China’s pharaonic project gave the “green light” for the expansion of the BRI in the geopolitical earthquake of Pakistan!

By | May 1, 2023

It will be a modern copy of the ancient Silk Road trade.

Chinese President Xi Jinping marked the biggest Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) transportation project of the railway line between Kashgar in East Turkestan (Xinjiang) in the Pakistani port of Gwadar in the Arabian Sea.

China took the initiative knowing the strategic importance and far-reaching impact it would have on East-West trade and communication. The project could cost China 400 billion yuan, equivalent to 888 tons of gold at current prices, or 58 billion US dollars.

Although the idea of ​​a railway line between Kashgar and gwadar It existed for a long time with Chinese legislators when the Karakoram Highway was planned, it was degraded for some time, firstly due to COVID-19 and later due to various safety issues.

The pandemic is almost over worldwide, although, in China, some areas are still affected. However, the Chinese authorities have found favorable conditions to reconsider the big project.

The proposal for this rail connectivity was evaluated by scientists from the state-owned China Railway First Survey and Design Institute Group Co. Ltd. led by the institute’s deputy director of capital operations, Zhang Ling.

Why is China making this big investment?

What drives China to invest in such a big project? The research shows that the project has “the potential to reshape trade and geopolitics across the Eurasian continent and should be supported.”

Without a doubt, this is a remarkable project that involves great expense, skilled and unskilled labor, and the risk of loss of life that usually occurs when a project of this magnitude is carried out in the difficult terrain of the Himalayas.

It’s not hard to understand China’s vision for this 3,000 km (1,860-mile) rail link. By reviving the Silk Road connection from medieval times in its modern form, China will connect its western region with the Arabian Sea.

It means that China will bypass the Strait of Malacca, thereby reducing its dependence on the South China Sea. Even in a Malacca Strait blockade scenario, China’s access to the Eurasian mainland and beyond will not be stopped.

The railway project is part of China’s BRI. It means that China can connect to transportation networks. Afghanistan, Iran, Trans-Caspian and Türkiye and then with the European countries. Pakistan will be a beneficiary country because the nation will have easier and faster trade with China. It will be the modern replica of the ancient trade of the Silk Road.

Shifting the balance of power away from the West

In terms of geopolitical impact, the infrastructure initiative will become a catalyst to shift the balance of power away from traditional Western-dominated trade routes. It will realize the idea of ​​a multipolar world that China insisted on.

The rail link is vital for the development of trade and commerce, and the countries through which it passes will have a good chance of improving the standard of living of their people. Europe must reshape its trade and transport strategy. It also has enormous employment potential.

But ultimately, it’s a matter of capital investment. Who will bear the cost? Two countries are involved, China and Pakistan.

Looking back at China’s investment policy in such projects, BRI construction projects received substantial funding from host countries, and China’s contribution was much less.

For example, on the $3.8 billion Mombasa-Nairobi railway, China provided only 5% of the total cost and the Kenyan government provided the remaining 95%. China provided 30% of the US$4 billion in funding for the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway line in Ethiopia.

Similarly, China covered 75% of the $5.9 billion cost of the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway, with Indonesian state-owned companies providing the rest.

But Pakistan will not be able to contribute to the project in the context of its financial and economic disaster. Its Gross Domestic Product last year was US$370 billion, about six times the cost of the project.

The survey report says: “Due to energy shortages, poor investment environment and fiscal deficits, Pakistan’s economic growth rate is under pressure. In terms of investment and railway construction, Pakistan cannot provide enough financial and material support and mainly depends on Chinese companies for investment and construction.”

Security questions about the project in Pakistan

In addition to the geologically complex terrain along the route and the technical challenges that will be faced in the construction and operation of the railway, there is also the problem of supporting infrastructure such as ports and logistics facilities, which are almost unavailable in Pakistan.

There may be other non-technical issues. For example, Pakistan’s labor policies may not be static and may change with changing regimes. The politics of Pakistan is the true determinant of its labor policy.

Along with this is the complicated politics of the security deficit in Pakistan due to the presence of highly radicalized elements in that country, who tend to kidnap critical people for ransom. China already faces opposition in Balochistan and the port of Gwadar has experienced lengthy strikes and closures.

Chinese workers suffered from terrorist attacks in the Quetta and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa regions. Once China realized that Pakistan could not provide full life insurance to its workers in Pakistan, it threatened to shut down the projects. More than once, Pakistan has had to seek justification from the Chinese authorities for its security lapses.

It seems that China may introduce its security system in Pakistan to ensure that the developers of the trans-Karakoram railway have security. Pakistan is said to have already handed over much of its vital infrastructure to China. Beijing will not move forward unless it has devised a reliable mechanism to safeguard the lives of its workforce involved in building the vital rail link.

Shaksgam Valley Challenge

Last but not least, a hurdle for the project is that the railway will pass through the Saxgam Valley, bordering Gilgit-Baltistan in the west and Ladakh in the south, which India claims is under illegal occupation by Pakistan. Pakistan ceded some 5,000 square miles of the Saxgam Valley to China, where the former built a railway to Lhasa.

India has warned both Beijing and Islamabad that all of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and the Saxgam Valley belong to India and that it has the will and power to take them back. There is also a parliamentary resolution of 1994 in this sense.

Ultimately, three things are clear. First, China is determined to have a land link with Europe through crucial Asian states. The second is that Pakistan cannot contribute to the proposed construction. The entire railway will be in the hands of China and Pakistan must be content with the status of a vassal state.

The third point, and perhaps the most critical, is that the railway will pass through a disputed area. Once multipolarity is established or India is admitted to the Security Council as a permanent member with veto power, the entire political landscape in this Himalayan region will change significantly.

India needs to take back the territory illegally occupied by Pakistan and, after taking it back, focus on connecting to Central Asia through the Wakhan Corridor. This should be the ultimate goal of India’s foreign policy for the Eurasian region.

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