China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)

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    In News

    • In a reference to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), at a virtual meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), India’s External Affairs Minister recently reiterated that connectivity projects (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)) should respect sovereignty and territorial integrity.

    About

    • The External Affairs Minister also pitched for more trade through Iran’s Chabahar port and the International North South Transport Corridors (INSTC) that India is a part of, aiming to improve bilateral trade with Central Asian countries. 

    About China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)

    • Launched in 2015, the CPEC is the flagship project of the multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a pet project of Chinese President Xi Jinping, aimed at enhancing Beijing’s influence around the world through China-funded infrastructure projects.
    • The 3,000 km-long China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) consists of highways, railways, and pipelines.
    • CPEC eventually aims at linking the city of Gwadar in South Western Pakistan to China’s North Western region Xinjiang through a vast network of highways and railways.
    • The proposed project will be financed by heavily-subsidised loans that will be disbursed to the Government of Pakistan by Chinese banks.

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    Significance

    • The agreement is aimed at boosting Chinese investment in Pakistan as well as transferring Chinese industrial capacity.
    • The framework will promote industrialisation and development of economic zones, and initiate, plan, execute, and monitor projects, both in the public as well as the private sectors.
    • The corridor links Xinjiang with Gwadar and also passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) where China is investing in a number of projects.
    • CPEC’s early-harvest projects had transformed Pakistan’s economic landscape, thus laying a solid foundation for sustainable economic growth.

    Challenges associated with the plan 

    • Delays in execution: The CPEC projects were also facing delays because of the change in taxation policies by the last government in violation of commitments given to China.
    • Pakistan’s failure: The Chinese authorities were irritated because of Pakistan’s failure to honour its contractual obligations under the CPEC framework.
    • Financial crisis: China is also concerned over the acute financial crisis faced by Pakistan, prompting it to step in periodically to bail it out with induction of foreign exchange loans.
    • Pakistan was a critic of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) earlier for its secrecy and uneven investments neglecting certain provinces of the country.
    • India has protested to China over the CPEC as it is being laid through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
    • A report by US-based international development research lab AidData said that a substantial chunk of Chinese development financing under the CPEC consists of loans that are at or near commercial rates as opposed to grants.
    • Lack of transparency: As much as 40 percent of China’s lending to Pakistan does not appear on the government’s books.
    • Laxity: The project is behind schedule and only three of the total 15 projects announced have been completed so far.
    • China’s debt trap policy: Critics also foresee that the weak economic indicators of Pakistan might lead to a possibility of the country defaulting on debt repayments, as Chinese loans have high interest rates.

    India’s Concerns

    • Violation of Indian Sovereignty: 
      • The project violates the sovereignty of India as it passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), which is a disputed territory between India and Pakistan. 
      • As per well-established international conventions, no construction is allowed in any disputed territory, without taking the other country into confidence.
    • Exploitation of Natural Resources: 
      • Under CPEC, China plans to build two mega-dams on the Indus, named Bunji Dam and Bhasha Dam. 
      • This will put a heavy strain on the Indus Water Basin.
    • Security Concerns for India: 
      • Increase in China’s Activities in IOR: 
        • With Gwadar being a part of CPEC, India fears an escalation of PLA Navy activities in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). 
      • Threat to Indian Trade and Connectivity: 
        • Majority of Indian tangible imports pass through the Strait of Hormuz. 
        • China can easily create impediments to its access to the Middle-east in case of a conflict, jeopardizing India’s energy security.
      • Enhanced threat from Pakistan: 
        • With the overhauling of the Karakoram Highway, Pakistan will enjoy an advantage in mobilizing troops as well as heavy military equipment to PoK. 
        • At the same time, an increase in financial returns to Pakistan through CPEC may expand its ability to fund military infrastructure as well as state-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir, thus destabilizing the region.

    Way ahead

    • Maintain Communication: 
      • Experts have advocated that India maintain communication and cordial relations with its neighbours. 
      • In such a context, India has done well to keep participating in forums like Shanghai Cooperation Organization to maintain communication with both Pakistan and China.
    • International Collaboration: 
      • It is well settled that India cannot compete with China in the matter of financing developmental projects like CPEC in other developing countries. 
      • Therefore, it needs to collaborate with agencies like Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to offer soft loans to save them from falling into the Chinese debt trap.
    • Security Concerns: 
      • Developing countries, especially the countries of Southeast Asia have pinned their hopes on India to counter China’s hegemony in the region. 
      • Here, India needs to build on alliances like Quad to maintain the balance of power in the Indo-pacific region.

    Source: IE