What Does The Chinese One Belt One Road, American Pacific Pivot Imply For South Asia?

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Context

By Kulsoom Belal

This article is part of PoliTact’s recently launched initiative to look at the events of the Pacific region from the vantage point of South Asia. In order to do this, one has to also study where South Asia belongs in the larger strategy of major international powers. Under this theme, various political, security and economic implications of the events of the wider region will be explored.

At one level, there is a need to understand how the recently announced China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) fits in the larger Chinese One Belt One Road (OBOR) vision. Since the announcement of OBOR strategy, a considerable number of countries, around 65, have signed up already.

At another level, there is the question of how OBOR and CPEC compare to the American New Silk Road architecture for South and Central Asia and the Indian ‘Act East’ and ‘Connect Central Asia’ policy. Then there is the US-India ‘Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean’ that is exploring the leverage offered by connecting the Indo-Pacific region with the Asia-Pacific, such as through the associated Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor (IPEC).

In this context, a number of questions are raised, are these different visions complementary or contradictory. Moreover, what would the US and Chinese strategic considerations mean for South Asia in good and bad case scenarios.

Equally important is the distinction between land and sea access. A Chinese White Paper released in May highlights its military strategy and has added emphasis on access and protection of sea routes. The paper states, “the traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned.” The document adds that China will develop “a modern maritime military force structure commensurate with its national security and development interests [and] safeguard its national sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.”

Both US and China have publicly claimed these are complementary visions. For example, in South and Central Asia, US is promoting interoperability by helping to streamline customs, transit, and taxation policies of various states and this will certainly help the Chinese. However, US is faced with its own strategic imperatives as it implements the Pivot to Asia strategy. If it allows the present trajectory of China, it could reconfigure the balance of power in the region in a way that may not be favorable towards the US.

Then there is the question of how Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are likely to play out in contrast to what BRICS is attempting to shape via institutions like Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). These are immensely intricate agreements, but are seen as giving advantage to one or the other player.

Moreover, in July India and Pakistan both have acquired full membership of the China and Russian dominated SCO, which has added another layer of complexity to the ongoing economic and security balancing act in the region.

In retrospect, the shape of present day trade and economic corridors were largely shaped by geographical proximity, historical linkages, and political realties. As a rising power with energy needs, China intends to realign them in its favor. And when one does that, it has the potential to unveil immense economic opportunities and security risks that previously did not exist.
In a series of articles we will discern, synthesize and interpret the above laid out dynamics. In part one, the attempt is to understand the OBOR vision and how CPEC fits in it.

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