On a recent visit to Pakistan I was surprised to find a great deal of infrastructure development going on: new bridges, roads, airports, ports, the works. The amount of economic development was staggering – to say nothing of quite inconsistent with our image of Pakistan as rather backwards and impoverished and chronically corrupt. Inconsistent even with my knowledge of the place which I owe to my family ties to the country.
But the mystery is soon elucidated. All the projects have the same brand to them. They are all part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Because of the lack of security, the endemic corruption and the frailty of the rule of law, no one in international capital markets would lend to the country on this scale. Frankly, I would not trust the government in power to have the imagination to try to borrow to invest in their country’s development.
Luckily, Pakistan happens to be just where China needs to build its trade infrastructure towards the West. The price China is willing to pay to avoid having to trade through the treacherous waters of the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca far outweighs even all the problems and costs associated with investing in Pakistan. So far, China has committed $62 billion to the Pakistan section of their New Silk Road, and are likely to invest much more in the future.
Even as we look forward with trepidation to the rise of China and the relative decline of the West, if China achieves their rise entirely by peaceful means, that will still be something we have to respect.Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
The benefits that this investment brings to the people of Pakistan cannot be overstated. They will reap much of the rewards of that investment. And China has shown in the past, for example in Africa, that it is a good partner to local populations, building not only infrastructure and productive facilities where they employ locals, but also schools and other public utility facilities. To underline their ambitions in Pakistan, Chinese academic Prof Yiwei Wang proposed at the Warsaw Security Summit that China’s investment in the country will make Pakistan fully energy independent by 2020 – this will be a first in the country’s history.
The salutary effects of Chinese involvement in the country are such that they are also recognised across the board by almost all the political parties in this fractured, divided country – even the militant religious ones. They, along with the powerful Army and intelligence services are all in agreement that Pakistan’s relationship with China is the most important strategic relationship the country has, and must be preserved and advanced.
New Silk Road
And Pakistan is not the only country where this is true. Myanmar is also edging ever closer to China due to Chinese investment in another branch of the New Silk Road across the country. The central Asian former Soviet republics are also on board. And before long, Russia too will be firmly within China’s sphere of influence, especially when the natural gas pipelines between the two countries open and the Russian state’s revenues will be increasingly dependent on Chinese largesse.
All this points towards China’s inexorable rise as the world’s pre-eminent superpower. And if things continue along the current trajectory, it seems like China will be able to achieve this entirely through peaceful means: something no other dominant power has ever achieved in history.
Even as we look forward with trepidation to the rise of China and the relative decline of the West, if China achieves their rise entirely by peaceful means, that will still be something we have to respect. Just as we have to respect the fact that, in the words of Prof Wang again, China is having much more success eliminating poverty in the New Silk Road areas than Western-imposed Washington Consensus economics and Western sweatshop investments have done. China’s power grows by winning over hearts and minds: and it is winning them for good reasons.
Azeem Ibrahim is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Global Policy and Adj Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. He completed his PhD from the University of Cambridge and served as an International Security Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a World Fellow at Yale. Over the years he has met and advised numerous world leaders on policy development and was ranked as a Top 100 Global Thinker by the European Social Think Tank in 2010 and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He tweets @AzeemIbrahim