Wednesday, 23 March 2016
China Pakistan Economic Corridor and the Growing Rivalry in the Indian Ocean, Latheef Farook
(This paper on China –Pakistan Economic Corridor and the Growing Rivalry in the Indian Ocean". was presented by Sri Lankan journalist and author Latheef Farook at the two day International Conference on China-Pakistan Economic Co-operation in Islamabad 14 and 15 March 2016)
In the aftermath of the collapse of the former Soviet Union in December 1979, United States, Britain, Europe, Russia and Israel began invading and destroying Muslim countries in the Middle East and beyond in their drive to create Greater Israel by annexing Syria and Iraq.
While the west was busy with their wars, China began peacefully entering African countries, concluding agreements and undertaking numerous development projects besides finding markets for its wide range of products.
As a result China’s trade with Africa which stood at around ten billion dollar in 2002 reached around 180 billion dollar in 2004. China’s four trillion dollar trade and seven million barrels of daily oil is transacted through the Indian Ocean sea route.
Thus the Indian Ocean is indispensable to China. However there were fears that this sea trade route can be choked by blocking mainly Malacca Strait by hostile powers.
To overcome this threat China tied up with its longstanding trustworthy partner- Pakistan started building an alternate trade route as part of an ambitious 46 billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor-CPEC project.
The CPEC is unique in the sense that it connects China and Pakistan only. Also it connects China to the sea through the quickest route. Under this overall program China intends to build a web of networks such as the Southern Silk Road, the Central Asia Silk Road, the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and the CPEC.
It could be a pivot to China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) concept that aims to connect 60 countries on the Asia and European land mass.
One of them was linking the strategically important Pakistani port of Gwadar in the Persian Gulf to China’s Xinjiang region through a vast network of highways and railways, upgrading and expanding infrastructure and overhauling of the transportation infrastructure, sea ports, imports oil and gas pipeline. This land route, shortens distance with the Gulf market by 10,000 kilometers, and it is bound to change the entire geo politics of the region.
One should not forget that one of the main reasons why the now collapsed Soviet Union dispatched troops to Afghanistan was to gain access to warm waters of Persian Gulf.
Thus the development of the strategically located port of Gwadar and a modern airport there also bound to raise concern from Gulf sheikhdoms, Tehran, Moscow to Washington, London, Paris, Tel Aviv and New Delhi.
China also developed its own strategy for the Indian Ocean by setting up a series of ports in friendly countries along the ocean's northern seaboard from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
The Chinese government is also planning a canal across the Isthmus of Kra, in Thailand, to link the Indian Ocean to China's Pacific coast -- a project on the scale of the Panama Canal. This could further tip Asia's balance of power in China's favor by giving China's expanding navy and commercial maritime fleet easy access from East Africa to Japan and the Korean Peninsula.
Simultaneously China is cultivating its relations with countries of the region through aid, trade and defense agreements. One important factor pushing China to build alternative routes is the fact that Indian navy, soon to be the third largest in the world after those of the United States and China, will function as an antidote to Chinese military expansion.
The CPEC will give Pakistani economy an unprecedented boost as the overall project involves development of ports, air ports, extensive road and railway networks, oil and gas pipelines linking Iran and many more.
Pakistan’s only coastline is on the Indian Ocean and it is vital for trade and energy supply besides preventing India from dominating the areas closest to Pakistan.
Pakistan is a country surrounded by many enemies. For example India which played a decisive role in the breakup of Pakistan in 1971, has its own design on Pakistan under its Greater India program that covers the entire South Asia and the India Ocean.
With its ambitious program to expand its influence on land and sea from Iran to Thailand, India cannot view CPEC positively.
Recently an Indian comentator said in a television discussion that Indian border is with Afghanistan. This is cause for concern especially in view of India’s deep involvement in Afghanistan with more than a dozen consulate offces and allegations of arming and funding separatist forces in Baluchsitan.
