The Geopolitical Strings of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

Tanveer Ahmad Khan
Research Scholar
Tanveer Ahmad Khan is a Research Scholar in the department of Political Science at the University of Kashmir in Srinagar.

Geopolitics may be defined what great powers engage in, what they practice, and what they are best at. It is an art as well as a practice of pursuing political power over a given territory. Conventionally, the term geopolitics has been primarily applied to the impact of geography on politics, but over time, it has evolved to encompass wider connotations. Geopolitics is as old as the state itself, asserting that the geographical location, space, size, and natural resources of a state determine its political position in global politics. In simple terms, geopolitics plays the ultimate role in the making of strategies and policies, which can obstruct or enhance the actions of states in the global domain.

Cold War Dynamics: Shifting Powers, Containment Strategies, and the Rise of China

During the Cold War, geopolitics emerged as an important phenomenon when history witnessed two leading powers, namely the United States and the Soviet Union, who were competing to amplify their areas of influence. While the Soviet Union held the dominant position in Eurasia, the United States abided with the policy of containment to challenge the Soviet’s influence. In the post-Cold war era after the disintegration of the USSR, American foreign policy shifted towards the rising China, which was establishing its political position in global politics. The China Containment policy asserted that US foreign policy aims to diminish the political and economic imprint of China in Asia. This multifaceted policy by the US involves military, economic, and diplomatic ties with countries that fall on the periphery of China. Asia witnessed new geopolitical developments that included a pivot to Asia and increased American involvement in the Indo-Pacific. The Indo-US nuclear deal was the latest manifestation of US containment of China as India is a proximate neighbor to China and also has the upper hand in South Asia.

China was once described as a “sleeping giant” and got moved by the surface currents of a power matrix that was aimed to curtail its rise. As China was not strong enough to reshape the power matrixes, it started to follow the policy of Deng Xiaoping: “Hide your strength, bide your time.” In order to accumulate strength, Beijing throughout the post-Cold War period made a rigorous effort to modernize the Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA). The outstanding economic expansion and military modernization convinced China it could develop into a twenty-first-century superpower.

Xi Jinping's China: Economic Power, Geopolitical Challenges, and the Strategic Dance with Pakistan

Under the Presidency of Xi Jinping, China’s economic power has provided the rising China tremendous opportunities to engage with the neighboring countries and the world. It also provided an opportunity to challenge US hegemony and India’s rise. Beijing’s influence will certainly further upset Asia’s geopolitical balance. The most important strategic advantage that China possesses is the All-Weather friendship with Pakistan. Based on the Kautliyan maxim of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend,” the China-Pakistan alignment serves the interests of both partners as prompted by their convergence vis a vis India. Both China and Pakistan perceive the growing Indo-US strategic cooperation as a disturbance of the regional power structure as it has shifted the conventional and nuclear balance of power. From the Pakistani perspective, the Indo-US nuclear deal came as a shock as the latter had hitherto been their security and economic guarantor. Pakistan perceived that the nuclear deal would advance India’s capability of a pre-emptive attack because the US had recognized India as a nuclear power. The post-Cold War US tilt towards India as an emerging great power gave further impetus and thus provided further excuse to both China and Pakistan to once again strengthen their ‘all-weather’ and time-tested friendship. Therefore, the mutual anxieties regarding India’s emergence as a responsible global power could function as an adhesive between China and Pakistan. It held them more strongly connected. If one closely examines the strategic strings that are attached to it, the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) is toting up troubles for India, as it will only swell the capabilities of its arch-rival Pakistan, which faces severe economic and political headaches. CPEC provides a big opportunity to stabilize Pakistan’s economy while refining ties with its neighbors and making Gwadar a trade and economic hub of the region.

CPEC and Beyond: Unraveling the Transformative Dynamics of the China-Pakistan Alliance in a Shifting Geopolitical Landscape

Thus, even after the end of the Cold War, the Sino-Pak alignment survived and in fact got transformed into a formal alliance. This gets exemplified by the much-talked-about CPEC, in which China’s investment reached $62 billion in April 2017. CPEC and the linking of Gwadar Port is an ambitious strategic plan of China’s Road and Belt project. Pakistan – situated between India, China, Central Asia and the Persian Gulf – occupies a central place in regional and broader Indo-Pacific geopolitics. In contemporary global politics as well as regional politics of South Asia, the China-Pakistan Axis holds an important place, which affects both spheres. India, which is garnering its place in its own region as well as beyond, has definite implications ranging from economic to security matters.

Thus, the current China-Pakistan bonhomie in South Asia has tremendous geo-strategic implications for India as an emerging regional as well as global great power. In view of the fact that China and India do not only compete for influence as they operate within the same geographical setting, but that also India and Pakistan are at loggerheads, the latter is determined to change the existing regional balance of power. China’s aggressive behavior that India witnessed during the recent standoff in Ladakh and in the South China Sea, opens up the possibility of China dominating South Asia and the peripheral maritime.