The latest in the warm-and-warming China-Pakistan relationship is a $46 billion development deal set to be rolled out when Xi Jinping heads to Islamabad next week. There may also be some big arms sales to ice the cake. Reuters reports:
Pakistan and China often boast of being “iron brothers” and two-way trade grew to $10 billion last year from $4 billion in 2007, Pakistani data shows.
Xi’s trip is expected to focus on a Pakistan-China Economic Corridor, a planned $46-billion network of roads, railways and energy projects linking Pakistan’s deepwater Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea with China’s far-western Xinjiang region.
It would shorten the route for China’s energy imports, bypassing the Straits of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia, a bottleneck at risk of blockade in wartime. […]
Also being finalised is a long-discussed plan to sell Pakistan eight Chinese submarines. The deal, worth between $4 billion and $5 billion, according to media reports, may be among those signed on the trip.
This deal has been in the works for a long time. The subs and the refueling base in Gwadar in particular are sure to give heartburn to India. But the scope of the rest of the investments is notable. This could be the biggest step yet in China’s “New Silk Road Economic Belt” plan, the land-based twin of its “Maritime Silk Road” strategy for trade and military power at sea. If China gets its way, and if it spends enough money, it will establish a network of roads through which goods can get to and from the Middle East and the Indian Ocean without passing through the territory of any geopolitical rivals.
Reading the Reuters report closely, the quotes appear to all be coming from Pakistani sources. Pakistan would certainly welcome the investment, especially as it would show that Islamabad has other options at a time when relations with one of their big partners, Saudi Arabia, have encountered some turbulence. The Chinese, for their part, have shown that they’re not above driving a hard bargain when they sense their negotiating partner is needy. The deal will no doubt be big, but it will be interesting to see if and by how much the figures differ once it is officially announced.