Pakistan-China railway to extend Beijing’s influence, says scholar

China should give its full effort to develop the China-Pakistan railway to extend China’s economic and political influence in the region and even to Africa, China’s state-owned Reference News cites an expert as saying.

China pledged US$4 billion to upgrade Pakistan’s rail network during President Xi Jinping’s visit to the country last week. A railway project that connects Kashgar in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region to the Pakistan port of Gwadar is also underway and is expected to play a major role in the economic corridor that the two nations have agreed to establish.

Gao Bai, a professor of sociology at Duke University in the United States and director of the National Research Center on Strategic Development of High-Speed Rail at Southwest Jiaotong University in Chengdu, has been a keen advocate of the China-Pakistan railway. In a 2013 article, Gao suggested that the railway could be a pillar for the expansion of China’s influence over land and could fundamentally impact the economic and political development of the region.

Gwadar Port, constructed by a Chinese firm, is now operated by a state-run Chinese company under contract for 40 years. The port sits on the western end of the Balochistan coast on the opposite end of the Gulf of Oman which is an important route for oil tankers from the Persian Gulf. It is also an important point that handles goods flowing out from western China and Central Asia to the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

The Gwadar-Kashgar railway is thus strategically significant as a shortcut for China to the Indian Ocean, said Gao, who believes that its construction may lead to the establishment of the Kashgar-Andijon railway via Kyrgyzstan and further facilitate the connection between Central Asian countries and India and the Indian Ocean.

Pakistan would welcome China’s funding and influence as it acts as a balance to India. Yet India is expected to benefit from the railway too and the project could facilitate cooperation among the three, the professor said.

The railway-backed economic integration would also help China increase its influence in the border area of Pakistan and Afghanistan, where separatists in Xinjiang are believed to have been trained by Islamist extremists. Meanwhile, China would be in a convenient position to provide military support to the String of Pearls strategic network covering the Indian Ocean.

The railway and “ironclad” friendship with Pakistan could also maximize China’s influence in the Middle East and could eventually lead to greater partnership with Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, the professor said. It is possible that China could convince the UAE and Saudi Arabia via Pakistan to construct a tunnel through the Strait of Hormuz for a railway to the Arabian Peninsula and even Africa, Gao predicted.

Courtesy: Watch China Times
See more » http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?id=20150426000082&cid=1101

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