Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has begun the first of a three day visit to China at the helm of a substantial Pakistani delegation. The main issue of discussion is furthering the goals of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as both countries look to improve strategic relations that have a solid foundation in an all-weather friendship.
Whilst China and Pakistan will always been the foremost nations driving CPEC led innovation, it has been an oft repeated misnomer that CPEC is exclusively a China-Pakistan bilateral project. Instead, CPEC looks to welcome investment and participation from multiple nations that seek to derive unique benefits from being part of the world’s most dynamic transport corridors and the projects that are a material outgrowth of CPEC.
As a central hub in the Belt and Road initiative, CPEC helps multiple countries to realise the benefits of Pacific to Mediterranean trade within a modern context. As Italy looks to join the Belt and Road initiative, a fully functional trading route from southern Europe to China’s Pacific coasts is now not only possible but in many respects, inevitable. As CPEC is the axis of this east-west trading route, its attraction to multiple partners will naturally increase.
Saudi Arabia has become a major investor in constructing an oil refinery in the port city of Gwadar, the southern terminus of CPEC. Other countries including Turkey have likewise expressed interest in becoming more deeply involved in CPEC, not least because Turkey is an important Belt and Road partner in western Eurasia.
China has expressed enthusiasm for further multilateral partnerships involving CPEC whilst under Imran Khan’s PTI government, Pakistan has become increasingly adept at communicating CPEC’s importance to the wider world.
Since the very notion of securing win-win investment, infrastructural and human developmental outcomes implies a mutual benefit to all involved, it ought to go without saying that with every new partner that comes into a Belt and Road related project, the more that all sides including China stands to gain. In this sense, Saudi Arabia’s investment in Gwadar is a win-win-win – one part for Pakistan, one part for Saudi Arabia and one part for China. As Qatar (where Imran Khan will hold meetings on the 21st of January) has also expressed interest in Gwadar’s further development, it is looking increasingly likely that mutual opportunities for both Saudi Arabia and its regional rival Qatar could help to create a new mentality of friendly rather than unfriendly competition among fellow Gulf Cooperation Council members that once had normal relations.
The fact of the matter is that China has repeatedly emphasised that because all Belt and Road partners have a crucial stake in the collective success of the initiative, it is only right that all Belt and Road partners help to promote win-win connectivity measures to the wider world. Clearly, it is not for China alone to extol the virtues of south-south cooperation and economic renewal on a peace through prosperity model – this is ultimately a responsibility that ought to be undertaken by many nations.
From China’s perspective, the success of Belt and Road is dependent on the continued expansion of the initiative and this necessarily means attracting new partners to Belt and Road projects. Likewise, the peace through prosperity model dictates that economic connectivity can help to ease diplomatic tensions and therefore, it is all the more welcome that nations whose positions in the long dead Cold War were at odds, should come together in a 21st century where cooperation and negotiation replaces ideology and pessimism.
Those spreading black propaganda regarding a fake Chinese opposition to Saudi involvement in Gwadar would be wise to remember that when Belt and Road was launched in 2013, China sought the participation of both its all weather friend Pakistan as well as India in the project. India’s subsequent leadership had other ideas, but the fact remains that the doors to Belt and Road remain open for all, whilst diversifying investments in CPEC and other Belt and Road projects remains a clear economic goal for all sides involved. All sides have in fact said as much and economic logic would dictate no less.
It also should be remembered that much like Naya Pakistan, post Reform and Opening Up China does not become involved in the diplomatic disputes of others unless called upon to mediate with the good faith of all sides. As such, China is a partner of both Iran and Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt, Israel and Syria, Pakistan and Bangladesh and its own former Cold War rivals in Moscow.
While the black propagandists trying to undermine CPEC would pretend that China is somehow unhappy that a total of $474 million in foreign direct investment from multiple nations has already flowed into the Chinese constructed Gwadar Free Zone – the opposite is of course true. China wants CPEC to succeed and China wants its projects with other partners to become tied to CPEC in order to expand multilateral connectivity beyond CPEC to a wider CPEC-centred trading route linking the Asia Pacific to both the European and African sides of the Mediterranean.
While certain corners of Pakistan’s vast media sector seek to constantly question positive developments, such engagement in conspiracy theories can be easily exposed as fatuous when on looks at China’s multiple trading, investment and development partners, examines the agreements being signed and augmented, and most of all, when one follows logic. CPEC is not just about expanding bilateral trade between China and Pakistan, CPEC is the core of Belt and Road connectivity in the wider Afro-Eurasian space and as such, the more countries that become involve, the more successful the project will be for decades to come.
As CPEC enters into a new phase of development on a win-win basis, it will be of continued importance for both China and Pakistan to emphasise that CPEC exists not just to improve the conditions of Chinese and Pakistanis, but as a means for the wider world to improve trading conditions by creating new opportunities on a multilateral basis.
In this sense, CPEC is the main artery of the modern global trading village. As such, both China and Pakistan look forward to welcoming new partners into a project that can achieve win-win benefits across multiple continents.