A seminar organised by the European Foundation of South Asian Studies considered an alternative narrative of China’s multi-billion dollar infrastructure project
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project came under fire from experts at a December seminar entitled ‘CPEC: diplomatic debt trap or economic game-changer for South Asia?’, which took place at the Royal Asiatic Society in University College, London.
On the panel to debate the challenges posed by CPEC wereDr Burzine Waghmar fromthe School of Oriental & African Studies;Dr Junaid Qureshi, Director of the European Foundation of South Asian Studies; Dr Shabir Choudhry, Chairman of South Asia Watch;Birmingham University’s Dr Filippo Boni;and Dr Troy Sternberg of Oxford University.Chairing the event was Dr Sweta Raghavan, Founder of Scientists & Co, who opened with a brief introduction to the multi-billion dollar Chinese infrastructure projects being built throughout Pakistan.
The speakers considered various aspects of the project, including its legal, political, ecological and ethicalimplications,though the overall tone was critical, with some referring to China asa modern-day East India Company.
Dr Waghmarcondemned the China-Pakistan relationship as ‘asymmetrical [and] deliberately cynical… where Beijing has always assumed the mantle of a Marxist imperialist’, while Dr QureshiexaminedCPEC’s legal connotations, especially in relation to the disputed territory of Gilgit Baltistan in Jammu and Kashmir. The Pakistani government has been acting in contradiction to Article 257 of the country’s Constitution, he said, whichmeant that the disputed areas under Pakistan’s administration were not legally governed.In addition, CPEC will only further deepen Pakistan’s debt, warned Dr Qureshi.
If the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor supported the common people of Gilgit Baltistan, Dr Choudhry said,he would whole-heartedly support it. But, along with its geopolitical and strategic significance, he saw it as having a strong imperialist agenda. He also pointed out that Pakistan could turn into China’s 35th province or even its third special administrative economic region, like Hong Kong.
Offering an environmental perspective was DrSternberg of Oxford University.Since some areas of the proposed highway are so narrow it cannot even be spotted on satellite images, heavy vehicles would find it difficult to navigate the route, he said, adding that the exploitation of natural resources in the area could lead toseriously adverse implications for climate change.
For Dr Filippo Boni, some of the challenges facing CPECinclude financing, centre-periphery tensions and a lack of transparency.
In an interactive session with the audience, the event raised further concerns about minority groups affected by CPEC and/oroppressed by the political motives of mainland China, including the population of East Turkestan. It also debated whether the project could be achieved in a way that would benefit people in all parts of the region.