March 18, 2022No Comments

Book Review: Reconfiguring the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor by Jeremy Garlick

By: Mariam Qureshi

In his latest book, Jeremy Garlick analyses the conceptions and perceptions surrounding the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the ‘flagship’ project of China’s greater Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). CPEC was initially intended to provide a shorter and potentially safer trade route across Pakistan for Chinese imports and exports which would also serve as an alternative to the existing route via Straits of Malacca. However, over the years, Pakistan’s economic situation and security considerations have dampened progress on the $62 billion project announced in 2017. Garlick argues that CPEC is not really a ‘game-changer’ for Pakistan or the region, rather is more of a geopositional gambit as the project is driven more by geopolitical and security motivations than by economic considerations. 

Garlick dives into the history of Sino-Pak cooperation – from shared support against territorial disputes with India to China’s clandestine support for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program – to show how political considerations play a critical role behind CPEC’s vision which ultimately aims to preserve and bolster this ‘all-weather’ alliance between the two neighbours. To deconstruct the perceptions of CPEC as an ‘economic corridor’ or ‘game-changer’, Garlick quantitatively and qualitatively analysed over 100 most-cited publications for general assumptions and more specifically for terms such as ‘Malacca Dilemma’ and ‘Game-Changer’. Divided into six chapters, the book unpacks existing narratives around CPEC, the reality and myths around the economic considerations, the Malacca Dilemma, geopolitical and security considerations, all culminating into the concluding chapter that shows how CPEC is not the ‘game-changer’ for Pakistan. 

Image Source:

First, Garlick shows how it is doubtful that CPEC could serve as an ‘economic corridor’ for the region given how almost all the projects initiated under it are situated within Pakistan. These projects solely focus on boosting Pakistan’s economic, energy, transport, and infrastructure sectors, except for the fiber-optic cable project, which is the only project running cross-border into China. This, Garlick argues, shows how CPEC could be restricted to deepening Pak-China ties and supporting Pakistan’s dwindling economy that has been unable to secure both foreign investors and American aid.

Next, Garlick analyses one of the most significant projects under CPEC, the Gwardar Project, aimed at developing the Gwadar port in Pakistan which would allow China access to the Indian Ocean and port facility for its imports and exports among other benefits. Further, a Gwadar-Xinjiang Pipeline is expected to resolve the supposed ‘Malacca Dilemma’ – a chokepoint in the Straits of Malacca which, if blocked, could hamper 80% of Chinese oil supplies. However, upon closer inspection, Garlick shows how a Gwadar-Xinjiang Pipeline does not appear feasible owing to the difficult Himalayan terrain; a pipeline passing through the mountains would require insulation and supporting structure thus adding to the construction costs. Additionally, alternative routes through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to Xinjiang or even maritime routes as opposed to the land route via Himalayan terrain renders a Gwadar-Xinjiang Pipeline rather illogical. Garlick also shows how the port capacity of Gwadar has not increased over the years, which makes its limited capacity unfit for greater Chinese shipments or even for trade in Central Asia. More importantly, the security threats in Baluchistan due to separatist and terrorist elements have, over the years, hindered any substantial progress on the project and have put lives of Chinese officials in danger. Given all the difficulties attributed with the Gwadar project, Garlick shows the significance of Chinese investment by terming their presence in Gwadar as geopositional hedging; the Chinese aim to establish their presence in a relatively strategic location – in this case near the Strait of Hormuz – so that it may prove beneficial against any potential future risk.

Garlick also argues that the lack of transparency with the project, particularly in terms of its financial details, raises doubts over corruption and cronyism. This is further fueled by the fact that an ex-general now serves as the head of CPEC, raising questions on the extent of military interference in Pakistan. Though lack of transparency is not the only trouble with finances; Pakistan’s mounting national debt – which stood at 35.8 trillion rupees (US$228 billion) in November 2020 – together with perpetual shortage of foreign exchange reserves and China's debt trap diplomacy has made it difficult for the country to pay off Chinese debt. Garlick also unpacks various energy and infrastructure projects initiated under CPEC in Pakistan to show how, even if the said $62 billion is invested under CPEC, the amount is too small to create a significant difference; further casting doubt on whether CPEC is a ‘game-changer’ for Pakistan. 

The book very succinctly maps out the internal dynamics of Pakistan from the military influence in politics to separatist trouble in Baluchistan and its dwindling economy to explain how various factors impact CPEC’s vision and execution. Garlick's extensive research and meticulous analysis is evident as he challenges prevalent assumptions and perceptions regarding CPEC existing in literature and in media. Garlick offers a fresh and distinct perspective on why CPEC should not be considered a ‘game-changer’ and how instead it has become a source of “excessive debt, elite corruption, and poor outcomes for Pakistan’s economy and people”. 

February 14, 2022No Comments

Jeremy Garlick on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)

Dr Jeremy Alan Garlick is an Associate Professor of International Studies and International Relations. Currently, he is the Director of the J. Masaryk Centre of International Studies at Prague University of Economics and Business. His research focusses on the Belt and Road Initiative, China's relations with Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), China-Middle East relations, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). He is the author of books, “Reconfiguring the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: Geo-Economic Pipe DreamsVersus Geopolitical Realities” published November 2021 and “The Impact of China’s Belt and Road Initiative: From Asia to Europe” published December 2019. He has also authored various book chapter, peer reviewed articles, book reviews and conference papers. He is also member of the editorial board of the Journal of Current Chinese Affairs since 2018.

In this interview he talks about his recent book "Reconfiguring the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor" and explains how CPEC may not be such a game-changing endeavour for the region as originally hoped. He explains how almost all projects are centred within Pakistan instead of being cross-border in nature. He also highlights the security risks among other factors within Pakistan that have repeatedly hindered development of the CPEC Projects.

