Posts Tagged ‘China-Pakistan’

New piece for the Lowy Institute of Australia’s Interpreter blog, drawing on a batch of Eurasian travel from the end of the year.

Central Asian connectivity: Going beyond China

Central Asia is experiencing a connectivity boom, with China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ the most dominant vision for the region. Yet this dominance has started to worry Central Asian powers, leading to the emergence of a new narrative – that of diversification. With China becoming the region’s most influential economic actor, steadily increasing its role in local security and politics, Central Asian powers are seeking to broaden their engagement and bring to life a long-advocated ‘multi-vector’ diplomatic approach.

I was fortunate enough to spend the end of last year travelling the Eurasian heartland, with stops in Ashgabat, Astana, Beijing and Islamabad. It was a variety of different trips, covering different projects, but one overriding message about China shone through at every stop: the expansion of Chinese investment into its immediate neighbourhood is having a game-changing impact on the ground. This is positive, but it is also worrying those on the ground and is changing the way that Beijing is thinking about its external investments.

Talk to any Central Asian foreign policy planner and you will almost invariably hear about a ‘multi-vector’ approach to foreign relations. Sitting at the centre of Halford Mackinder’s ‘World-Island’, Central Asians envisage themselves as commanding vast power from the heart of the Silk Road. Yet it’s not always clear the degree to which they actually control the options on the table before them, or whether these great powers move around them to their own tune. Nowhere is this balance highlighted more acutely than in regards to foreign investment. Ideally, Central Asian states would want a multitude of options on the table before them, but while their FDI figures are more diverse than is sometimes given credit for, it is clear that Chinese money is increasingly the principal source.

This is increasingly the story across Eurasia, where everyone is both clamouring for Chinese investment and finding themselves uncertain about relying too heavily on a single investor. In Beijing, officials at state policy banks and private companies worry about the countries they are investing in and the fact they do not know the environments, yet at the same time find themselves under great pressure to deliver on Xi Jinping’s vaunted ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ through commercially viable projects. This leads them to trying to puzzle out how to deliver these projects effectively and seek partners to share the burden.

For landlocked Central Asians, however, the story is a different one. Trapped by geography between a sanctioned Russia, a still-recovering Iran and the disputed Caspian, they are only able to find China as a substantial and long-term investor and partner. India has tried and thus far not delivered, and while they discuss with Pakistan, Europe, Korea and Japan, projects as big as China’s have been slow in arriving. In contrast, Beijing signs contracts and infrastructure appears.

But all are aware of the dangers of having a single customer. In Ashgabat, they link Turkmenistan’s most recent push on breaking ground with the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline and alternate energy partners to a sharp slowdown in Chinese interest in their gas, as China’s economy slowed down. In Astana, President Nursultan Nazarbayev links Kazakhstan’s Nurly Zhol (Shining Road) economic vision to the Chinese Silk Road Economic Belt, in that the local strategy is intended to build on the Chinese infrastructure, showing how they are making the Chinese investment work for them.

But they also discuss the many other partnerships they are developing. Kazakhstan is planning a consulate in Bandar Abbas, the Iranian port city that provides Central Asia a different route to international markets. This was reinforced in Astana, where senior officials spoke of ‘connectivity being the number one point for Kazakhstan’ and that the country ‘will look in any direction with no discrimination’. At the same time, according to the Kaznex Invest Chairman Borisbiy Zhangurazov, China is set to undertake around 50 investment projects in Kazakhstan worth more than $24 billion, an amount almost equal ($26 billion) to all US investment in the country in the past 10 years.

In Pakistan, people worry about the degree to which they are becoming dependent on Chinese loans. Figures published earlier this year indicate that in Q1 FY17, net loan and FDI inflows from China were $1.1 billion (of which $700 million was a loan). Total FDI inflow is down from $192 million a year ago to $91 million this year. Trends that worry people who on the ground express a high level of concern about the transparency of the projects being undertaken as part of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the excessive reliance on Chinese investment.

What is interesting about Pakistan, however, is that it is clear that China is finding itself mired in as many problems as others have previously experienced in the country. As a Dawn editorial flagged at the start of this year, ‘for China, the year 2016 was when the country began to discover the complexities of doing business in Pakistan’. Beijing’s answer is to encourage others to become involved to share the burden. Russia is seeking a role. The UK is interested (an idea my institute is currently working on). Other parts of the Belt and Road, such as Kazakhstan, are equally keen. During my recent visit to Astana, senior figures intimated they were contemplating even going so far as opening a consulate in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’s crown jewel, the port of Gwadar in Baluchistan.

Connectivity remains the keyword in Eurasian geopolitics. Talk of Silk Roads continue to dominate regional conversations. Yet diversification will be essential to realise the visions that are being advanced. It will only work if it is a collective project, something even Beijing appears to be beginning to consider as well.

Another new piece for my institute’s in-house magazine, RUSI Newsbrief, this time looking at China-Pakistan and some of the problems that China has been experiencing in trying to implement its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. As ever, more on this topic to come and found on the China in Central Asia site.

