Andrew Small on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’s Return to the Shadows
In the five years since the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was launched, it’s been beset by the winds of local politics and the waves of geopolitics alike. In a new report, titled “Returning to the Shadows: China, Pakistan, and the Fate of CPEC,” Andrew Small catalogues the grand promises and countless pitfalls of CPEC. In an interview with The Diplomat, Small, a senior transatlantic fellow with the German Marshall Fund’s Asia Program, explains the significance of CPEC to the China-Pakistan relationship, the contours of its highs and lows, and what the fate of the grand scheme means for China’s broader Belt and Road Initiative.
What’s the significance of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to the China and Pakistan bilateral relationship?
CPEC was supposed to act as a vehicle to upgrade the China-Pakistan partnership. Some Chinese analysts used to describe the relationship as a “stool with two legs”: While security and political ties have been strong for decades, economic ties had always been extremely weak. Even this characterization somewhat overstates the breadth of the relationship — it was almost entirely confined to military and intelligence matters, and managed by a very small cast of individuals on the two sides. China was never a factor in day-to-day economic or political life in Pakistan, and its strong approval ratings in opinion polls reflected its unimpeachable reputation as the “all-weather friend” rather than any deeper affinity among the Pakistani public.