China’s superb strategic maneuver into Pakistan in the shape of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has far deeper ramifications than appear at first sight. It seems to have taken Napoleon’s Strategy of the Central Position to heart. In harmony with its trade corridors through Kazakhstan and Russia to Europe it gives China access to and influence over some of the most sensitive and vitally important regions of the world.
One would be grossly amiss if one were to assume that China’s presence would be restricted to Gwadar and trade alone. It is bound to expand along the Mekran Coast allowing it to occupy the central position at the confluence of the Greater Middle East (GMER) and South-Central Asian Regions (SCAR) and the Arabian Sea, giving it access to the west coast of India, the Indian Ocean Region, the eastern coast of Africa, the Red Sea, Suez Canal and beyond. This is a supremely advantageous position to be in with multi dimensional geopolitical, geo-strategic and geo-economic connotations.
US general egress from the region and its offshore balancing strategy has created the conditions for China to move into this ostensible vacuum in the GMER-SCAR complex. By moving up to the Arabian Sea China virtually becomes a two ocean nation and acquires oversight and influence over some of the most critical regions of the world. Its physical emergence on the Mekran Coast will enable it to radiate its influence in the GMER-SCAR complex, the Indian Ocean Region and extend it up to Africa and beyond into the Mediterranean.
The Middle East today is fractured, polarized and in total chaos and turmoil. It is an explosive mix of conflicts, sub regional rivalries, forced regime changes, crumbling state structures, rampant terrorism and counter terrorism operations et al. The Arab Spring, a sinister controlled-chaos project, is taking its toll at a very fast pace. Its next victims will be Saudi Arabia and Iran who are already at each other’s jugulars and on their respective ways to self-destruct. The House of Saud is in mortal danger. Iran is struggling to expand and consolidate its influence. Syria and Iraq are ablaze and disintegrating. US, UK, France, Turkey and Russia are all involved from a distance, albeit on opposite sides. By moving up physically to the Arabian Sea, China has thus crystallized its expanded sphere of influence. It is now ideally positioned to influence events in the emergence of the restructured GMER! The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (especially Russia) may become more proactive and desire access to the Mekran Coast too adding further complexities to an increasingly volatile situation. The Chinese are thus positioning themselves well to play an influential role in regional and global power politics.
Based at the Arabian Sea/Makran Coast China literally becomes the custodian of the mineral, oil and gas riches of the GMER-SCAR complex as it sits on the gateways to both these regions. It will have physical oversight on the Hormuz Straits and will also control Gwadar - the most suitable conduit to the CARs. This position also enables it to bring all trade routes and Sea Lines of Communications between the Persian Gulf and the rest of the world within its strategic reach. It will be physically present in Pakistan’s mineral rich Balochistan and be ideally placed to exploit the mineral resources of CARs, Afghanistan as well as close by Africa. Furthermore, it will be able to outflank the Malacca Straits bottleneck to a very large extent by opening up the Gwadar- Kashgar trade route for a substantial part of its exports and imports of minerals and fossil fuels. As cardinal points in its Strategy of String of Pearls, Gwadar and the Makran Coast are thus priceless for China’s uninterruptible trade with the world - a real bargain for the US $ 46 billion investment!
The Makran Coast also affords China unprecedented strategic reach and advantages. Sallying forth from it the Chinese can have physical oversight of most East - West global trade through the Indian Ocean and regional trade as well. Blockades at the Malacca Straits stand largely obviated by China’s close proximity to the Hormuz Straits and its latent ability to replicate actions there. The Chinese are also looking at logistics bases (Djibouti) in the Red Sea region for trade and other strategic compulsions. Furthermore, China’s presence on the Makran Coast will act as a pull and divert India’s attention away from the Pacific Ocean theatre somewhat weakening the US led alliance there. It will also keep India from getting irrevocably involved in solely pursuing US interests in that region. The US too may have to reconsider and readjust its pivot to the Pacific. (It is still pursuing the Logistics Support Agreement with India). It will relieve some pressure on the Chinese presence in the South China Sea region and force the US and its allies to divert attention and resources westwards too.
Changing posture from an economic to a purely military or an economic-military one would be a simple affair for the Chinese once the required infrastructure on the Makran Coast and its hinterland is complete!
PM Modi’s compulsion to “drop by” in Lahore was designed to pave India’s way into the CPEC. However, Pakistan must make it subject to first the uninterrupted completion of all projects linked to the CPEC and thereafter the suitable and just resolutions of Kashmir and other issues between them. India must wait, modify its hostile attitude towards Pakistan and create the right strategic environment for its participation in the CPEC and other trade corridors.
China is gradually positioning itself to emerge as perhaps the most defining power of the 21st century and Pakistan is playing its due role in it. Their national interests are converging in a very wholesome manner making them ideal strategic partners for the future.
Pakistan must be steadfast and stay the course. It was on the right side of history when it befriended China at the outset; now it is set to be on the right side of the future as well!