China-Pakistan: With Great Investment Comes Some Responsibility

chinese_and_pakistani_guards

Raffaello Pantucci

China has invested millions into Pakistani infrastructure, but will internal political conflict in Pakistan prove to be the bane of the CPEC’s existence?

The China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has become one of the emblematic foreign policy initiatives of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s broader ‘Belt and Road’ vision. An ambitious and wide-ranging investment project, the CPEC offers Pakistan a way through a number of its biggest problems – including domestic power supply, lack of infrastructure, and parts of the country that are underdeveloped – while giving China strategic port access to the Indian Ocean and creating a corridor to external markets for the underdeveloped southern part of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

Yet earlier this year, the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad was put in the awkward position of having to formally distance itself from acrimonious internal political wrangling within Pakistan around the CPEC. In a pattern that is likely to repeat itself elsewhere as China continues to try to turn the ‘Belt and Road’ concept into a reality, Beijing is finding that it is unable to simply sidestep local entanglements and plead non-interference. Pakistan may prove to be a testing ground to see whether China can avoid local entanglements as the Xi administration seeks to advance its vision for a network of global trade corridors under the ‘Belt and Road’ rubric.

Although it was first announced in May 2013 during the visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to Pakistan, the CPEC was the culmination of many years of steady Chinese investment in Pakistan. A month later, during his inaugural visit to Beijing, Pakistan’s newly elected prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, signed a Memorandum of Understanding formalising the CPEC project. Two years later, it was given a reported injection of $46 billion when President Xi made a reciprocal visit to Pakistan in April 2015.

While relations between Beijing and Islamabad had always been close, it was mostly based on deep and reactive security co-operation – either in terms of Pakistan responding to China’s concerns about terrorism, or China backing Pakistan in its disputes with India. The announcement of the CPEC changed the relationship: it became supercharged as CPEC was presented as the answer to some of Pakistan’s most pressing problems. For example, the focus on the port of Gwadar in Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan offered the potential to economically revitalise one of the country’s long-troubled regions. At the same time, the emphasis on energy programmes (with investment worth almost $34.4 billion, according to Pakistan’s Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform, which would double Pakistan’s generating capacity) promised to address the country’s biggest shortages. This potential goes some way to explaining the often hyperbolic narratives surrounding CPEC in Pakistan.

Given these excessively high expectations, it might therefore be unsurprising that the project has not been plain sailing. This was not entirely unexpected, with senior officials in China openly expressing their concerns about security and the viability of the overall project from the very beginning. During a meeting in Beijing in August 2013, Lin Dajian, vice director-general of the Department of International Cooperation at the National Development and Reform Commission, the governmental body within China that is steering the CPEC, highlighted ‘the security issues and challenges that could impede the speed of [the] project’. What appears to have surprised China, however, is the degree of pushback and difficulty encountered within Pakistan at a political level.

This came to a head in January, when problems in two provincial Pakistani governments made headlines that even managed to drag in the local Chinese Embassy. The government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) issued a threat through its chief minister, Pervez Khattak, who warned that ‘if the federal government does not address the reservations of KP about the [CPEC] project, then we will take an extreme step.’ Khattak’s concern appears to be that the KP government will not receive its fair share of the CPEC project.

At around the same time, stories emerged in the press that the government in Islamabad was exploring the possibility of changing the constitutional status of its northernmost province of Gilgit-Baltistan in response to Chinese concerns about its ability to build some CPEC routes through the disputed region – since China does not want to find itself spending money and sending people to work in areas whose ownership is legally unclear and therefore subject to aggressive contention or dispute. Claimed by India as part of Jammu and Kashmir, the region was traditionally referred to as ‘Northern Areas’ and controlled directly by Islamabad. In 2009, as part of a measure to turn it into a full province by Pakistan, the name was formally changed to ‘Gilgit-Baltistan’ and a legislative assembly was established. In January 2016 the government in Islamabad started to make noises again about taking this process further by recognising the region in the constitution and going some way towards integrating it into the country.

At present, Gilgit-Baltistan has an opaque status similar to that of other parts of the Kashmir region claimed by Pakistan. Islamabad continues to state that the parts of Kashmir it controls are in fact semi-autonomous and are therefore not formally integrated into the country; this is in line with its position that a referendum should be carried out across the entire region. By taking this step, however, Pakistan risked incurring anger in India as well as in Kashmir itself.

From the perspective of the neighbouring province of Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK), the fear was that recognising as a separate province a region that had hitherto been treated as part of AJK might lead to India changing its position on the disputed territories. In addition, officials in Gilgit-Baltistan had their own concerns. They were worried that they were going to miss out on their piece of the CPEC pie.

