Recent reports of Chinese soldiers seen in Border Tharparkar district of Sind in Pakistan have got the South Block Green Berets and North Block Kautilyas at Raisina Hill to literally sit up. For the MEA pundits, India’s stand on May 2017 Beijing summit is now vindicated. India was the sole major nation that did not attend the Belt Road summit last May that saw participation of 29 other nations. While the leaders of high standing — Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdogan of Turkey – attended, the US sent its Secretary of State.
India sent no one, silently and firmly believing that it was largely a way of the Dragon to entice weak nations into a pit of neo-colonial debt trap from where they may not be able to extricate themselves. The prophecy seems to have slowly dawned on the citizens of Pakistan; the news of Chinese soldiers standing guard over the coal mine project in Thar II Block in Tharparkar against local populist ire notwithstanding.
The Dragon then flew across the Taklamakan Desert on March 22. In another landmark event, Premier of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping reached out to the European nations for clearing issues on the Belt and Road Initiative. The US has cautioned all against Huawei 5G technology; does the European Union’s 10-point strong agenda cautioning against China hold a potential roadblock? Or is the slowing Chinese gigantic economy due to BRI’s wants of gas?
The BRI is a well thought out strategy to take the Chinese influence to the logical destination.
The One Belt, One Road initiative is unique. It covers over 60 countries and aims to build a sprawling trade and infrastructure network spanning Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America. Over the last five years, China has invested more than $60 billion in countries along the route, and according to Xi, trade volume between them has reached 5 trillion yuan ($734.29 billion). There are also claims that 2 lakh jobs have been created along the route. The BRI has come to be known as totem pole of Beijing Silk road, figuratively speaking.
The African side of the story is equally interesting. In the 80s and 90s, China continued to purchase natural resources — petroleum and minerals — from Africa to fuel the Chinese economy and to finance international business enterprises. By 2016, the trade with Africa was up ten times in ten years — from $50 billion in 2006 to $500 billion in 2016. According to another report, in Africa, China loaned $95.5 billion to various countries between 2000 and 2015, the majority being spent on power generation and infrastructure. In many instances, this has ended with China acquiring foreign land leading to accusations of ‘debt-trap diplomacy’.
The Chinese have wonderfully mapped out the path of progress in thought and action on the road map of the future. The developed world is sceptical, if one has the capability, intentions can change overnight.
Was the Middle Kingdom emerging in the modern world with the weapon of all weapons – Trade?
Closer home, China built a road from Khasgar in Xinjiang to Gwadar on the Baluch seacoast. The CPEC route meanders through the Gilgit Baltistan disputed territory. India sees the CPEC, which forms a part of the Belt and Road initiative, as a slow and steady Chinese neo-colonial initiative aimed at creating another metaphorical empire on which the sun would not set.
While it is a contentious issue whether or not the Gwadar port access overcomes the Malacca Dilemma in Chinese energy supplies, India always held that Pakistan’s embrace of the ‘economic’ CPEC was undeniably a cloaked neo-colonial move by China. China is in the process of investing nearly $46 billion in what was purportedly aimed at economic upliftment — bringing up Pakistan’s growth by 15% and making it on a par with India by 2030. This investment was to be largely in power and infrastructure that would spur growth. The presence of Chinese soldiers has clearly eroded Pakistani sovereignty over its own land. The CPEC has certainly started showing its true colours within the first four years.
Pointer to the Future?
Is the presence of Chinese soldiers in Sindh province a pointer to the future? It is worth recollecting that Chachro in Tharparkar district is a town 80 km inside Sind in Pakistan where Indian Special forces raided in 1971. Colonel Bhavani Singh was awarded a Mahavir Chakra for the gallant action. Quintessentially, the Chinese are especially long drawn out in their outlook and strategic thinking.
The CPEC is unique in the sense that it connects not only China and Pakistan but also connects China to the sea through the quickest route from Xinjiang to Gwadar, the deepest port in the world. It could be a pivot to China’s One Belt, One Road concept that aims to connect 60 countries on the Asia and European land mass. To realise this plan, 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.
Is the Sino-Pak relationship truly higher than the mountains and deeper than the oceans? Only time will tell, and that time is not too far away.
With the recent developments pointing away from the Dragon’s influential initiative, it is ideal for a well-meaning nation like India to take the well-being initiative in South Asia forward with Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Myanmar.
(The author is an Army veteran with wide operational, academic and administrative experience)