China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Takes a Military Turn?

China Pakistan Economic Corridor

New York Times says Pakistan has eagerly turned more toward China as the chill with the United States has deepened and some of China’s biggest projects in Pakistan had clear strategic implications.

In a report about Pakistan’s deepening ties with China, the paper pointed out that under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor [CPEC] Pakistan is cooperating with China on distinctly defense-related projects, including a secret plan to build new fighter jets while Pakistan is the only other country that has been granted access to China’s Beidou satellite navigation system.

Chinese officials have repeatedly said the Belt and Road is purely an economic project with peaceful intent. But with its plan for Pakistan, China is for the first time explicitly tying a Belt and Road proposal to its military ambitions — and confirming the concerns of a host of nations who suspect the infrastructure initiative is really about helping China project armed might, the New York Times report said adding:

“As China’s strategically located and nuclear-armed neighbor, Pakistan has been the leading example of how the Chinese projects are being used to give Beijing both favor and leverage among its clients. Since the beginning of the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, Pakistan has been the program’s flagship site, with some $62 billion in projects planned in the so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. In the process, China has lent more and more money to Pakistan at a time of economic desperation there, binding the two countries ever closer.

Some of China’s biggest projects in Pakistan, such as Gwadar port and access to Beidou satellite navigation system, had clear strategic implications, according to the New York Times:

“A Chinese-built seaport and special economic zone in the Pakistani town of Gwadar is rooted in trade, giving China a quicker route to get goods to the Arabian Sea. But it also gives Beijing a strategic card to play against India and the United States if tensions worsen to the point of naval blockades as the two powers increasingly confront each other at sea.

“Military analysts predict that China could use Gwadar to expand the naval footprint of its attack submarines, after agreeing in 2015 to sell eight submarines to Pakistan in a deal worth up to $6 billion. China could use the equipment it sells to the South Asian country to refuel its own submarines, extending its navy’s global reach.

“A less scrutinized component of Belt and Road is the central role Pakistan plays in China’s Beidou satellite navigation system. Pakistan is the only other country that has been granted access to the system’s military service, allowing more precise guidance for missiles, ships and aircraft.

“The cooperation is meant to be a blueprint for Beidou’s expansion to other Belt and Road nations, however, ostensibly ending its clients’ reliance on the American military-run GPS network that Chinese officials fear is monitored and manipulated by the United States.”
Space Silk Road

China’s own satellite navigation system, Beidou, has won a stamp of approval in 2014 from an international maritime body, an important step toward its goal of global acceptance for its answer to the United States’ Global Positioning System (GPS).

The Maritime Safety Committee of the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations body that sets standards for international shipping, formally included Beidou in the World-Wide Radio navigation System during its Nov. 17-21 2014 meeting. This means that the Chinese system has become the third system, after GPS and Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS), recognized by the United Nations body for operations at sea.

Named after the Chinese word for the Big Dipper or Plough constellation [Ursa Major], Beidou has been in the works for over two decades but only became operational within China in 2000 and the Asia-Pacific region in 2012.

When complete in 2020, it will have a constellation of 35 satellites to provide global coverage. During 2018 alone, there have been more than 10 Beidou satellite launches.

By the end of 2018, it covers countries along the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – a massive China-led infrastructure and trade program, part of what it calls the “Space Silk Road”, according to BBC. Beidou already covers 30 countries involved with the BRI, including Pakistan, Laos and Indonesia.

A global navigation system that can rival GPS is a big part of China’s ambition to be a global leader in space, Alexandra Stickings, from the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies, tells the BBC.

“The main advantage of having your own system is security of access, in the sense that you are not relying on another country to provide it. The US could deny users access over certain areas, for example in times of conflict.”

It could also serve as a back-up if GPS were to go down entirely.

Domestic phone brands such as Huawei, Xiaomi and OnePlus are now Beidou-compatible, although Apple did not add the Chinese system to its new line-up of iPhones announced in September 2018.

For China, Pakistan could become a showcase for other countries seeking to shift their militaries away from American equipment and toward Chinese arms, New York Times quoted Western diplomats as saying. And because China is not averse to selling such advanced weaponry as ballistic missiles the deal with Pakistan could be a steppingstone to a bigger market for Chinese weapons in the Muslim world.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America ( email: asghazali2011 (@)

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