These fierce regional rivalries were also rooted in Pakistani party politics. In KP, the provincial government is ruled by the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), while in AJK the government is controlled by the largest opposition party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Pakistani commentators have long argued that both parties want to see the CPEC fail: if it succeeds on schedule, it will likely be a strong vote puller for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party. This is because the early parts of the CPEC will likely be most beneficial to the PML-N stronghold of Punjab province. Indeed, in November 2015 the leader of the PPP in the National Assembly, Syed Khursheed Shah, wrote to Sharif expressing concern that the project appeared too ‘Punjab-centric’.

All of these opposition parties, however, have been very careful not to alienate China through their complaints to the central government in Islamabad. They all praise China and the CPEC’s potential to change the country positively. In order to reinforce this point, in the wake of the public airing of the KP complaints, a senior delegation from PTI led by former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi visited the Chinese Embassy. The delegation’s stated aim was to give ‘an assurance to the ambassador that we don’t have any issue with China and we are in favour of the CPEC.’ He went on to say:

‘We also assured [the Chinese authorities] that we will not do any politics on this project and will support its completion … [but] we have reasonable doubts about the federal government. The PML-N government is not taking us into confidence on many issues.’

This led to the embassy issuing an unprecedented statement in which China distanced itself from the problems while calling for unity: ‘China hopes that the relevant parties in Pakistan could strengthen communication and coordination on the CPEC to create favourable conditions for the project.’ This message was reinforced at the regular Ministry of Foreign Affairs briefings in Beijing, where ministry spokesman Hong Lei insisted that ‘we stand ready to work with Pakistan to complete the projects under construction and make long-term plans to keep advancing the building of the Corridor.’

The escalation of these domestic political disputes to the halls of power in Beijing highlights how complicated negotiations around the CPEC have become. While Pakistani officials at every level seek to distance themselves from negative comments about China, it is nonetheless the case that Chinese activity in the country has been the immediate source of these problems. And these are not the only problems that China faces in Pakistan. Apart from militancy, either from violent Islamists or separatists, China has to confront the problems of its workers being kidnapped and its nationals becoming embroiled in local criminal networks.

Whilst unsurprising to most observers of Pakistan, these problems nonetheless illustrate a larger problem that China will increasingly face as it pushes its ‘Belt and Road’ vision out across the Eurasian continent. Making considerable financial investments and importing large numbers of Chinese nationals into a region does not eliminate tensions on the ground. In fact, large investments can exacerbate tensions. They can increase inequality, or, as appears to be the case in Pakistan, they can cause local political tensions. This undermines the argument that appears to underpin Chinese investment policy in both the third world and at home – that development will bring with it political stability.

In Pakistan in particular, China is increasingly going to find itself in difficult situations. China is investing in security in Pakistan at a number of different levels. Not only is it helping the country build its big ticket weapons systems such as aircraft and submarines, but it is also helping police forces to improve security on the ground. It is unclear whether these expenditures are included in the approximately $46 billion associated with the CPEC project, but China will find that the expenses on Pakistani police and army will be constant, and China may find itself having to foot the bill for as long as Pakistan continues to face instability at home.

The CPEC has the potential to be game-changing for Pakistan, but it is unlikely to solve all of the country’s ills or to be completed any time soon. For observers of the ‘Belt and Road’ vision, China’s experiences in Pakistan may offer a taster of what it will encounter elsewhere in the world as it seeks to implement President Xi’s ambitious foreign policy vision, a vision that he hopes will be his legacy.

This is a slightly longer freeflowing piece for an old site I used to contribute to fairly regularly called The Interpreter, the blog for a great Australian think tank called the Lowy Institute. Was based off some reflections from some recent travel I got to do to China, Pakistan and Uzbekistan. I’ve been lucky with the piece getting some traction, including some nice tweets, Casey Michel quoting it in his piece about China’s energy relations with the region and the Australian Business Spectator magazine republishing it. Thanks Sam for publishing it, and goes without saying a lot more on this theme and style to come!

Another short op-ed in between longer pieces of work, this time for Reuters looking at the China-India-Pakistan trilateral relationship and all its complexities. Reflects a number of views I heard on recent trips to all three capitals.

Untangling the web of India, China and Pakistan diplomacy

By Raffaello Pantucci
May 25, 2015

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters)

On the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China, Xinhua published a rare opinion piece by his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif. The obvious choreography of the visit and article shows the delicate balance in relations between China, India and Pakistan.

For Beijing, both powers are important if it is to realize its ambitious strategy of trade and economic corridors emanating from the Middle Kingdom under the rubric of the Silk Road Economic Belt. For current governments in Islamabad and New Delhi, Beijing’s economic miracle offers a way of helping develop their economies. Yet we are some way off before this trilateral relationship will be able to live up to its potential as the economic powerhouse at the centre of Asia.

Islamabad reaped substantial benefits from President Xi Jinping’s delayed visit to Pakistan. The formalization of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to the tune of $46 billion signalled a major investment by China into Pakistan’s future (even if one takes a skeptical view that the money was repackaged old deals and multiple-year contracts conflated for a public announcement).

