In 2013 during his visits to Kazakhstan and Indonesia, Chinese President Xi Jinping had unveiled a plan called ‘The One Belt and Road Initiative’ involving infrastructure development and investments in various countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Chinese felt that the initiative will effectively address the infrastructure gap existing in the region and will have the potential to accelerate economic growth across the Asia Pacific area and Central and Eastern Europe. It also envisaged a unified large market to make full use of international and domestic markets to enhance mutual understanding and trust of member nations, ending up in an innovative pattern with capital inflows, talent pool, and technology database.
The initiative termed as one of the largest infrastructure and investment projects in history, it planned to mainly focus on infrastructure investment, education, construction materials, railway and highway, automobile, real estate, power grid etc. There was no mention of any type of military-related projects or transfer of any such technology between the member countries. However, the latest developments and defence tie-ups between China and Pakistan seems to expose the real motive of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as it is called now.
Defence cooperation between the two neighbours is nothing new but the exploitation of the infrastructures and resources of BRI has raised many questions amongst the 70 member countries, which have the needle of suspicion poking them all the time.
After the Donald Trump clipping the wings of Pakistan by suspending a huge amount of security aid, probably the trying to militarize leaning of Islamabad towards Beijing was but natural, but Belt and Road plan converting into a military plan in Pakistan are spreading a sense of uneasiness amongst many. It is assessed by the Pentagon that besides assisting in the manufacturing of Chinese military jets, weaponry and other hardware, Beijing is trying militarized patch up in the space too. Ostensibly enough, all such projects, China considers as part of a purely economic project, The BRI.
Ever deteriorating China-US relations is not hidden from the world and similarly, former’s ambition to project itself as a military might in the world is so very obvious. So, to believe the Chinese authorities calling the Belt and Road project purely an economic project with peaceful intent may be too much to believe. And there is no denying that Pakistan, the good old friend is providing a good strategic platform for the Chinese ambitions in the garb of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a $62 billion project of BRI.
Part of the CPEC, Gwadar town, which is more or less is a Chinese town now, having Chinese-built seaport gives Beijing a strategic card to play against India and the United States if tensions worsen to the point of naval blockades. Though, as of now, it is planned to provide China a quicker route to get goods to the Arabian Sea.
Similarly, another project of BRI, though less talked about is where Pakistan plays a central role is China’s Beidou satellite navigation system. It boasts of having a constellation of 36 navigation satellites with global reach by 2020. As of now, China has 23 satellites in orbit with the last one launched on 19 Nov 2018. Interestingly, as of today, Pakistan is the only other country that has been granted access to the system’s military service, which allows more precise guidance for missiles, ships, and aircraft. The cooperation is meant to be a blueprint for Beidou’s expansion to other Belt and Road nations, however, indirectly trying to end its clients’ reliance on the American military-run GPS network.
“The focus of Belt and Road is on roads and bridges and ports because those are the concrete construction projects that people can easily see. But it’s the technologies of the future and technologies of future security systems that could be the biggest security threat in the Belt and Road project,” said Priscilla Moriuchi, the director of strategic threat development at Recorded Future, a cyberthreat intelligence monitoring company based in Massachusetts.
So, it will not be incorrect to say that China in the backdrop of BRI in general and CPEC, in particular, have designed its projects not only for economic development but certainly to project its military might.
20 Dec 2018/Thursday. Written by Azadazraq