Pakistan, Sri Lanka debt crises threaten Beijing’s regional influence
By Adnan Aamir, Marwaan Macan-Markar, Shaun Turton and Cissy Zhou – AUGUST 10, 2022
The drive to Pakistan’s port of Gwadar takes seven and a half hours from Karachi via the Makran coastal highway. Much of the 600-km route is deserted, with no restaurants, restrooms or even fuel stations. On a recent journey, around 200 vehicles in total could be counted during the entire drive.
Arriving in the city on Pakistan’s Indian Ocean coast, Chinese and Pakistani flags are ubiquitous, and Chinese-financed construction projects loom, but the city is spookily devoid of economic activity. Near the seafront, broad avenues are curiously empty of vehicles. Inside the city center, the roads are narrow, congested and covered with foul smelling drain water, with few multistory buildings aside from the Chinese-built port compound.
It is hard to visualize Gwadar as the launch pad of a new global paradigm, but that is what Beijing would have the world believe.
Nine years ago it was plucked out of obscurity — a backwater in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan region — and presented as China’s commercial window onto the Indian Ocean, a hub for regional integration under the Belt and Road Initiative, which was to harness the juggernaut of the Chinese economy to the goal of Asian economic development.
The BRI is an audacious program of lending, aid and infrastructure contracts totaling over $880 billion, according to the American Enterprise Institute.
The initiative, which includes pledges to 149 countries, aims to promote Chinese-led regional integration — and sow economic dependence on Beijing.
First announced in a speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 as the “Silk Road,” the BRI was fleshed out in April 2015 with the announcement of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), stretching from Gwadar to the Chinese city of Kashgar, in Xinjiang. The CPEC showcased the China-Pakistan “all-weather friendship” with $46 billion in pledged funds that has since grown to $50 billion. It was to be the backbone of the now renamed Belt and Road Initiative.