The current outline for the CPEC is a multistage strategy starting with the development of Pakistan’s parlous energy infrastructure and the redevelopment of its road, rail and pipeline network. A series of economic zones will be established along the CPEC route in Pakistan to attract industry that is finding itself increasingly priced out of Chinese markets. As envisaged, the corridor will not only open up China’s western regions to the seas through Gwadar Port, but also create a latticework of prosperity across Pakistan.

India has traditionally seen a close China-Pakistan relationship as a source of concern. Seeing it as a relationship that is built on the foundations of anti-Indian sentiment, hawks in New Delhi are concerned by this proximity. But the new government of Narendra Modi has appeared willing to open up a new conversation with Beijing, one that tries to look beyond these historical tensions to build stronger economic ties, resolve long-standing border disputes and helps reshape the global order to the advantage of the two Asian giants. China has also offered a direct link to India in one of the numerous trade corridors it is pushing out from Beijing — in the form of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Corridor.

But underlying these optimistic perspectives are a number of fundamental problems, the most central of which is regional security. In the context of CPEC, security in Pakistan (in the form of growing sectarianism, terrorism, as well as separatists in Baluchistan) and in neighbouring Afghanistan pose major threats to the route. And while India may be interested in the BCIM as a potential concept, it remains concerned about encirclement by China through the Maritime Silk Road and the network of relationships China is building in the Indian Ocean as well as the ongoing border tensions in Ladakh. India has continued to keep China out of SAARC and Modi’s Project Mausam is a direct pushback to China’s maritime strategy, in contrast to the country’s willingness to engage on the BRICS Bank, AIIB and to work on joint projects in Iran.

And bringing the trilateral complexity of these relationships into focus are incidents like theattack on the Park Palace Hotel in Kabul. While it remains unclear what the ultimate target was, the potential presence of the Indian Ambassador and Indian casualties immediately painted the incident as part of the shadow war between Pakistani intelligence and the Taliban on the one side, and Afghan intelligence and their Indian supporters on the other. Such incidents stoke paranoia on all sides and complicate efforts to try to forge a regional peace and stability.

The China-India-Pakistan trilateral relationship is a complicated one. All three need each other to succeed, but do not believe this to be the case, remaining fiercely independent in their outlooks and jealous when the other two appear to be moving closer together. On the one hand, China has the potential to act as an honest broker, offering economic investment to all while trying to help offer a platform for discussions. But in reality, China wants no part of a situation where it ends being responsible for brokering peace in such a fractious part of the world, and it continues to take advantage of opportunities to assert its dominance over its Asian neighbours. For India and Pakistan, history continues to be stuck in the legacies of partition.

Yet this is a trio of countries that together account for about a third of the world’s population and where future prosperity is likely to come from. The danger at the moment is the assumption that economic development and prosperity will resolve everything and is the goal that needs to be achieved for regional stability. In reality, all three powers need to shed their historical legacies, and find ways of ending the paranoid tensions that underlie their global outlooks. Until this has been achieved, the CPEC, BCIM and any other regional economic framework will be undermined and no long-term stability will be found in the heart of South Asia.

 

A post for a new outlet, Reuters, this one looking at painting a big picture of China’s interests in Central Asia and Pakistan and how they all stitch together. A bigger theme that I am going to be exploring more through my co-edited site: http://www.chinaincentralasia.com

China re-wires it’s West

OCTOBER 4, 2013

By Raffaello Pantucci

(Raffaello Pantucci is a Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, London)

In his seminal article from October 2012 advocating for China’s ‘March Westwards’ Beijing University Dean of International Relations Wang Jisi spoke of a ‘new silk road [that] would extend from China’s eastern ports, through the center of Asia and Europe, to the eastern banks of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean coastal countries in the west.’ In addition to this route to Europe, ‘A major route from China’s western regions through the Indian Ocean should also be constructed as quickly as possible.’ An ambitious geopolitical sketch of the world seen from Beijing, but one that is being brought to life under President Xi Jinping, whose recent tour of Central Asia provided some definition of what exactly China is aiming for in its western relationships.

There were many significant moments during President Xi’s tour of Central Asia. He planted a tree and opened the CNPC-managed gas field at Galkynysh in Turkmenistan, in Uzbekistan he signed agreements with an aging Islam Karimov, in Kyrgyzstan he attended an SCO Summit and deals worth $3 billion (a small sum compared to investments in neighbors, but nonetheless a substantial amount for Kyrgyzstan whose 2012 GDP $6.5 billion), and in Kazakhstan he presided over the signing of deals worth $30 billion and gave a keynote speech at Nazarbayev University. In many ways, it was this speech that provided the clearest insight into China’s strategy towards Central Asia, outlining a ‘silk road economic belt’ that would ‘open up the transportation channel from the Pacific to the Baltic Sea.’

Five days after President Xi gave this keynote address in Kazakhstan, the Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, Sun Weidong, gave an equally ambitious speech at the National Defence University in Islamabad. In between platitudes about China and Pakistan being ‘brothers’ he spoke of the ‘China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’ that brings together ‘the transportation infrastructure, the energy and economic zones along the corridor, which will organically combine China’s ‘Western Development’ strategy and ‘Opening up to the West’ policy together with [a] Pakistani blueprint for national development.’ China’s strategy in Pakistan is both integrally bound into Pakistan and China’s national development.

