighten their ties in the domain of maritime security.