China’s ambitious plan to transport oil across the Himalayas in Pakistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) might be “economically unsustainable” and actually benefit the US in the ongoing US-China rivalry.
China has pushed its way to conquer Pakistan’s construction sector with its multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) offering it more than 40 projects. One of the ambitiously proposed projects includes an oil pipeline connecting Gwadar port to Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang province via the challenging and unstable region of Himalayas.
Experts write — “Starting from sea level, it will have to cross the 4700-metre Khunjerab pass to reach the Chinese mainland, requiring heavy pumping equipment and significant power supply to keep the pipeline flowing.”
Additionally, the author says that the region is prone to the periodic danger associated with earthquakes and landslides which adds to the regular costs of maintenance. The temperature also drops to as low as negative 30 degrees Celsius which would require heating technologies apart from the insulation.
Furthermore, the project is also believed to be economically unsustainable as a study formulates that it would cost approximately $10 a barrel to move oil from Pakistan to western China through pipelines, along with added $5 to deliver oil to demand centres in the eastern region.
On the other hand, it costs just $2 per barrel to ship oil from the Persian Gulf to the east coast in China. The author says that “this translates to China losing roughly half a billion dollars per year through pipeline shipments.”
Meanwhile, China has been pressing the project, however, the Xinjiang province of China is already supported by a massive network of oil and gas pipelines from Kazakhstan and Russia. Many experts speculate that China’s interest in the project in Pakistan stands solely due to the Malacca dilemma that could work in favour of the United States.
VS Reddy, a research assistant at the Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative of the ORF believes that “China has been pressing to complete the Gwadar port in Pakistan and build the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), allowing it to be connected overland to an Indian Ocean port.
Gwadar and CPEC allow China to circumvent the Strait of Malacca which can be blocked by rival navies in the event of a conflict termed as “Malacca Dilemma”. Many political analysts opine the Strait of Malacca situated between Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans could help the US gain advantage from an event of Chinese blockade in the region.
“Since China’s economic growth is highly dependent on the sea routes for receiving energy along with other raw materials which it uses for cheaper productions which are later shipped back as finished products other continents, it could be a major blow to China,” tells Ragahvan Srivastava to EurAsian Times.
India has established a strong naval presence in the Andaman Sea adjacent to the Strait of Malacca and is regularly partnering with the U.S. and other countries in safeguarding it. “Such a presence can be translated into a formidable blockade. On the other hand, China has yet to showcase its capabilities and willingness to fight to keep this Strait open for its ships,” writes Vidya.
Rahul Jaybhay / Vipasha Kaushal