These two speeches illustrate the greater vision that Professor Wang was talking about. A ‘silk road economic belt’ to bring European markets closer to China, as a ‘organic’ binding transforms Pakistan into a highway for Chinese goods to get to the Indian Ocean. The ultimate aim for Beijing: to reconnect its western province Xinjiang to the world and open it up for trade. Under-developed and riven with ethnic tensions that continue to spill over into violence, Beijing’s solution is an economic development strategy that needs routes to markets. Hence a highway through Central Asia to Europe and a path through Pakistan to the Indian Ocean.

The odd man out in this broader vision is Afghanistan that sits squarely in between these two routes. China has invested in some routes through the country, but these are at best subsidiary paths to the outer edges of the routes from Central Asia to Xinjiang or possibly a longer-term vision to directly correct Iran to China. But where Afghanistan can play a spoiler in this plan is to disrupt broader regional stability – in particular in Pakistan where a difficult situation on the ground will likely get further exacerbated by a negative outcome post-2014 in Afghanistan. In Central Asia a similar threat exists, but appears far less existential – militant groups previously occupied fighting western forces in Afghanistan may flow back home to Central Asia, but they are unlikely to have the sorts of numbers necessary to overthrow regimes. Nevertheless, an unstable Afghanistan would have negative repercussions on the region and all of this would displace China’s broader strategy.

The grander Chinese vision may be imperiled by potentially negative fall-out in Afghanistan, but the reality is that there are numerous short-term problems that are already hindering the situation. Pakistani instability has always presented a problem for Chinese firms: back in September 2011 China Kingho pulled out of a massive investment in southern Sindh in fear of the security of its workers (though this now may be back on). And the investment climate in Kyrgyzstan is so difficult that in late 2012 Li Deming, the head of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in the country wrote an op-ed in Global Times highlighting all the difficulties Chinese firms faced in the country.

Difficulties notwithstanding, China is making moves to fulfill the reality of the broader vision. There is already a route for goods to go from China to Europe by rail, and it is already possible to travel by road from Kashgar to Gwadar through Pakistan. And Chinese firms are working to re-develop these routes either using national development banks or through the Asian Development Bank. As the world looks elsewhere, China is re-wiring the infrastructure of its western neighbors to bind them ‘organically’ into Beijing’s domestic development strategy.

Another new article pegged to the recent events in Beijing, this time focused on the China-Afghanistan relationship for a Chinese paper that I sometimes write for, 东方早报 (Oriental Morning Post). I try to offer some tangible ideas for what China could do. I should point out that this was written prior to the events last week, so some of the ideas that I mention seem to have been part of the subsequent agreements. Not sure I can take credit, but hopefully these things will feed the general conversation in China subsequent to last week’s announcements. I have pasted the full english text below the Chinese, and would point out that the last paragraph in English didn’t make the Chinese version. I have also saved readers here of seeing the picture of me that they included in the Chinese version, to see that go to the link in the title to the article.

中国如何在阿富汗更有作为
作者 潘睿凡   发表于2012-06-12 03:05

上合组织北京峰会上周决定以观察员国的身份接纳阿富汗。
潘睿凡
上海社科院访问学者

  上合组织北京峰会上周决定以观察员国的身份接纳阿富汗,中国与该国总理卡尔扎伊在单独双边会谈中签署了战略协议,透露出中国愿意在邻国的未来中发挥更大的作用。不过,中国眼下在阿富汗并非主要玩家,这一点在我不久前遍访喀布尔,不断询问中国在阿富汗的利益及其影响力时,屡次得以显现。目前阿富汗人主要的注意力都集中在美国2014年从阿富汗的撤军,及其对于该国未来的意义。

实际上,在阿富汗很难见到中国存在的证据。当2008年阿富汗安全局势恶化以后,很多曾经充斥当地市场以及开餐馆的中国商人关门回国了。留下来的中国人如同其他当地的外国人一样保持低调,躲在高墙以及安全人员的保卫之下。但是在战略层面上,中国却十分显眼,刚赢得了艾娜克(位于喀布尔东南)铜矿的开采合同,以及在阿姆河(阿富汗北部)一处气田的开发权。

从这些大合同中,我们可以看见中国如何能够在这个国家扮演更大和更积极角色。

艾娜克铜矿位于贫穷的洛加尔省,铜矿的开采及其他相关基础设施项目建设(如铁路、公路、发电厂、煤矿坑以及学校等)将创造更多的就业和商业机会,惠及该地区。

在阿姆河天然气田项目上,由于中石油同意以十分优惠的条件与阿富汗政府一道开发,当地的分析人士认为这折射出中石油对该地区未来石油项目开发的兴趣。这被视为中国在阿富汗的长期利益。在政治层面上,将阿富汗提升至上合组织内部“观察员国”身份的决定也显示出中国推动的区域组织正在对阿富汗的未来做出积极的承诺。

