A reflection on the CPEC
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) began as a bilateral partnership between Pakistan and China with a focus on improving infrastructure for trade and connectivity between China and the rest of Eurasia. It is part of China's larger Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
On the 6th of May 2023, it was announced that this partnership would be expanded to include Afghanistan, a third party. The ministers of all three countries reaffirmed their commitment to reconstructing Afghanistan's economy and harnessing its potential as a focal point for regional connectivity.
The expansion of CPEC into Taliban-occupied Afghanistan is controversial for a plethora of reasons. It directly impacts international trade, India’s standing with its neighbours China and Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan and China’s political power in the Eurasia region and more.
Parts of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir are to be included in this project. This has incited much opposition from India as the official development of an economic project by Pakistan and China on this disputed land not only threatens India's sovereignty but also her territorial integrity.
Discontentment with this initiative has been expressed by India. However, no attempts have been made to dissuade third parties from joining this partnership.
The Taliban-led government may benefit greatly from this alliance as they would gain better international recognition. The trio urges other countries to lift their respective sanctions against Afghanistan.
In all probability, Beijing will fund this project as Afghanistan's assets remain frozen in US banks. China will gain more power and control over trade and political influence in the region. This has raised eyebrows as the situation that is unfolding is reminiscent of the “debt trap” that countries such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka had been entrapped in.
Another advantage of expanding this corridor is the reduced time and cost of trade between the countries of Eurasia, subsequently boosting the development and economic state of all involved nations.
Furthermore, Beijing also highlighted its intention to increase the exploitation of Afghanistan’s raw resources, specifically the large amounts of rare earth minerals it is home to. The expansion of this project into Afghanistan’s landlocked capital will also diversify the country’s markets and supply routes.
While this project will certainly benefit parts of the economy of Afghanistan, it is important that we acknowledge the intersectional nature of this decision. Afghanistan, like the rest of South Asia, is acutely vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and it is likely that development projects in this area are certain to have environmental consequences.
We must also keep in mind that the benefits of this project may remain limited only to certain members of the struggling country’s economy, as it remains under the Taliban’s dictatorship.
As we assess the different aspects of this seemingly useful development project, we arrive at the question - does expansion necessarily equate to growth? And can growth that is unevenly distributed ever be considered true development?