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The new East India Company

Column by Francesca Marino, Author And Journalist With Expertise On South Asia | Updated: Feb 17, 2019 10:16 IST

It was February 4 and a small group of ISI-sponsored Pakistani NGO's members comes to disturb with a pathetic show of tracotante arrogance a seminar in Paris on CPEC organized by Baloch Voice Association and SAFENewsroom.
The morning after, one of the speakers is 'casually' approached by a Chinese journalist in the breakfast hall of the hotel where all the speakers and the organizers of the seminar are staying.
The fellow, the day before, had been having the longest breakfast ever sitting at his table and carefully listening to all the conversations between speakers and organizers.
A coincidence? Maybe, but maybe not.
If, as many analysts say, CPEC is a test for the whole One Belt One Road project launched by China, all the countries, and especially the western ones, should be very careful.
What the CPEC test is showing in full, in fact, is not a commercial strategy but the will of Chinese Government to implement an imperialistic kind of strategy. Something that looks a lot like the old East India Company, to be clear.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is the fruit of the friendship "sweet as honey and deep as the ocean" between China and Pakistan, and it is actually part of a broader Chinese project, the One Belt One Road (OBOR) program which aims in theory to reconstitute and expand the ancient Silk Road.
In particular, the CPEC consists of a series of highways, railways and power plants that will connect Kashgar, in Xingjang to Gwadar, in Balochistan.
According to the agreements between Islamabad and Beijing, the Chinese should build a new highway between Karachi and Lahore, rebuild the Karakorum Highway, build a pipeline from Iran to Gwadar, new power plants to meet Pakistan's endemic energy shortage, develop more coal and gas energy sources, to build oil and gas pipelines in the country.
Eight hundred kilometers of optical fiber are already under construction to develop communications in the Gilgit-Baltisan that in the intentions should become a special economic zone.
And then there is the port of Gwadar, a privileged window on the Gulf and the Indian Ocean.
The Chinese investment in the project is about 50 billion dollars and according to the Pakistanis, it will produce a 2.5 percent increase in the Gross Domestic Product as well as creating thousands of jobs.
But, besides the Islamabad government, nobody believes the promises of Beijing.
To build roads and infrastructure for the port, the land was expropriated without the legitimate owners having received any compensation.
Not only that. The promised jobs have gone, in the case of Balochistan, to workers 'imported' from other Pakistani provinces and not to the locals.
Thirteen thousand soldiers were deployed in the province alone to 'protect' Chinese workers and their investments.
The same thing happens in Gilgit-Baltisan, another region militarily occupied by national troops.
The great path of Sino-Pakistani friendship crosses for three quarters in turmoil: the Chinese Xingjang, where the Uighuri minority is constantly crushed: and it is interesting to note incidentally as Pakistan, so attentive to support the Muslim brothers and their rights, has never spent a word for the Uighur Muslims.
The corridor crosses the Gilgit-Baltisan, where the state shines for the repression of the Shiite minority, for military occupation of the territory and for absolute disregard for the needs of the population.
It goes through Pakistani Kashmir to finally arrive in Balochistan, whose citizens refuse to consider themselves as Pakistanis and to recognize the authority of Islamabad on the province annexed by force at the time of the formation of Pakistan.
China now firmly controls Pakistan, both economically and politically, and Islamabad, increasingly isolated politically and economically dependent on the good will of others, must willingly or unwillingly dance to the tune of Beijing.
CPEC clearly proves a couple of things:
It is not only an economic project, but a military one too.
According to data on global military spending released by SIPRI, China is at the moment the second largest country for military spending after the United States.
And the roads built within CPEC or OBOR projects are closely followed by military bases. In Africa, the Djibouti base has been now active for more than a year, with the goal of creating a privileged access corridor to the Suez Canal, a new "Silk Road" facilitated by the close relationship with the Egypt of Al Sisi.
Its port is at the entrance of the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, is one of the busiest shipping sea lanes in the world. This route is crucial for the health of the world economy as 20,000 ships, and a significant 20 percent of world exports, will pass through every year.
And this hub in the former French colony raises China to the rank of global military power projected towards the Mediterranean as well as in Africa, on a stage where Washington and NATO historically dominate.
The Chinese government has, however, said that their commitment does not provide "military expansion" and that the growing presence of Chinese military along the 'New Silk Road' projects is only to ensure the protection of the considerable and growing interest in Beijing throughout the regions as well as protect Chinese ships conducting anti-piracy missions.
Maybe the countries so eager to sign a deal with Beijing, starting from Italy, should do some homework and read a bit of history. This is precisely how the East India Company occupied the Indian Subcontinent.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are strictly those of the author.