不过,在和阿富汗官员、政客以及当地人交流时,他们理解的却不是这个道理。相反,他们指出了中国将大量的援助与投资投向了巴基斯坦,而非他们,并且相信中国更青睐巴基斯坦,而非阿富汗。此外,对于阿富汗开通瓦罕走廊的长期请求,因为对该项目所进行的无止境的可行性研究而被忽略,这被视为是中国的一大策略。更为明显的是,在新疆的答普塔尔(音译,Daptar,中阿边境最后一座中国的小镇),喀喇昆仑山高速路穿过这座小城,通过Kunjerab哨口连接巴基斯坦,而通往阿富汗的道路却依然是尘土飞扬。阿富汗人觉得自己错过了与中国这个经济巨人进行贸易而潜藏的巨大利益,还觉得这是被故意切断的。

在许多方面,中国的观点是容易理解的。阿富汗目前面临安全问题,开放边境可能将其问题直接引入中国。但是,问题在于,除了上文提到的几个大项目之外,似乎再没什么证据显示中国在如何对待阿富汗及如何着手应对2014年美军撤出后的局面问题上存在更长远的大战略。

喀布尔的民众不断追问中国对于阿富汗的策略是什么,大多数人的结论是,没有人在这个问题上有着清晰的思考。

这是一个问题,因为阿富汗的局势会对中亚和南亚产生直接影响。从与阿富汗接壤的杜尚别(塔吉克斯坦首都)及塔什干(乌兹别克斯坦首都)的官员和专家们的谈话中,可以感受到他们对2014年的不确定性极为担忧。而塔吉克斯坦与乌兹别克斯坦的不稳定与不确定性又会波及整个中亚地区,进而波及中国新疆,影响中国在中亚地区的投资。往南看,如果阿富汗变成一个乱摊子,巴基斯坦也会遭殃,中国在巴利益也将进一步受到直接影响,中国已经承接的通过巴基斯坦直达波斯湾海域的大型项目也难以独善其身。

喀布尔内部的期望值并不高。他们并不是期望中国会派遣军队保卫其安全,或是中国会突然到来,取代美国成为主导玩家。相反,他们期望中国可以阐释一个更为清晰的阿富汗战略:努力通过大量战略性经济投资推动当地的稳定和安全。眼下的这些投资在当地被视为有“寄生性”,而哪些努力可以实现稳定仍模糊不清。

这是世界上的一个长久以来充斥着不安全的“大锅炉”,与中国相邻,中国在那里也有着显而易见的战略利益。将阿富汗正式纳入上合组织可以看作一个良好的开始,而中阿战略协议的达成进一步释放出中国愿意参与邻国未来建设的信号。不过,现在是中国明确自己的阿富汗战略,并做出对于该国安全、繁荣与稳定的未来更加明显承诺的时候了。

这一战略可以通过一系列方式得以实现:首先,中国政府可以帮助解决中冶集团(MCC)眼下在当地遇到的麻烦,并让项目进行起来。这将意味着帮助阿富汗政府解决一些官僚问题,而北京方面的集中关注可能有助于这一进程的加速。第二,中国可以更多聚焦于将阿富汗的基础设施(能源线、管道、公路和铁路)与地区网络连接起来——这将有助于阿富汗融入地区发展之中。第三,中-巴-阿三边会谈应该扩展至将除了外交官之外的更多行为体纳入其中,包括国有企业和经济部门。这将有助于把相关行为体聚集到一块儿,共同讨论发展,促进更大的地区融合。第四,中国应该引导上合组织朝着更加积极应对毒品问题的方向迈进。眼下,该组织谈得多,而做得少。在边境监控上加大力度,为阿富汗农民提供除了种植毒品作物之外的其他选择,都是中国引导下的上合组织可以聚焦的项目,这些都将有助于阿富汗逐步摆脱对毒品种植的依赖。(张娟 译)

录入编辑:李琪

China Should Develop its role in Afghanistan

This week’s decision by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to make Afghanistan an observer member and President Karzai’s separate bilateral meeting to sign a strategic agreement with China are signals that China is eager to play a greater role in Afghanistan’s future. However, while these high level actions are positive demonstrations of intent by Beijing, China needs to be sure to follow through if it is to be seen to be playing a greater role in stabilizing its neighbour after the American withdrawal in 2014. Currently, China is not a major player in Afghanistan. A fact that was repeatedly made clear as I went around Kabul asking about China’s interests and influence in the country. Afghans would clearly like to see China play a role, but from what they can see at the moment, China is instead focused on taking Afghanistan’s natural resources while others guarantee security and work to stabilize the country.

There is very little visible evidence of Chinese presence in the country. Many Chinese traders who used to populate the markets or run restaurants closed down and returned home in 2008 as the security situation deteriorated. Those that are left keep a low profile, like most foreigners in the country, reduced to hiding behind high walls and security teams. But at a strategic economic level, China is very visible, winning large contracts to mine for copper in Aynak (southeast of Kabul) and a contract to open a gas field in Amu Darya (in the north of the country).

