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Pakistan Vs. China’s Grand Designs

The Muslim nation stands in the way of China’s “One Belt, One Road” dubbed plan for Chinese dominance and authoritarianism.

May 19, 2017

The Muslim nation stands in the way of China’s “One Belt, One Road” dubbed plan for Chinese dominance and authoritarianism.

A leaked long-term plan for China’s massive $56 billion investment in Pakistan details how the goals of the Beijing’s One Belt, One Road initiative can be seen as a ploy for economic domination as well as a pathway to the creation of surveillance states.

A different kind of “win-win”

The leaked plan also suggests that China’s often-cited concept of pursuing an economic “win-win” diplomacy amounts to something very different from how that phrase is commonly understood around the world. One China analyst fittingly described it as a “China wins twice strategy.”

That potentially raises the specter of popular opposition to the scheme. China has already encountered popular resistance and setbacks in various Asian countries, including Sri Lanka, Myanmar and the Pakistani province of Balochistan.

The latter region matters all the more as it is a crown jewel of China’s hoped for One Belt, One Road arsenal.

Eager to be sucked in

You wouldn’t notice any of that based on the recent summit in Beijing attended by 28 heads of state. Many countries — eager to attract Chinese investment, often at whatever cost – dutifully praised One Belt, One Road, just as their Chinese hosts wanted it.

Nonetheless, critics are questioning China’s motives.”China needs to nurture better understanding of its intentions and visions” for the initiative “to prevent unnecessary suspicions about its geopolitical ambition,”

The Jakarta Post said in an editorial. The paper also acknowledged “we badly need the huge infrastructure spending that China is bringing.”

Balochistan as a focal point

In China’s grand design, the passage of OBOR through Pakistan plays a special role, not least with regard to Chinese designs to counter India.

That is why that fact that nationalists in Balochistan have vowed to thwart the Pakistani leg of One Belt, One Road, dubbed the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), is far more than a mere nuisance due to the designs of some local separatists. It is a major headache for China.

“This conspiratorial plan (CPEC) is not acceptable to the Baloch people under any circumstances. Baloch independence movements have made it clear several times that they will not abandon their people’s future in the name of development projects or even democracy,” said Baloch Liberation Army spokesman Jeander Baloch.

Taking action

Mr. Baloch spoke after two attacks by different groups in the last 96 hours.

One targeted workers toiling on CPEC-related projects. In the other attack, Senator Abdul Ghafoor Haideri — the deputy chairman of the upper house of parliament and a member of Jamiat e Ulema Islam, a right-wing Sunni Islamist political party — sustained minor injuries.

The attack on the workers exploited widespread discontent among Baloch that they are not benefitting from massive Chinese investment in their province that provides employment primarily for workers from elsewhere in Pakistan. The victims of the were from the Pakistani province of Sindh.

While widely condemned, the attack went to the core of problems with China’s execution of its One Belt, One Road initiative detailed in the leaked plan for Pakistan.

Not the scenario China wanted

The leaking of the plan, including its surveillance aspects, coincided with China’s release of the first public draft of a new intelligence law that gives authorities wide-ranging powers to monitor suspects, raid premises and seize vehicles and devices while investigating domestic and foreign individuals and groups.

Pakistan’s Ministry for Planning, Development, and Reform did not deny the authenticity of the leaked plan. Instead, it insisted that the released document “delineates the aspirations of both parties” and asserted that parts of it were “factually incorrect.

The ministry also said that the plan was “a live document” and that the published version did not reflect what had since been agreed by China and Pakistan.

One party makes all the calls

Controversy over the leaked document nonetheless highlights two core problems when it comes to One Belt, One Road: First China’s own lack of transparency as well as a desire by host governments that, while hoping to benefit from the initiative, choose to keep secret details that potentially could spark popular opposition.

The leaked document, even if it is not the most current version of plans for CPEC, nonetheless reflects China’s thinking that has been evident not only in Pakistan but also in countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Tajikistan.

The OBOR package: Exporting investment and state surveillance!

The draft plan spelled out not only benefits China would derive from its investment in Pakistan, but the way Pakistan would be turned even more than it already is into a surveillance state in which freedoms of expression and media are manipulated.

