Author: Abdul Sattar is associated with the Center for Global and Strategic Studies (CGSS)
In recent years, much has been written and said about China’s Initiative – The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – which was unveiled by the president of the People’s Republic of China, Mr. Xi Jinping in 2013. Xi’s vision comprised of creating a vast network of energy pipelines, highways, railways, and streamlined border crossings, both westward – through the mountainous ex-Soviet republics – and southward, to Pakistan, India, and the rest of Southeast Asia. Such an arrangement would magnify the international use of Chinese currency, the renminbi, while new infrastructure could “break the bottleneck in Asian connectivity,”
Belt and Road initiative is one of the connectivity network projects started by China. The initiative aims to form co-operation and connectivity across six main economic corridors encompassing China and: Russia and Mongolia; Central and West Asia; Pakistan; other countries of the Indian sub-continent; Indochina; and Eurasian countries. There is no other example of such a vast scale project in modern times. It is significant not only for China but all the other states which are partners in this project. Since its declaration, more and more states have shown interest in being part of this plan. China presented BRI as an open arrangement in which all the countries are welcome to participate. This is a game-changer that every state in this region wants to benefit from. It combines old and new projects, covers an extensive geographic scope, and includes efforts to fortify soft infrastructure, hard infrastructure, and cultural ties. As of October 2019, the plan touches 138 countries with a combined Gross Domestic Product of $29 trillion and some 4.6 billion people.
The BRI covers a multitude of projects designed to endorse the flow of goods, investments, and people. The new connections nurtured by the BRI could reroute economic activity, reconfigure relationships, and shift power among and within states. In March 2015, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released an action plan (issued by the National Development and Reform Commission) that fleshed out specific policy goals of the BRI. These included:
- Strengthening the coordination of infrastructure plans to better connect hard infrastructure networks like transportation systems and power grids.
- Encouraging the development of soft infrastructure such as the signing of trade deals, aligning of regulatory standards, and improving financial integration
- Improving intergovernmental communication to better align high-level government policies like economic development strategies and plans for regional cooperation.
- Bolstering people-to-people connections by cultivating student, expert, and cultural exchanges and tourism.
Beneficiary countries are expected to find the most striking element of the BRI to be its endowment of hard infrastructure. Likewise, the BRI provides China with a prospect to use its substantial economic means to finance these infrastructure projects around the world. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) quotes that the developing countries of Asia jointly will require $26 trillion in infrastructure investment to withstand growth.
There are multiple ongoing projects related to transport, energy, urban and special economic zones under BRI – some of which had begun before the name, Belt and Road Initiative surfacing – in many countries including China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Iran, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tajikistan, India, Oman, Indonesia, Kyrgyz Republic, Maldives, Azerbaijan and Belarus among the 138 countries that BRI aims to connect. As Pakistan is the stepping stone in furtherance and progress of the Belt and Road Initiative, there are 46 ongoing – some completed – projects in Pakistan. These projects are categorized under the heads: transport, energy, and special economic zones. The projects are:
- Gawadar Port
- M4 Motorway
- Peshawar-Karachi Motorway
- Gawadar International Airport
- Havelian Dry Port
- Hakla-Dera Ismail Khan Motorway
- Khunjerab Railway
- M5 Motorway
- M8 Motorway
- Orange Line Lahore Metro
- Karakoram Highway
- Karachi Circular Railway
- Greater Peshawar Mass Transit
- Quetta Mass Transit
- Keti Bunder Sea Port Project
- Greater Peshawar Region Mass Transit
- Diamer-Bhasha Dam
- Engro That Block II Power Plant
- Tarbela 5 Hydropower Extension Project
- Sahiwal 2x660MW Coal-fired Power Plant
- UEP 100 MW Wind Farm
- Sachal 50MW Wind Farm
- Thar Mine Mouth Oracle Power Plant
- Balloki Power Plant
- Gadani Power Project
- Matiari-Lahore Transmission Line
- Pakistan Port Qasim Power Project
- Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park
- Sahiwal Coal Power Project
- Suki Kinari Hydropower Project
- Gilgit KIU Hydropower
- Cacho 50MW Wind Power Project
- Rahim Yar Khan Power Plant
- Kohala Hydel Project
- Phandar Hydropower Station
- Hydro China Dawood 50MW Wind Farm
Special Economic Zones
- Rashakai Economic Zones
- China Special Economic Zone Dhabeji
- Bostan Industrial Zone
- Allama Iqbal Industrial City
- ICT Model Industrial Zone
- Mirpur Special Economic Zone
- Mohmand Marble City
- Maqpondass Special Economic Zone
- Pak-China Technical and Vocational Institute under education category
For this project to achieve its maximum capacity, it is imperative to increase people-to-people contact among the member states. The Euro-Asian region is home to various culturally distinctive groups. Their lifestyle believes cultural norms and values all vary from one another. In the past, there has been a lack of integration among the states of this region mainly due to a lack of road connectivity. But once the road and highways are constructed and the traffic begins on these routes, people are bound to come together. A sudden exposure can be dangerous – to avoid any mishaps in the future the people of these areas need to be accustomed to one another. They should be aware of the norms and values of the participant nations and how they live their lives.
“This gap between the available data and the actual facts and figures can be curtailed effectively through organizing conferences where people from media houses of participant countries are brought together to share reliable information – one such conference has recently been organized by Center for Global and Strategic Studies (CGSS), Islamabad titled, “Cross-Regional Media Fusion among the Belt and Road Partners” – where representatives from leading media houses of the partnering states were invited to discuss and spread facts about the Belt and Road Initiative in Islamabad, Pakistan”
This is where the media of the BRI states can play a vital role. Media is the medium that has the most influence in shaping the minds of people in modern times. But unfortunately, till now media has been mostly left out of the loop. This has caused a lack of awareness of these projects among the common people. For this reason, the media of partner states need to be updated.
Another issue is the lack of reliable data available on the internet regarding these projects. It is a known fact that most of the data available on the internet are generated by western sources, which has propagated against BRI by presenting distorted facts since it was the announcement. This gap between the available data and the actual facts and figures can also be curtailed through organizing conferences where people from media houses of these countries are brought together to share reliable information – one such conference has recently been organized by the Center for Global and Strategic Studies (CGSS), Islamabad titled, “Cross-Regional Media Fusion among the Belt and Road Partners” – where representatives from leading media houses of the partnering states were invited to discuss and spread facts about the Belt and Road Initiative in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Pakistan has had zero connectivity with the states and people of this region in the past. Now with BRI and its flagship projects like CPEC, Pakistan has been presented with a chance to establish a new relationship with this region and it wants to benefit maximum from this opportunity.