The second phase of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would focus on Afghanistan as the US prepares to withdraw from the region. China has invested billions of dollars in Pakistan under the CPEC project and is keen to expand the initiative to mineral-rich Afghanistan.
“China has a larger vision of its engagement with Afghanistan, which is also driven by strong geoeconomic considerations. Afghanistan’s huge reserves of copper, and rare earth, including lithium — the feedstock of the batteries and new energy vehicles, is a major driver of China’s long-term engagement with Afghanistan,” says P. Stobdan, former Indian ambassador to Kyrgyzstan.
CPEC programme was launched under the Border and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2015 intending to connect Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a network of land and sea routes in China.
The initiative was launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping. After completion of key projects in the first phase, “the second phase will focus on the development of Special Economic Zones (SEZ), strengthening trade and cultural ties through joint ventures and exchange of delegations,” said Yao Jing, Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan.
For the CPEC initiative, Afghanistan is a major gateway to Central Asia. Beijing is already a major investor in various sectors in Afghanistan, especially mining and looks to enhance trade and commerce along the Pak-Afghan border.
CPEC and Gwadar port give Afghanistan easier access to the rest of the world, despite the availability of India-backed Iranian Chabahar port as an alternative.
The progress of CPEC has been slow which led to Chinese appointing Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa — a former head of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in 2017. “Beijing always desired the Pakistan Army of managing the CPEC, as they were seen as more competent and less corrupt,” a Chinese academic said.
As reported earlier by EurAsian Times, Beijing is developing, what is believed to be the highest airport in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous region, which is scheduled to be operational by June 2022. “It will create a new ‘air passage’ leading to Central Asia and South Asia,” said Zhou Xiang, deputy director of Xinjiang’s Civil Aviation Administration.
China and Pakistan have maintained cooperative diplomacy relations not only in terms of cultural exchanges but also economic policies that have benefitted both the countries. With American troops out of the picture, it will ease the process of the phase 2 program of the CPEC.
Inputs from The Hindu