And in these large contracts we can see how China could play a bigger and more positive role in the country. Aynak sits in Logar province, an underdeveloped region that would benefit from the jobs and opportunity the copper mine and other infrastructure (trains, roads, a power station, coal mine and local schools) that come with the project would bring. And analysts spoken to on the ground believe that the very favorable terms that CNPC agreed to develop the gas field with the Afghan government in Amu Darya are a sign of CNPC’s desire for future oil projects in the region. This is interpreted as a long-term interest in Afghanistan. And at a political level, this week’s announcements in Beijing at the SCO Summit are a sign that the regional body is paying attention to Afghanistan, while the signing of an agreement between Afghanistan and China are a show of the bilateral relationship.

But when talking to officials, politicians and locals in Afghanistan this sense is not what is being understood. Instead people point to the large amounts of aid and investment that China puts into Pakistan rather than them and believe that China prefers Pakistan over Afghanistan. Furthermore, the long-standing requests for the Wakhan Corridor to be opened have been answered with a lengthy feasibility study into whether the project can be done. This is seen as a Chinese strategy of simply sealing off Afghanistan from China and letting it resolve its security problems by itself. Something even more visible on the ground in Daptar in Xinjiang (the last border town before Afghanistan in China), where the Karakoram Highway sweeps magnificently through the village and on to the Kunjerab Pass with Pakistan while the road to Afghanistan remains a closed dusty track. Afghanistan feels it is missing out on the potential trade benefits with the Chinese economic giant and feels like it is being purposely cut off.

And in many ways this Chinese perspective is easy to understand. Afghanistan is currently a security problem and opening the border might let trouble flow directly into China. But the problem is that aside from the big projects mentioned earlier, there is little evidence of a larger Chinese strategy of what to do with Afghanistan and what to be preparing for after 2014 and the American withdrawal. In Kabul people kept asking what the Chinese strategy was for Afghanistan, with most concluding that there was no clear thinking going into this subject.

This is a problem, as what happens in Afghanistan will have a direct impact on Central and South Asia. Talking to officials and local experts in Dushanbe and Tashkent, who sit on the border with Afghanistan, there is a high level of concern about what 2014 means. And instability and uncertainty in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan is something that will impact the entire Central Asian region and therefore Xinjiang, as well as Chinese investments in throughout region. Looking south: Pakistan will also suffer if Afghanistan falls into chaos, something that will further have direct impact on Chinese interests in the country, but also the great projects that China has undertaken to connect itself to the warm waters of the Gulf through Pakistan.

Expectations in Kabul are not very high. The hope is not that China will deploy forces to guarantee security or that China will suddenly come and replace America as the main player in the nation. Instead, the hope is that China will instead enunciate a clearer strategy towards the nation that ties in efforts to improve stability and security with large strategic economic investments. Currently on the ground the investments are seen as holding pieces of territory without investing in them, while what efforts towards stability are either invisible or considered irrelevant. And at a political level, while the brokering of a China-Pakistan-Afghanistan trilateral was an interesting and positive development, it is unclear that it has changed much on the ground.

All of this in a region of the world that has long been a cauldron of insecurity and which is adjacent to China and in which China has quite obvious strategic interests. The decision to bring Afghanistan further into the SCO framework is a good start and the strategic agreement a further signal of China’s willingness to participate in the country’s future, but the time has come for China to clearly enunciate its strategy towards Afghanistan and to make a more visible commitment towards the country’s secure, prosperous and stable future.

This could come in a number of different ways: first, China could help companies like MCC resolve their current difficulties on the ground and get projects going. This would require helping the Afghan government resolve some bureaucratic issues, but focused attention from Beijing might help speed this process up. Secondly, China could focus more attention on getting Afghanistan’s infrastructure (energy lines, pipelines, roads, trains) connected to regional networks – this will help bind the country into its region and help development. Thirdly, the China-Pakistan-Afghanistan trilateral format should be expanded to bring more actors to the table beyond diplomats, like state owned companies and economic ministries. This will help bring relevant actors to the table to discuss development together and help foster greater regional integration. And fourthly, China should help steer the SCO in the direction of more active counter-narcotics work. Currently, the organization talks about the problem a lot without doing much visibly. Encouraging greater border surveillance, stopping the flows of precursor drugs into the country and offering farmers alternatives to growing drug crops are all projects that the SCO could focus on with Chinese leadership and would help Afghanistan move beyond reliance on this crop.

But the most significant move that China could make is to ensure that it makes further visible progress in its relationship on the ground with Afghanistan before the American withdrawal in 2014. It is understandable that China wants to wait to see what the environment looks like post-2014; but at the same time, whatever the scenario post-2014, Afghanistan will still be next door to China. So waiting is somewhat unnecessary and is only going to delay development in Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s future is clearly going to be both important and to some degree tied to China’s. China is in a position to play a very positive role in fostering a peaceful future for the nation, starting work on it now is something that will only reap dividends.