It also suggested the degree to which One Belt, One Road is designed to establish China not just as Eurasia’s dominant power, based on economics, but also as the proponent of measures that undermine democracy or inhibit political transition in autocracies.

China as Pakistan’s overlord

As part of the deal, Chinese state-owned companies would lease thousands of hectares of agricultural land to set up “demonstration projects” in areas ranging from seed varieties to irrigation technology.

Chinese agricultural companies would be offered “free capital and loans” from various Chinese ministries as well as the China Development Bank.

As part of China’s bid to quell ethnic unrest in Xinjiang through economic development, the plan envisages the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps taking on a leading role in Pakistan.

It would introduce mechanization as well as new technologies in Pakistani livestock breeding, development of hybrid varieties, and precision irrigation.

In other words, in China’s grand design, Pakistan would effectively become a raw materials supplier rather than an added-value producer, a prerequisite for a sustainable textiles industry.

The plan envisages the Pakistani textile sector as a supplier of materials such as yarn and coarse cloth to textile manufacturers in Xinjiang. “China can make the most of the Pakistani market in cheap raw materials to develop the textiles & garments industry and help soak up surplus labor forces in (Xinjiang’s) Kashgar,” the plan said.

Leaving nothing to chance

Chinese companies would be offered preferential treatment with regard to “land, tax, logistics and services” as well as “enterprise income tax, tariff reduction and exemption and sales tax rate” incentives.

In other economic sectors such as household appliances, telecommunications and mining, Chinese companies would exploit their presence to expand market share.

In areas like cement, building materials, fertilizer and agricultural technologies, the plan called for building infrastructure and developing a policy environment to facilitate the entry of Chinese companies.

A full system of monitoring and surveillance would be built in Pakistani cities to ensure law and order. The system would involve deployment of explosive detectors and scanners to “cover major roads, case-prone areas and crowded places…in urban areas to conduct real-time monitoring and 24-hour video recording.”

The Chinese Internet: Bringing modernity — and surveillance

A national fiber-optic backbone would be built for internet traffic as well as the terrestrial distribution of broadcast media that would cooperate with their Chinese counterparts in the “dissemination of Chinese culture.”

The plan described the backbone as a “cultural transmission carrier” that would serve to “further enhance mutual understanding between the two peoples and the traditional friendship between the two countries.”

Better abolish Pakistan’s diversity

The plan identifies as risks to CPEC “Pakistani politics, such as competing parties, religion, tribes, terrorists, and Western intervention” as well as security.

“The security situation is the worst in recent years,” the plan said. Its solution is stepped up surveillance rather than policies targeting root causes and appears to question the vibrancy of a system in which competition between parties and interest groups is the name of the game.

Pakistan’s Planning Commission tasked with overseeing CPEC had sought to dampen expectations that Chinese projects would foster employment and investment even before the leaking of the document.

More jobs? For the Chinese, it seems

The overseers told the Pakistani Senate that only Chinese investors would be allowed to invest in the nine proposed special economic zones across Pakistan and that it was uncertain whether Pakistan labor would be engaged.

The zones would be open exclusively to Chinese companies. The overseers said Pakistan may not see a revenue windfall from the massive Chinese engagement.

China’s approach to One Belt, One Road, as reflected in the leaked CPEC plan, is likely to prove to be the Achilles heel of its ambitious project.

The leak demonstrates that the terms of Chinese investment cannot be kept from the public. The failure to be transparent upfront fuels suspicions and charges opposition.

More fundamentally, China’s setbacks to date serve as evidence that One Belt, One Road’s success will depend on popular buy-in in countries involved.

What kind of stability?

Reinforcing authoritarian governance, including stepped-up surveillance and Chinese influence in national media along the “Belt” is ultimately likely to backfire.

Stability is a pre-condition for the success of One Belt, One Road. It is likely to be best achieved by transparency and ensuring that everyone has a stake in the project rather than secrecy and increased authoritarianism.

Editor’s Note: The article was originally published in


Nationalists in Balochistan have vowed to thwart the Pakistani leg of OBOR. This is a major headache for China.

In China’s grand design, Pakistan would become a raw materials supplier rather than an added-value producer.

China’s plan to reinforce authoritarian governance and influence national media along the “Belt” could backfire.