China’s, or more accurately, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s, “One Belt, One Road” project has made headlines ever since it was announced by Mr Xi in Kazakhstan and Indonesia in 2013. It is believed that the overarching objective of the initiative is to make China the source of the greater part of the world’s manufactured products and to provide it with the means to transform its economy from one entirely reliant on exports to a country that is also a consumer of its own output. China would argue that that is a myopic perspective, saying that the initiative is also intended to enhance the economies of all participants in the Belt-Road Initiative (BRI).
The BRI is arguably the largest international project envisioned in the modern era. It aims to create an international trading network, with China as the major manufacturing hub, that services markets extending from China itself, through Asia and Africa, to Europe. It consists of two main routes, one crossing overland from China through Central Asia into Eastern Europe and onwards into the wealthier markets of Western Europe. The second route is a maritime one that, again, originates in China and ends in Western Europe.
A major branch of the overland route extends from the city of Kashgar in China’s western province of Xinjiang to Pakistan, and terminates at the latter’s Chinese-financed Indian Ocean port of Gwadar. It has been speculated that, given the strong relationship between Beijing and Islamabad, this branch of the BRI acts as Beijing’s test bed for the overall initiative. A more prosaic explanation offered is that China also seeks an alternative route for its energy imports to the Malacca Strait, which could be blockaded by, for instance, India or the United States. Test bed or not, the route, known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), assists Beijing to achieve certain foreign policy goals in both Islamabad and Kabul that assist it in extending its influence in the region.
This paper will examine the Sino-Pakistani relationship and some of the effects of the CPEC on that relationship.