Business Today

Worrying Signals

China's growing investments in Pakistan could prove to be a headache for India.
Anilesh S. Mahajan        Print Edition: May 24, 2015
Chinese President Xi Jinping
Chinese President Xi Jinping (Photo: Reuters)

Recent pictures of the Chinese President Xi Jinping's aircraft being escorted by eight made-in-China Pakistani JF-17 Thunder fighter jets as it entered the Pakistani airspace reflect the expanding relationship of the two countries. On his two-day visit to Islamabad in April, Xi committed $46 billion of investments in Pakistan. This is roughly three times the foreign direct investment Pakistan has received in the last decade. This is also more than the $31 billion Pakistan got in US aid since 2002, according to the US-based Congressional Research Service. Clearly, Xi's visit has larger geopolitical ramifications. And for India, it could be a cause for concern.

The investment would go into building the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. This would include a road connecting Gwadar port in Balochistan with Kashgar in Xinjiang province of China via Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The 3,000-km corridor would have industrial parks and 10.4 GW of power projects worth $15.5 billion. China is already upgrading the 1,300-km Karakoram Highway despite Indian opposition. The highway, being built by state-owned China Road & Bridge Corporation, is expected to be ready by September this year. China's help in developing infrastructure in the disputed part of Kashmir is seen as its support to Pakistan's claim on this region.

Another reason to worry for India is that China has the rights to operate the Gwadar port, which increases Beijing's influence in the Arabian Sea. The new road and the Gwadar port would help China boost trade with Europe, West Asia and Africa. This will also give China easier access to West Asian oil, especially from Iran. China is one of the biggest consumers of Iranian oil and this route would help it transport oil before it completes a pipeline from Gwadar to Kashgar. Beijing is also helping Islamabad complete the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline at a cost of $2 billion.

The growing engagement between China and Pakistan may prove to be a stumbling block for India's ambitious plans to boost ties with Afghanistan and Iran. India had committed $100 million to develop the Chabahar port in Iran, but the project is stuck. The port is important for India to access Afghanistan by bypassing Pakistan. Islamabad has already rejected New Delhi's proposal on the SAARC motor vehicle pact that would have allowed seamless transit to vehicles from South Asian countries. Pakistan's refusal makes it impossible for Indian transporters to use the land route to Afghanistan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on April 28, told the visiting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that India was ready to receive Afghan trucks at the Integrated Check Post at Attari, on the India-Pakistan border. But that won't be enough.

Meanwhile, the infrastructure projects Chinese companies are executing in Pakistan will allow free movement to vehicles of the two countries. And while China's relations with India are also improving - Xi visited India in September last year and Modi is heading to China in May - New Delhi will still be wary of Beijing's growing clout in the region.

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