A new piece for a new outlet, The Diplomat which is an excellent magazine and site that covers Asia-Pacific affairs. This one focuses on China-Pakistan relations, a fascinating subject that plays quite a bit into considerations on the other subject I have been looking at in some detail, China-Afghanistan. I also want to use this opportunity to highlight some media stuff I have done. I did an interview for Voice of America ahead of the SCO Summit and what it means for SCO involvement in Afghanistan, as well as an interview for the Christian Science Monitor on China-Afghanistan.

Break Up Time for Pakistan, China?

Chinese and Pakistani officials often talk in lofty terms about the proximity of their relationship. “Higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, sweeter than honey, stronger than steel and dearer than eyesight” is the official characterization, and Chinese or Pakistani researchers will often say how they are welcomed like brothers when they visit their respective countries.

A story last week in the Pakistani press, however, seemed to belie this, stating that Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi had declined to move a meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to Karachi, forcing the president to rapidly reschedule his trip to be in Islamabad to meet with Yang. Whatever the accuracy of this specific story, there has been a noticeable tenseness in relations between Beijing and Islamabad, indicating that things may not be as rosy as they are sometimes portrayed.

At an official level, it seems clear that both sides are eager to maintain a visible proximity. In the wake ofZardari’s visit to India earlier this year, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told the press that it was “our best friend China….[who] advised us to promote trade relations with India.” And from a Chinese perspective, during a visit last December on behalf of President Hu Jintao during a ceremony to mark 60 years of “China-Pakistan Friendship” State Councilor Dai Bingguo declared: “It is believed that happiness, when shared by two, will be doubles, suffering, when shared by two, will be halved…[Pakistan is] an iron core” friend of China.

Yang added to this recently when he stated: “the China-Pakistan strategic partnership of cooperation, marked by all-weather friendship and all-round cooperation, has become an example for harmonious coexistence and friendly cooperation.”

But beneath the rhetoric, there have been a number of divergences from the official line. Back in August of last year, after an incident in Kashgar in which six people were killed, the local government issued a statement in which they said that an “initial probe” indicated that the leader of the plot had been trained in Pakistan. This was seemingly confirmed a month later when the Turkestan Islamic Movement (TIP) released a video showing the alleged leader, Memtieli Tiliwaldi, training at a camp they claimed was in Waziristan.

A subsequent investigation cleared Pakistan of responsibility, but the impression of Chinese concern over its South Asian neighbor was emphasized again when in early March, Xinjiang Chairman Nur Bekri highlighted the “countless” links between terrorists in the province and “neighboring country” Pakistan. This came after more than a dozen people were killed in another stabbing spree in Yecheng County, just south of Kashgar. And then in April, the Public Security Ministry released a wanted notice for six individuals who it referred to as having links to “a South Asian” country and being members of “East Turkestan groups.”

While the statements from the Xinjiang government likely reflected anger at a local level in the province, the statement from a central government ministry was a different thing, showing that this concern was something that extended beyond Xinjiang security officials. Xinjiang’s proximity to Pakistan and its restive Uighur Muslim population make it a prime candidate for links to extremists in Pakistan – stories in the Chinese press about the Yecheng incident emphasized the cities’ proximity to Pakistan – but usually the central government is wary of pointing fingers directly at Pakistan.

But beyond Xinjiang, we have also seen a retraction from Pakistan of Chinese official business interests. Back in September last year, Chinese coal mining company Kingho withdrew from bidding for a development in Thar, Pakistan. What was most striking was that when the firm talked to the press subsequent to the decision, the Wall Street Journal reported a company official openly stating that it was a result of the negative security situation.

Then, in March, the state owned Chinese bank ICBC withdrew its support from financing a gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan. It did not specify why. And while China recently announced that it would buy out all other stakeholders in ownership of the Gwadar Port, it’s still unclear when the port is going to gain tractions. Completed in 2007 with largely Chinese funding, the port is advertised as a sign of Sino-Pakistan friendship, but languishes unused as other regional ports are moving to overtake it as potential seaports for Central Asia’s rich resources.

All of which paints a very different picture of the public face that China and Pakistan like to project about their friendship and alliance. Both governments clearly want to keep up good appearances.  It is, however, increasingly clear that there is a high level of concern in China about Pakistan. In Xinjiang in particular they seem to have lost patience at Pakistani capacity to contain Uighur extremists travelling to train in Pakistan and then coming back.

Pakistan, for its part, is clearly aware of these problems. In the wake of incidents last year, Zardari visited Urumqi for the first China-Eurasia Expo. Preceding him was ISI head Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha who visited Beijing, presumably to discuss, amongst other things, problems in Xinjiang.

Whether this kind of contact will be enough, though, is unclear. Beijing may be Pakistan’s best friend, but even best friends can eventually lose their patience with each other.

Raffaello Pantucci is a visiting scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.