Interviewing Team: Sandra Watson Parcels and Carlotta Rinaudo.

January 31, 2022No Comments

Iran’s Foreign Policy towards East: Causes and Consequences

By: Shahin Modarres, Filippo Cimento and Yasmina Dionisi.

Image Source:توصیه-مسافرتی-وزارت-خارجه-به-مسافران-خارج-از-كشور

 "No ties to the East, no ties to the West, just the Islamic Republic" (Image Reference)

This motto engraved at the entrance of the Iranian ministry of foreign affairs represents Islamic Republic's ideology regarding its foreign policy. An ideal of independence mixed with a heavily ideological theme. Where do we stand 43 years after this motto was first chanted? Is the Islamic Republic an independent state from what it defined as East and West or is it becoming more and more dependent on one side in order to survive? In this article we will briefly review what pushes the Islamic Republic towards the East and what is to be expected from such pattern.

Within international relations, sanctions typically act as a tool of foreign pressure aimed at targeting the policies of other States (Marinov 2005, 564): compromises from leaders are more likely if their existence in power is threatened by an external pressure (Marinov 2005, 564). Even so, in the history of global politics, States have been targeted by sanctions, by foreign countries, according to diverse strategic rationales. In regards to the Iranian case, economic sanctions have been directed at curbing the regime’s nuclear programme, restraining its regional policy, and condemning its human rights violations.

Sanctions have acted as the preferred policy tool of the States most concerned by the development of the State’s nuclear programme (Esfandiary and Fitzpatrick 2011, 143). Though the Islamic Republic of Iran has faced sanctions since the November 1979 takeover of the US embassy in Tehran, the first US sanctions in regard to Iran’s nuclear intentions date to 1995 with President Clinton’s issuing of the Executive Order 12957 of March 1995 and the Executive Order 12959 of May 1995. These involved US export controls banning the transfer to Iran of dual-use that could be applied for weapons purposes. The international community would universally consider the matter a decade later, with the first UN sanctions against Iran imposed in 2005 by the Security Council Resolution 1737, which mandated a ban on assistance to Iran’s enrichment programme (Esfandiary and Fitzpatrick 2011, 144). If effects of the sanctions are to be assessed, it could be said that the 1996 Iran and Libya Sanctions of 1996 (ILSA), for instance, whose principal purpose had been to deter foreign investments in Iran’s energy industries, penalized the Iranian companies investing annually in Iran’s oil and gas sector; the ILSA was extended and the Iranian oil production stalled, growth was hampered (Schott 2012, 190). 

Iran’s regional policy has additionally been a subject of concern within global politics and for neighboring countries. The Islamic Republic boasts a geostrategic position enabling it to project its influence on Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean (Švejdová 2017, 46). Among the effects of economic sanctions relating to Iran’s regional aspirations the most significant amount to the impact of the state’s national economy. (Švejdová 2017, 47). That said, the stabbing of the economy has not haltered the regime’s resilience, which has exploited the foreign pressure by stabilizing its roots and empowering its policies, mainly through its religious ideology (Naghavi and Pignataro 2015, 3).

The last grounds on which Iran has been targeted by the U.S. and the international community are its human rights violations. Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has been accused of violations both traditionally tied to oppressive regimes and also related to the regime’s codification of provisions found in Shi’a jurisprudence (Mokhtari 2004, 469). But in Iranian internal politics, Iranian policy changes have far from been implemented as a result of the U.S. sanctions nevertheless, as, on the contrary, the Iranian regime has condemned the United States for self-inflicting a domestic economic distress (Schott 2012, 191).

On the Chinese side, we must investigate the reasons behind the choice of Iran as an ideal partner for Beijing. We will analyze some past choices in order to find the constant characteristics.
We can take into consideration the example of Sri Lanka, where according to Ganeshan Wignaraja, *1“The pattern of Chinese investment reveals a nuanced picture of benefits and costs. Chinese multilateral policies are required to maximize the benefits and minimize any risks of its investment.” Moreover, it is not to be underestimated the role of Beijing’s influence in the political equilibrium, Jayadeva Uyangoda in fact affirms that 2* “China was using corruption as a controlling device. Chinese assistance to Rajapaksa was a means of buying his support by helping him increase his grip on the country.”
Other peculiarities can be studied in the case of Pakistan, where the construction of the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) is involving investments valued at 60 billion dollars, embedded in the wider Belt and Road Initiative. Beijing is applying a strategy that was defined by Zhao Shurong as 4* “cross-continental mercantilism, a policy that, through State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), allows China to endorse free trade aiming at the accumulation of capital, setting a new model of economic growth”. Investing in the strategic Gwadar Port could be a plastic representation of a policy that, according to Francois Godement, 3* “has a special significance for China, which considers regional connectivity as a fundamental element to rise at global level.”
We can therefore individuate a pattern, also in Africa, where 5* “trade has not been fair and has been detrimental to African businesses. For example, in South Africa factories had to close because of the cheap influx of Chinese goods”. Moreover 6*“Human Rights Watch alleges that Chinese organizations have been accused of inhuman treatment of workers in Zambia.“ From what emerges, China appears to search for a weak partner, who may accept exploitative measures in order to attract unfair but still useful investments.

Even though the details of the Iranian-Chinese 25-year agreement have not been published, yet considering China's pattern to a modern form of exploitation makes it quite clear. The illusion of economic growth generates a lasting debt with China that will harm the economy on a much larger scale in the long-run. It appears that the only reason behind such shady alliance is Islamic Republic's crucial need to trade which has been frozen by the U.S. sanctions.