Economic corridor will be lever for all of South Asia

By Wu Zhaoli Source:Global Times Published: 2013-7-30 19:48:01

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

It was back in 2006 that Pakistan's then-president Pervez Musharraf tabled the suggestion of building a "strategic economic corridor" with China. Seven years later, both countries signed a series of agreements and a memorandum of understanding (MoU), which officially kicked off the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

This corridor has gone through a long but stable process from proposal to practice, mapping out requirements for further cooperation between the two neighboring countries.

China and Pakistan have maintained a long-term friendship and mutual trust, which has however largely focused on politics instead of economy. This MoU about the economic corridor will rectify this lopsided practice to make sure the further cooperation between both countries develops in a comprehensive, stable and balanced manner.

According to the plan, this corridor will stretch from China's border city of Kashgar to Pakistan's seaport of Gwadar. But this route is not going to make a bee-line through Pakistan's northwestern regions. Instead, it will draw a "curve" in Pakistan and wind its way through its eastern regions.

This arrangement has aroused concerns among some analysts, who think the corridor has neglected the demand for economic development of the northwestern regions of Pakistan.

But it should be noted that an economic corridor is far more than a pipeline to provide relief to the needy. This corridor has to take economic interests as its priority.

First, the construction of this corridor has to consider operational possibilities before it is initiated. As an unprecedented project which has to deal with many unexpected problems, it will seize as many existing advantages as possible.

Pakistan has always focused on developing transportation networks in its eastern regions, especially Punjab and Sindh, which account for 75 percent of Pakistan's overall railway network.

Therefore, it makes more practical sense to use existing infrastructure when the project starts.

Second, security concerns are a critical cause which helps to determine the path of this corridor. Terrorism is the biggest threat as to whether this corridor can be put in place as smoothly as possible.

An unknown number of terrorists, especially the Taliban, are still stirring up trouble in Pakistan's western regions. Killings of Chinese citizens in Pakistan's turbulent west have taken place in the past.

Security problems leave no alternative to the Chinese constructors of this corridor. And a detour seems to be the wisest choice.

Besides, numerous enterprises will be involved in the construction of this corridor, and there is no reason for entrepreneurs to take high risks of being attacked by terrorists.

Other than terrorism, India's concerns are also posing problems. Kashmir is the first region this corridor will cross when it stretches out of China. The heavily disputed situation in this area will add a few uncertainties. Out of the historical and practical reasons, India holds a negative stance toward the corridor.

But India should know that this corridor will have a positive influence on the economic development of Kashmir, and will not change the de facto positions of both India and Pakistan over this area.

Given both India and Pakistan's desire to explore the economic potential of the disputed area, it is probable that further cooperation might be possible through this opportunity.

This economic corridor will be the backbone that interconnects China with South Asia, and will play a significant role in weaving together the networks of trade and transportation in this area.

This basic idea, to a certain degree, coincides with that of the "New Silk Road" that the US is promoting in Central Asia. The two plans may face competition in the future.

The economic corridor is also the most practical choice for Pakistan to fully tap into Gwadar's potential. Although still at an embryonic stage, it has started to function as a lever to skillfully deal with existing problems in this area, especially the demand to address issues such as poverty and turmoil.

Not only will it optimize the distribution of economic interests between China and Pakistan, but it will also aid to strike a balance of power in the region.

The author is an assistant research fellow at the National Institute of International Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Posted in: Viewpoint

blog comments powered by Disqus