Pakistan supports China’s bid to revive historic Silk route
September 09, 2011
President Zardari offered his Eid prayers in Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang province that borders Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan. Addressing China-Eurasia Development Organization Forum on 1st September, he said Pakistan supports the revival of the historic Silk Route that once connected Asia and Europe and was a source of exchange of knowledge and goods across the region.
China expressed the resolve to transform its western region into an economic hub and is working hard to strengthen the links between Asia and Europe through enhanced connectivity and infrastructure development. China intends to open up Xinjiang to Eurasia by setting up special economic zones in border cities, restructuring local industries, expanding the number of border trade ports, and implementing financial measures to encourage the use of Chinese currency, the Yuan, in cross-border trade and investment. Beijing is providing low-interest loans to the neighboring countries for infrastructure projects.
Xinjiang has the 460-km cross-border railway line that connects Urumqi to Kazakhstan through the Alataw Pass. A second China-Kazakhstan rail line is being constructed to link Xingjian’s trading port Horgos to the inland rail network. China’s ‘Look West’ policy which centers on the idea of developing its Xinjiang province and linking it with the Eurasia through developing connectivity and infrastructure up to Europe has inspired high hopes in Pakistan, for it provides China an essential link to Gulf region.
Pakistan has proposed construction of a cross-border railway to link its northern border with Kashgar, an old Silk Road town and a major city today in southern Xinjiang. The feasibility study of the railway has been conducted and if the project is undertaken it will shorten China's trading routes from the Gulf to Shanghai by about 5,000 miles. Moreover talks are underway about a cross-border pipeline that can carry oil and gas to China through inland Eurasia.
Zardari has never missed the chance to visit China and extend his full support for its Look West Policy hoping that flow of trade between the East and the West will necessarily benefit Pakistan due its importance as a country the roads and rails will essentially pass through its western regions upside Indus. A route also is to run through Gangetic planes. On its side Pakistan has built Gawadar Port and is seeking help from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for laying down rail and road network linking it to Central Asia.
China’s Look West Policy assigns high importance to Central Asia due to this region’s vast but untapped energy resources as well as its potential to serve as a market. It has pumped billions into Central Asia by building pipeline and railways infrastructure. A chain of banks ensures easy availability of credit to facilitate imports from China.
For Russia, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has proved very helpful as it has facilitated the selling of its weaponry and defense technology to China which has underwent the process of modernizing its army during these years. On the other hand, China has not objected to the increasing number of Russian forces in Central Asia and has shared concern with its strategic partner vis-à-vis NATO’s growing influence in the former members of the Soviet Union.
Russian president Medvedev, who met Asif Ali Zardari and Hamid Karzai as the Dushanbe Four met on 2nd September (other country being Tajikistan), said his country was ready to invest “millions of dollars” in the joint energy projects. “There’s a whole range of projects that have been on the table for a long time which have seen no movement forward and which should be implemented,” he said he said confirming Russia’s interest in a key transnational gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India.
The SCOs embracing the traditional concept of sovereignty, which calls for strictly observing the principle of non-intervention in the affairs of states, has given the regional body an anti-US identity. The SCO, through its various resolutions, has opposed unilateralism in world politics. China and Russia’s concern vis-a-vis US policy towards Middle East are well-known. The SCO stands for the status-quo and is in not favor of changing international boundaries. It has declared religious militancy and ethnic separatism as the dark forces and has been undertaking special military exercise with the member countries as a measure to counter these threats. Contrary to the US approach to meet the challenges of separatism, particularly inspired by ethno-nationalism, the SCO strategy is to build institutions and increase economic opportunities, rather than partitioning and creating new states, to address the problem.
The SCO is vital for US exit plan. At the same time, the US is likely to be counted as a partner of regional peace for the times to come. In exchange, it has to postpone its plan to democratize the ex-Soviet states and has to feel contented with the free trade which Asian nations are going to promote through opening land routes with Europe. Revival of Silk route is something that is going to bring the east and west closer. None but the SCO has the required resources and the urge to make this dream a reality.
Pakistan has joined the SCO as an observer and is waiting for full membership which it has applied for. China is also encouraging India to become a full member and there is profound willingness from New Delhi to go ahead when its request to this end is finally approved. There is apparently left no hurdle to implementing the plan to open up the historic corridor except anarchy in Afghanistan and the bordering regions of Pakistan. But after US winds up from this conflict-torn region, the neighboring countries certainly have the desired urge and the ability to pacify militants and overcome the last hurdle to build bridges between Asia and Europe.