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China Spreading Infrastructure Net Around India
Jul 15, 2014

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor linking Kashgar in China with Gwadar Port in Pakistan took another step forward recently with the announcement of preliminary studies into a railway between the two hubs. The 1,800 km-long rail link will run through Islamabad and Karachi, as well as disputed territory in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. A rail line, which has been in the offing for some time, will add to an earlier deal to improve the existing Karakorum roadway (which will include 200 km of tunnels), as well as a proposed pipeline that will allow oil and gas offloaded at Gwadar to be pumped all the way to Xinjiang Province in China. 

This USD 18 billion corridor, supervised by the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor Secretariat inaugurated in last August, will form a major trade gateway between the Middle East/Africa and China. Chinese infrastructure investment in Pakistan includes Gwadar Port managed by China Overseas Ports Holding since February 2013. An international airport will also be constructed at Gwadar, and a fibre-optic cable will be laid from the Chinese border to Rawalpindi.


Pakistan is not the only beneficiary. China also financed Sri Lanka's second international airport as well as Hambantota Port. In Bangladesh, China is funding Chittagong Port's modernization and a new deep-water facility at Sonadia to meet demand for cargo facilities. 


China’s National Development and Reforms Commission (NDRC) oversee Chinese involvement in these projects. The monolithic NDRC came in from criticism in March 2013 after it mandate was expanded rather than reduced by the National People's Congress. Major state-run corporations and banks (China Development Bank) are the primary agents executing and funding these contracts.


The revival of the Silk Road belt and many other infrastructure projects are perhaps better seen in an economic-security light. China feels particularly vulnerable in that domestic factory floors rely on a regular and secure flow of raw materials and energy resources. Much of its oil now travels 12,000 km by sea through the Malacca Strait chokepoint. In the event of conflict with neighbors and the USA, it would be very easy to place a tourniquet on this arterial lifeblood of the Chinese economy, since the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) does not yet have the strength to deploy long range to fully protect economic interests.


For a long time, therefore, China has sought to diversify and secure its economic lifelines. Hence, the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor, which will allow goods to travel directly from the Arabian Sea to China. The same can be said of rail links and oil/gas pipelines from Central Asia to China. The Mekong River is another important trade route for China, linking the country's southeast area with Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Chinese trade with Mekong countries multiplied eightfold from 2000-10.


As well as solidifying transport links with Pakistan, China is pursuing another trade route—the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor. Beginning in Kunming, and stretching to Kolkata, it will encompass transport, energy and telecommunications links. The four countries had been discussing it since 2009. China also wants a Maritime Silk Road. This ambitious oceanic trade route will link China and Europe via stop-off points in Southeast Asia, India and Africa. For it, China provided initial seed money of $1.6 billion for this project.


Tibet, in Chinese territory, is the place where infrastructure projects have increased the PLA's capacity the most. The PLA has worked hard to forge a five-airport network, along with a series of forward landing grounds. It constructed a 5,500m-long runway at Qamdo Bamda, creating the world's highest airport. A key Chinese goal has been to establish reliable transport routes onto the Tibetan plateau. Highways have been upgraded for obvious military use, as has a network of axial roads leading towards the Indian border. The PLA maintains the 1,930km-long Qinghai-Tibet highway and 1,080 km Geermu-Lhasa oil pipeline. Up to 80% of Chinese military supplies to Tibet use highways. However, the 1,956 km-long Qinghai-Tibet Railway that opened on 1 July 2006 has enormous bearing on the military balance. 

 


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