Colonialists come with a veil of pretence. They show their true colours only after settling down on the territory they want to conquer. For a country (Pakistan), which is the product of 100s of years of struggle against colonialism, it shouldn’t be too hard to diagnose the colonial ambitions of a rising power, in this case China, which has now made its ambitions open to the world in the form of “One Belt, One Road (OBOR)” initiative that includes China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as a “flagship” project.
Chinese official daily Global Times says, “The global economy needs new driving forces, and economic globalization needs new dimensions. The Belt and Road instills the world economy with new imagination.” But the veil of pretence is apparent. China can’t lead such an initiative without long-term benefits in sight.
The British Empire had embarked on a similar “development” path in the 19th Century and the world witnessed its intended results. IE contributing editor on foreign affairs, C Raja Mohan writes that OBOR is “breathtaking in scope” but not “unprecedented”. “This is what the British Raj did through the 19th century — opening markets, building new trade routes, projecting power from the Suez to Shanghai, setting up alliances and protectorates that turned the Indo-Pacific into an expansive sphere of influence, controlled from Calcutta,” he writes in IE.
The expert says that the scale of OBOR is even bigger than the one undertaken by the Britishers in the 19th Century. The OBOR project envisages the construction of a maze of road, rail and port projects through a number of countries to connect mainland China to markets in Asia and Europe.
Pakistan is hoping that CPEC would transform its economy in the coming years in the way it has never happened before. But the problems, which Pakistan has apparently either chosen to ignore or accepted to pursue its anti-India policies, lie in the details of the CPEC project which hints at colonial designs of China. Consider these “exclusive” details of CPEC aimed to be achieved by 2030 and published by Pakistan-based Dawn today:
- “The plan [CPEC] envisages a deep and broad-based penetration of most sectors of Pakistan’s economy as well as its society by Chinese enterprises and culture.”
- “A national fibreoptic backbone will be built for the country not only for internet traffic, but also terrestrial distribution of broadcast TV, which will cooperate with Chinese media in the “dissimenation of Chinese culture”.
- In agriculture, CPEC “identifies opportunities for entry by Chinese enterprises in the myriad dysfunctions that afflict Pakistan’s agriculture sector.”
- The project plans to “impart advanced planting and breeding techniques” to farmers by means of land acquisition by the government and renting to China-invested enterprises and building planting and breeding bases.” This implies that Chinese enterprises may soon get control of most of the Pakistani farmland.
- The report says that in each field, Chinese enterprises would play the lead role.
- Interestingly, the report says that enterprises would be advised “to respect the religions and customs of the local people, treat people as equals and live in harmony”. For a country accused of not treating its own Muslims well in Xinjiang province, a promise to respect religion and customs of an Islamic country (Pakistan) should raise alarm bells in Islamabad.
- The report says that China would “strengthen the safety cooperation with key countries, regions and international organizations, jointly prevent and crack down on terrorist acts that endanger the safety of Chinese overseas enterprises and their staff.” However, China’s silence on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in India and support to international terrorist and Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar prove that Chinese intentions are not confined to development only.
- CPEC also aims to spread Chinese culture and language in Pakistan. “The future cooperation between Chinese and Pakistani media will be beneficial to disseminating Chinese culture in Pakistan, further enhancing mutual understanding between the two peoples and the traditional friendship between the two countries,” reports Dawn. Pakistan is essentially inimical to any culture other than the one inspired by Islam. One wonders how and why it would welcome the intrusion of Chinese culture on its land.
The CPEC documents, as reported by Dawn, doesn’t explain in detail how the common Pakistani and their enterprises would benefit from the long-term deal. But the fact that China would make a windfall in geopolitics, infrastructure, business, and agriculture etc. is apparent. No wonder, even Dawn has failed to forecast what CPEC actually means for the interests of Pakistan. “What comes through once that door has been opened is difficult to forecast,” it concludes.