Already Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed India’s concern during his visit to China in 2015. The Indian Foreign Minister, Sushma Swaraj reportedly told Chinese Premier Xi Jinping that projects passing through Gilgit-Baltistan are "unacceptable" as they require road construction in territory India regards as its own.
However Chinese Premier dismissed the concerns, describing CPEC as a "commercial project" that would not target any third party.
Meanwhile the growing ties between India and Israel should be of concern to Pakistan in view of the two countries declared hostility towards Islam and Muslims.
Bharata Janatha Party,BJP ,one of the deceptive fronts of Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayam Sevak,RSS, was elected to power. RSS’s declared agenda is to turn India into Hinduraj and openy demand that Muslims either convert to Hinduism or leave the country.
Israel, on the otherhand, reported to have spent more than 281 crore Indian rupees to bring to power BJP led by Prime Minister Mr Narendara Modi, the architect of Godhra massacre of Muslims.
Thus the growing Indian Israel ties is deadly threat Pakistan’s very existence.India has now lined up with the United States,Britain,Europe and Israel polarising the world into two groups competing for its zone of influence in the india Ocean. The fear that Gwadar may one day become a Chinese naval base also troubles New Delhi.
One of the biggest Challenges United states is facing in the world politics is in the Indian Ocean where both China and India are emerging as the major maritime and economic powers and posing challenge to US’s decades of hegemony.
It is common knowledge that USA is manipulating regional states to push countries away from Chinese Camp to obstruct China’s expansion in the South China Sea as well as in East China Sea. USA does not want the region to be dominated by any single state because that would seriously jeopardize USA’s long term economic interests as well as disturb the balance of power in the region.
This is specially so in view of the shifting of economic center from the west to the east. If controlled by any [Asian] nation, key choke points in the Indian Ocean, including the Strait of Malacca, the Strait of Hormuz, and Bab el Mandeb, could tilt the balance of trade further towards Asia.
In the Indian Ocean region the United States also has a naval presence in Bahrain, Djibouti and Diego Garcia and engages in exercises with various African, Asian and Middle Eastern countries along the Indian Ocean coastline.
Under the new Washington, Tel Aviv and New Delhi axis, U.S. is courting India to assign the lead role in the Indian Ocean, which is unacceptable to both China and Pakistan. In fact, India’s cozying up to powers that China is suspicious of, compels China and Pakistan to strengthen their alliance further. China-Pakistan strategic naval partnership centered on Gwadar will scuttle the Indo-U.S. ambition of dominating the Indian Ocean.
Europe has strong economic and security interests in the Indian Ocean. European countries are working to obtain rights to mine the seabed of the Indian Ocean for valuable metals, with some foreseeing a rush in the coming years. In addition, European countries have substantial fishing interests; Sri Lanka’s fisheries minister estimates they harvest 48 Percent in the Indian Ocean
Middle East despite its vast resources, military and economic power is in turmoil due to on going US led European-Israeli wars and the treachery of the dictators installed in power by the west to serve them obediently.
Iran is the other emerging power of the Indian Ocean with control of the most crucial Strait of Hormuz, a transit passage responsible for the supply of oil to most of the world can potentially be the cause of triggering conflict in the region.
As rightly pointed out by Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International and Pakistan affairs, Indian Ocean has become the hub of political, strategic and economic activities because of the presence of conventional and nuclear vessels of the major powers in the area and because of its own economic and strategic significance.
One columnist pointed out that Indians and the Chinese are likely to enter into a dynamic great-power rivalry in these waters, with their economic interests as major trading partners locking them in an uncomfortable embrace; while Pakistan would continue to assert its position by establishing alliance with China and by building its own capacity, especially naval power.
He added that what is becoming obvious as things unfold is that no single state would be able to dominate the region singularly; therefore, a sort of multilateral set up will have to be established whereby each country can “equitably” pursue its goals.
Thus the discussions taking place today in Islamabad at the International Conference on China-Pakistan economic cooperation dealing with challenges and opportunities are bound to attract the attention of countries near and far. Ends