Faisal Mahmood / Reuters A policeman stands guard next to giant portraits of (L-R) Pakistan's President Mamnoon Hussain, China's President Xi Jinping, and Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in Islamabad, April 2015.

A Costly Corridor

How China and Pakistan Could Remake Asia

As China expands its regional influence, its relationship with Pakistan will be increasingly important. Last April, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif signed a series of agreements cementing their partnership, including final plans for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, an economic initiative to connect the two countries through a web of railways, roads, pipelines, and other development projects. Once built, the nearly 2,000-mile-long corridor will shorten China's route to the Middle East by about 7,500 miles. No wonder China has invested $46 billion in the project.

Yet for all its potential benefits, the corridor comes with political risks. It will pass through three restive regions: Kashmir in India and Pakistan, Xinjiang in China, and Baluchistan in Pakistan. China and Pakistan’s economic relationship will affect all three areas, likely for ill.

A NEW POWER BALANCE

During the last UN Sustainable Development Summit, in September, Sharif said of the corridor, “It will bring huge economic and development benefits not just to our two countries but the entire region and beyond… This development strategy and framework offers new opportunity for Asia’s transformation and prosperity.”

Whether or not the corridor lives up to all those promises, it will certainly bring China and Pakistan closer together. Andrew Small, the author of The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics, argues that the success of the corridor “would highlight anddeepen the uniquely close friendship between China and Pakistan.” The corridor will also strengthen China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, intended to connect infrastructure and trade networks throughout Eurasia and help China spread its influence from its western borders to the Middle East.

Unsurprisingly, the corridor has been met with resistance, most notably from India. During his visit to China in May, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the initiative “unacceptable.” New Delhi has also been taken aback by China and Pakistan’s joint development of a naval base at Gwadar Port in Baluchistan because it sees the port as evidence of a ploy to encircle India by sea.

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