China wants Pakistan army to supervise CPEC

ISLAMABAD: China has asked Pakistan government to appoint its army to supervise the economic venture worth of $46 million, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), as various ministries have been lingering vis a vis its execution, according to Islamabad based diplomats.

According to sources, Beijing has been pushing for the military to carry out a crucial plank of “One Road One Belt” initiative. The initiative was designed to increase China’s influence along the Silk Road and help the country export some of its excess industrial capacity.

But progress has stalled as the two sides work out how to turn the proposals into concrete projects, said Victor Gao, a former Chinese foreign ministry official. “On the Pakistan side, there is uncertainty about which entity wants to take leadership or ownership of the corridor projects,” he said. “There is a big debate internally (in Pakistan) over whether the government should take ownership or the military should take ownership. This is what is holding the whole thing up.”, he added.

The riskiness of the route, which traverses many volatile regions, is also a factor. “Because this project runs from Kashgar in Xinjiang to Gwadar, the CPEC’s route is very long and high-risk,” said Huang Rihan at the Center for China and Globalisation. A 15,000-strong army-led security force has already been deployed to protect Chinese personnel assigned to the project.

Ultimately the new Silk Road will connect China’s western region, including the predominantly Muslim Xinjiang province, to the Chinese-funded Pakistani port city of Gwadar and significantly reduce the travel time between China and the Middle East.

But progress by Pakistani ministries charged with carrying out the projects has stalled because of infighting among departments. There have also been domestic fears that the project bypasses Pakistan’s poorer regions and will mainly benefit the country’s financial and industrial heartlands, notably Punjab, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s home province.

“Pakistani politicians have squabbled over the route for the CPEC and this may have made people nervous in Beijing,” said a Pakistan government official. “Pakistan is a noisy place politically while the Chinese are not used to harsh disagreements, especially over such a vital project.”, he added.

Others attributed the hold-up to the long-term nature of the CPEC. “These projects will take many years to be completed, beyond the tenure of any one government,” said a senior foreign ministry official in Islamabad. “China wants to make certain that these projects will be completed as per plan”, he added.

Zaffar Hilaly, a former senior Pakistani diplomat and now commentator on national and security affairs, said, “The Chinese consider the Pakistan army a central player [for the country]. They see the army’s involvement with this project as a guarantee of its success”.

Pakistan’s armed forces have established close ties with Beijing as primary customers of China’s defence hardware, raising concerns in Delhi and Washington over a Sino-Pak military axis. Western diplomats also fear that China may be seeking to further deepen its ties with Pakistan’s armed forces as a means to counterbalance what Beijing sees as India’s expanding military role in the Pacific.

China, however, is more focused on securing a route to the Indian Ocean that would reduce dependence on the choke-point of the Strait of Malacca between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Source: Web Desk



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