By Seymur Mammadov
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan is going to visit Beijing this week to attend the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. In addition to participating in the forum, the Prime Minister will also hold bilateral meetings with President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang. The visit also envisages the signing of several pacts to expand cooperation and the meeting of Imran Khan with the leaders of corporations and businesses. The cooperation of Pakistan and China in recent years covers many areas: this activity on the construction of the Chinese-Pakistani economic corridor, defense cooperation and performance of a single diplomatic “front” in the international arena.
However, the priority area of cooperation between China and Pakistan is undoubtedly the China-Pakistani Economic Corridor (CPEC). For Pakistan, this project is extremely important in terms of improving the efficiency of the country’s economic system, overcoming a number of problems in the social sphere of the country. As for China, firstly, thanks to this project, Beijing managed to oust Washington from Pakistan. Today we see that the levers of American influence in Pakistan have almost completely weakened. Secondly, it provides China with the shortest way to access global markets, connecting four important regions – Western China, South, Central, Western Asia. Third, it stimulates the economic activity of South Xinjiang, which currently has a weak production base.
Therefore, during Imran Khan’s visit to China, the focus will be on discussing the situation around the CPEC. More specifically, if earlier the China-Pakistan cooperation involved the construction of roads and power stations, today Pakistan is interested in the development of such areas as agriculture, education, health care and water supply within the framework of the CPEC. The main tasks facing the new government of Pakistan today are to improve the well-being of the people and reduce the level of poverty, illiteracy and disease in the country. We see how it is taking active steps in this direction. After all, it was not by chance that on March 25, China allocated $ 2.1 billion to Pakistan. This money will be spent on the development of the above areas and not only. Considering the fact that the Chinese have an enormous experience in adopting social and economic reforms, in the near future we will see progress in these areas.
I believe that Pakistan is on the right path and if Prime Minister Imran Khan succeeds in making progress in the fields of agriculture, education and health, I am sure that confidence in him and his closest circle will increase several times. Why am I saying this? Because thanks to successfully implemented social programs in Azerbaijan, the level of poverty and unemployment has declined many times. The poverty level in Azerbaijan is currently 5.4 percent, and in 2001 it was 49 percent. See, what a big difference? There is no doubt that the funds allocated by the Chinese side will be spent in the interests of the Pakistani people.
Moreover, Beijing and Islamabad have been set the task of increasing bilateral trade from 12 to 20 billion dollars. By the way, during Imran Khan’s visit to China, the first step will be taken to achieve this goal. The signing of an agreement on the expansion of the free trade zone is expected. Although this document was signed with China in 2007, after the creation of the China-ASEAN free trade zone, certain changes had to be made to the conditions of the zone. After the signing of the new agreement, China will open duty-free access for more than 300 Pakistani goods, which will bring bilateral trade to a new level.
Speaking about the foreign policy aspect of the CPEC, I want to note that for a more dynamic and rapid development of this project, it is necessary to involve Russia, Iran, India, a number of countries in Central Asia, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, etc. In my opinion, Russia’s participation in CPEC, including in the use of the port of Gwadar, can give impetus not only to Russian-Pakistani, but also to Chinese-Russian cooperation and become a demonstration project of the One Belt – One Road Initiative. For example, it will be most convenient for Russia to join through Kazakhstan. There is another option – Russia is building a North-South transport corridor through Azerbaijan and Iran to facilitate trade with India, so that the land transport infrastructure of this route can be used for trade with Pakistan if the Iranian port of Chabahar will be connected to the Pakistani port of Gwadar.
As for the participation of Iran in CPEC, recently the Prime Minister of Pakistan paid a visit to Iran. President Hassan Rouhani said that Iran is ready to supply oil and gas to Pakistan and to increase the export of electricity to the country tenfold. He also said that Tehran is interested in expanding trade between the Iranian ports of Chabahar and Pakistan’s Gwadar, connecting them with the railway. Iran today is experiencing not the best of times under pressure from US sanctions, so it is increasingly interested in deepening cooperation with the countries of the East, in particular with Russia, China, India and Pakistan. Islamabad and Tehran should strengthen bilateral trade. Moreover, there is every reason to expand cooperation. CPEC for Iran is a window of opportunity to break out of international isolation. The ports of Gwadar and Chabahar should complement each other for mutual benefit.
If the port of Gwadar will be connected with the port of Chabahar, then Pakistan will have more opportunities for more in-depth cooperation with the countries of the Persian Gulf, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, etc. Moreover, Central Asian countries are interested in strengthening bilateral trade with Iran through the port of Chabahar.
CPEC causes special concerns in the United States. By 2022, CPEC will provide Beijing with unhindered access through the Gwadar port to the Strait of Hormuz and then to the markets of the adjacent continents. But most importantly, Beijing will be able to control the movement of oil tankers from Middle Eastern countries to the United States, which are one of the largest consumers of crude oil from the Middle East.
CPEC for China is a route that connects West China with the Middle East and Africa. But there is one problem – part of the corridor passes through Pakistani territories, for control over which New Delhi and Islamabad continue to fight. Therefore, I believe that Beijing should be reconciled with India. But I do not see any prerequisites for India’s joining CPEC in the near future. And Afghanistan is not interested either. Kabul is now engaged in the implementation of the Lyapis-Lazuri transport project, a corridor that connects Afghanistan with Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.
Summing up the above, I want to note that CPEC can radically change the regional dynamics of trade. Of course, everything depends on the will of the heads of state and government. I believe that this project can bring big dividends not only to the neighbors of Pakistan, but also to other countries that will take part in it.
The writer is the director of the international expert club EurAsiaAz and editor-in-chief of the Azerbaijani news agency Vzglyad.az.
The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of Dispatch News Desk.