CPEC, India & China: (Re)balancing Act
Andrew Small is a transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the author of ‘The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics.’ The Friday Times interviews him on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the shifting nature of geopolitics in the region.
TFT: What are the key concerns of the Chinese government with respect to Pakistan’s ability to deliver on the CPEC-related commitments? Is security an issue in their view?
Andrew Small: China’s main concerns about CPEC have been security and the practicalities of project delivery. Those won’t go away: threats to the initiative will persist and the Pakistani system is never going to resemble the Chinese one in the ruthlessness of its project execution. There is certainly scope to mitigate these concerns. More can still be done to bring all the provinces on board, streamline decision-making, and even to build security considerations more fully into the project planning, all of which the Chinese would like to see happen. That has crystallized in China’s encouragement to proposals for an independent CPEC body, with a formal role for the army and provincial representatives, rather than the diffusion of responsibilities between different ministries.
CPEC is never going to become a purely neutral, politics-free initiative though. China will have to get used to the fact that an investment package on this scale cannot be managed the same way as the traditional China-Pakistan security relationship, in which achieving and sustaining a national consensus was far more straightforward, and a very limited cast of people could drive decisions.
TFT: In Pakistan there is an increasing consensus that India opposes the CPEC and will do anything to sabotage it. Is this view shared by China as well?
Small: China had hoped that India only had pro forma objections to CPEC and had been making the case that an economically successful Pakistan and a better integrated region was more conducive to Indian interests than the opposite. I don’t think Beijing expected the Indian government to be fully convinced by these arguments, given the history of the China-Pakistan relationship, but it anticipated that deepened Sino-Pakistani economic cooperation would at most elicit soft opposition, not direct efforts to sabotage CPEC. The reference by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Balochistan in his Independence Day speech caused surprise and real concern then. In recent days, Chinese experts have been warning that, if this is the prelude to a push to undermine the initiative through proxies, it will become a major point of tension—even military tension. How this evolves will largely depend on developments on the ground, but it certainly tilts China towards a darker and more paranoid view about Indian activities.