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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/26/15

Pakistan enters the New Silk Road

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Reprinted from Asia Times


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Now how do you top this as a geopolitical entrance? Eight JF-17 Thunder fighter jets escorting Chinese President Xi Jinping on board an Air China Boeing as he enters Pakistani air space. And these JF-17s are built as a China-Pakistan joint project.

Silk Road? Better yet; silk skyway.

Just to drive the point home -- and into everyone's homes -- a little further, Xi penned a column widely distributed to Pakistani media before his first overseas trip in 2015.

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He stressed, "We need to form a '1+4' cooperation structure with the Economic Corridor at the center and the Gwadar Port, energy, infrastructure and industrial cooperation being the four key areas to drive development across Pakistan and deliver tangible benefits to its people."

Quick translation: China is bringing Pakistan into the massive New Silk Road(s) project with a bang.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry, also on cue, stressed that Pakistan would be in the frontline to benefit from the $40 billion Silk Road Fund, which will help to finance the Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road projects; or, in Chinese jargon, "One Belt, One Road," that maze of roads, high-speed rail, ports, pipelines and fiber optics networks bound to turbo-charge China's links to Europe through Russia, Central Asia and the Indian Ocean.

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The Silk Road Fund will disburse funds in parallel with the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which has already enticed no less than 57 countries. China's assistant foreign minister, Liu Jianchao, has not delved into detailed numbers, but he assures China "stands ready to provide financing."

So no wonder Pakistani media was elated. A consensus is also fast emerging that China is becoming "Pakistan's most important ally" from either West or East.

Beijing's carefully calibrated commercial offensive mixing Chinese leadership concepts such as harmonious society and Chinese dream with a "win-win" neighborhood policy seduces by the numbers alone: $46 billion in investment in Pakistan ($11 billion in infrastructure, $35 billion in energy), compared to a U.S. Congress's $7.5 billion program that's been in place since 2008.

The meat of the matter is that Washington's "help" to Islamabad is enveloped in outdated weapons systems, while Beijing is investing in stuff that actually benefits people in Pakistan; think of $15.5 billion in coal, wind, solar and hydro energy projects bound to come online by 2017, or a $44 million optical fiber cable linking China and Pakistan.

According to the Center for Global Development, between 2002 and 2009 no less than 70% of U.S. aid was about "security" -- related to the never-ending GWOT (global war on terror). As a Pakistani analyst wrote me, "just compare Xi's vision for his neighbors and the history of America in Latin America. It is like the difference between heaven and hell."

That "X" factor

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At the heart of the action is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), whose embryo had already been discussed when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Beijing in the summer of 2013. The economic corridor, across 3,000 km, will link the port of Gwadar, in the Arabian Sea, not far from the Iranian border, with China's Xinjiang.

China is already in Gwadar; China Overseas Port Holding Company is operating it for two years now, after helping to build the first phase. Gwadar formally opens before the end of the month, but a first-class highway and railway linking it to the rest of Pakistan still need to be built (mostly by Chinese companies), not to mention an international airport, scheduled to open by 2017.

All this action implies a frenzy of Chinese workers building roads, railways -- and power plants. Their security must be assured. And that means solving the "X" factor; "X" as in Xinjiang, China's vast far west, home to only 22 million people including plenty of disgruntled Uyghurs.

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Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia (more...)
 

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