Asia's Game of Thrones
Pakistan: China’s Next Economic Colony?

An official Chinese document recently leaked in Pakistan, detailing Beijing’s long-term plans for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)—and it’s causing serious concern in India. The Hindustan Times has more:

According to the details, thousands of acres of agricultural land will be leased to Chinese enterprises to set up “demonstration projects” in areas ranging from seed varieties to irrigation technology, and a system of monitoring and surveillance will be built in cities from Peshawar to Karachi, with 24-hour video recording of roads and busy marketplaces for law and order.

A national fibre-optic backbone will be built for Pakistan, not only for internet traffic but also for terrestrial distribution of broadcast TV, which will cooperate with Chinese media in the “dissemination of Chinese culture”.

The Dawn reported the plan envisages a deep and broad-based penetration of most sectors of Pakistan’s economy and society by Chinese enterprises and culture. Its scope has no precedent in Pakistan’s history, in terms of how far it opens up Pakistan’s economy to participation by foreign enterprises.

CPEC is the $46 billion flagship of China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, and it’s been causing India anxiety for some time now, combined with Beijing’s other recent overtures to Islamabad. Indeed, New Delhi went so far as to boycott this weekend’s Belt and Road Forum in protest over CPEC. India’s objections were partly about specific projects—one that runs through Kashmir in particular, and another that will lease Pakistan’s Port of Gwadar to a Chinese state firm for the next 40 years. Its more fundamental complaint, though, is that China’s strategy amounts to an immense debt trap, intended to ensnare neighbors like Pakistan in order to bring them into Beijing’s orbit and encircle India.

The leaked document is certainly reinforcing that perception within India. In a typical reaction, the India Times claims that China’s proposals “would do the East India company proud,” turning Pakistan into an “economic colony of China” and amounting to a “virtual ring-fence of India.” From New Delhi’s perspective, Beijing’s plans threaten to create an unholy alliance between its two main strategic rivals, allowing China to project influence deep into India’s backyard under the guise of a benign infrastructure push.

It’s of course still an open question whether Beijing’s grandiose plans will ultimately come to fruition. Many Pakistanis, after all, also object to the scope of China’s ambitions in their country, and local unrest has already caused early headaches complicating China’s best-laid investment plans. The Chinese document itself acknowledges as much, citing Pakistani security concerns, terrorism risks and tribalism as obstacles to the realization of China’s ambitions. (Some even suspect that Modi himself is exacerbating tribal tensions to frustrate Beijing’s goals.)

The thing is, China’s initiative doesn’t even have to succeed for it to shape events in India’s neighborhood for the foreseeable future…

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