Beneath China’s plying of silk and rice in Pakistan, is an iron will to extend its military, economic, and diplomatic influence in Asia. This leaked document confirms that thesis
A leaked document on China’s Silk Road investment plan reveals details on China’s approach to security issues for its investments in Pakistan, including potential Chinese law enforcement and increased Chinese-supplied surveillance equipment to be rolled out in Pakistan one city at a time. The document, a summary of which Pakistan’s Dawn media site published on May 15, details surveillance equipment and possible Chinese enforcement of the law in Pakistan to protect Chinese companies against terrorism. The document poses diversity and multi-party democracy as problems, which raises questions about the extent to which the international community should allow autocratic China’s use of $1 trillion in upcoming investment to push its diplomatic and security objectives in economically and politically vulnerable recipient countries. Many of these countries are independent and democratic, but may not be for long given China’s document, ideology, and history of development finance. Beneath China’s plying of silk and rice in Pakistan, is an iron will to extend its military, economic, and diplomatic influence in Asia. This leaked document confirms that thesis
The modern Silk Road, also known as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) plan, was announced in 2013. It includes $46 billion of planned investments in Pakistan. Known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), it is under fire from India for running through the disputed territory of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. As part of the plan, China will also perturb India with its 40-year contract, including for military vessels, at the Port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea just west of India. Both Pakistan and increasingly China, are acting as geopolitical and military adversaries to democratic India.
But those are not the biggest risks to the CPEC project, according to China, which proffered and then retracted an offer to change the name to mollify India. The biggest risk to China’s CPEC investment, according to the Chinese government document, are security issues, diversity, and even multiparty democracy, as it were, in Pakistan. “There are various factors affecting Pakistani politics, such as competing parties, religion, tribes, terrorists, and Western intervention” the document states. “The security situation is the worst in recent years”.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies have committed trillions of dollars, and thousands of lives, in Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight terrorism and support democracy in those countries. So for China to associate “Western intervention” in the same breath with terrorism and “competing parties” is both bizarre and insulting. China has taken advantage of NATO-funded security in Afghanistan, while supporting the Taliban terrorists, for example, to enable their investment in highly-profitable copper mines that will destroy the ancient Buddhist temple complex at Mes Aynak. And now China calls Western intervention part of the problem? Western intervention helped take down the Soviet occupation, and singularly replaced the Taliban government in Kabul with a democracy. Western intervention removed Osama bin Laden from Pakistan. Now China calls Western intervention, democracy, and diversity the problem? The world needs to take a hard look at what China is doing in far-flung corners of the world. It isn’t good.
The leaked December 2015 document on Pakistan is 231 pages long, and titled “Long-Term Plan On China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.” A shorter 30-page document was provided to the Punjab provincial government, which has the dominant ethnicity in the country and where the map appears to place most of the planned industrial development. Neither the 231-page document, nor the 30-page document, were given to other provincial governments according to the Dawn article. I guess they were not central to the $46 billion planning process.
Not only does China call religious and tribal diversity a problem in Pakistan, it appears to give special treatment to Pakistan’s dominant ethnicity, the Punjabis. This is unacceptable in a world that should be promoting, rather than restricting, diversity. But China and Pakistan have the opposite strategy. They tend to suppress ethnic diversity, for example in the “tribal” areas near Peshawar, Pakistan, and in the Tibet and Xinjiang “autonomous” regions. Laws and policy in these areas favor dominant nationalities like the Punjabis and Han Chinese.
According to the document, China is pursuing a control system and electronic monitoring of the Khunjerab border, between Chinese territory and Kashmir. The ethnic minority in that region is the Burushaski, and the monitoring systems are no doubt part of an attempt to staunch the spread of Muslim insurgency from Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Xinjiang “autonomous” region of China, where the Muslim minority is severely repressed.
China is also planning to sponsor a project called “safe cities” in Pakistan that will install scanners and explosive detectors to “cover major roads, case-prone areas and crowded places  in urban areas to conduct real-time monitoring and 24 hour video recording.” A command center, for which the nationality of staffing is unclear according to Dawn, will gather the resulting data and initiate a response. “There is a plan to build a pilot safe city in Peshawar, which faces a fairly severe security situation in northwestern Pakistan” according to the document. Peshawar is primarily populated by the Pashtun minority, and is a center of the Taliban insurgency. The safe cities program will then be rolled out in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, Lahore, the capital of the Punjab province, and Karachi, the main port city of Pakistan. These three cities are above all the three most important political and trade nodes to the government of Pakistan. They are the country’s center of economic and political gravity. The document hints that the data feeds from surveillance equipment in these cities will be shared and possibly recorded. If Chinese personnel occupy the command centers, one should assume that the data will be shared with Beijing as well.
The sanitized version of the Chinese government document is dated February 22, 2017. The full document appears to be focused on extracting agricultural and other raw resources from Pakistan, such as cotton and rice, and exporting Chinese technical capacity. Particular concern is paid to financial and security risks. Tucked into the final sentence in the agriculture chapter, is information that the Chinese government will “[s]trengthen the safety cooperation with key countries, regions and international organizations, [and] jointly prevent and crack down on terrorist acts that endanger the safety of Chinese overseas enterprises and their staff.” The italics are mine, to highlight the question as to whether China plans on enforcing law against terrorism in Pakistan and other countries, and whether this enforcement will primarily or solely be for the benefit of Chinese business. If so, what an admission. It would not be a surprise if the information were intentionally hidden by putting it in the last sentence of the agricultural chapter, of all places.
The document states that “The cooperation with Pakistan in the monetary and financial areas aims to serve China’s diplomatic strategy.” This means that China is offering elements of the Pakistani government monetary and financial incentives to cooperate with China’s diplomacy. And indeed we see that Pakistan is keeping up the pressure on India, a country that threatens China’s westward expansion. Pakistan is seeking membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is a security organization founded in 2001 by China and Russia that will likely be in increasingly adversarial relations with NATO in the future. Elements of the Pakistani security services, along with China and Russia, also support the Taliban terrorists, which are in direct conflict with NATO.
Pakistanis who care about their independence, security and democracy, erratic as it is, should seriously consider whether they want a large and powerful autocratic country like China so strongly determining their economic, political, and even security future. I wouldn’t. The rest of the world, especially India, which is in such a close and contentious embrace with Pakistan, and NATO countries along with land-bound Afghanistan, which depend on Pakistan for overland transport, should resist the China-Pakistan economic and political alliance. Elements in both countries support the Taliban terrorists. Neither country is a good influence on critical global values like democracy, diversity and human rights. International pressure should be brought to bear on both.
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I worked in military intelligence for five years, including on nuclear weapons, terrorism, cyber-security, border security, and counter-insurgency. I covered and visited Asia and Europe, and worked in Afghanistan for one and a half years. I have a Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University, and a B.A. and M.A. in international relations from Yale University (Summa cum laude). My company, Corr Analytics, provides political risk analysis to commercial, non-profit, and media clients, and publishes the Journal of Political Risk. I am editing a series on the South China Sea conflict, and have covered and visited Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.
The author is a Forbes contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.