During his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, newly-elected Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan invited the kingdom to become the third major partner in the Beijing-funded, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
If accepted, it would be a strategic game-changer.
BRI, China’s blueprint for global domination, is a development plan; a program of infrastructure projects and a network of commercial agreements designed to link the world directly to the Chinese economy through inter-connected land-based and maritime routes.
BRI is soft power projection with an underlying hard power component, a comprehensive China-centered economic, financial and geopolitical web with far-reaching, cascading consequences affecting American national interests. It is not just resource acquisition or utilization of China’s industrial over-capacity, but its projects are specifically designed to ensure economic and, eventually, military supremacy.
CPEC, the linchpin of BRI, provides a major transportation route that connects China to the Pakistani ports of Gwadar and Karachi on the Arabian Sea.
Pakistan has asked Saudi Arabia to establish an ‘oil city’ in its southwestern province of Balochistan, preferably in Gwadar, to secure China’s oil and gas supply from the Middle East and the Persian Gulf to its western regions, particularly Xinjiang.
Probably linked to that objective, is China’s plan to establish a naval base on the Jiwani peninsula, just west of Gwadar and within easy reach of the strategically important Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. That military facility would complement China’s already operational naval base in Djibouti located at another strategic chokepoint, the entrance to the Suez Canal.
No doubt Saudi Arabia views an investment in CPEC within the context of its conflict with Iran, but it largely ignores the cascading geopolitical consequences for the United States, especially in regard to China’s ambition for global hegemony.
In the short term, such a move would make the U.S. negotiating position in Afghanistan even weaker than it already is. In the long term, Saudi participation in CPEC could ensure its success and, therefore, contribute to China’s domination of South Asia.
China is pursuing opportunities to displace the U.S. from Afghanistan and remove American influence from South Asia, which China sees as an obstacle to BRI expansion.
China is already Afghanistan’s biggest investor. In 2007, it took a $3 billion, 30-year lease for the Aynak copper mine. China and Pakistan have offered to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan. Some have concluded that the CPEC invitation was a prelude to positioning China as a mediator to end the Afghan conflict.
In that regard, a second meeting of the foreign ministers of Afghanistan, Pakistan and China will be held in Kabul in the near future, the first having occurred less than a year ago in Beijing. Although not officially announced, expect the Taliban to become involved in the Chinese-led negotiations, based on the secret meetings between the Taliban and China conducted in Beijing during the past year.
There have also been a flurry of events reflecting growing Afghan-Chinese ties.
Afghan Second Vice President Sarwar Danish recently stated that Afghanistan and China will become a connecting point for Europe, Africa and Asia through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
In late August, a 12-member Chinese high-level delegation met the newly appointed Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib and Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Hekmat Khalil Karzai in the Afghan capital to discuss bilateral cooperation in counterinsurgency and economic matters.
During that meeting, the Chinese asked the Afghans to sign a security agreement to train Afghan forces, presumably as part of the proposed Chinese military facility in Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province and the deployment of hundreds of Chinese troops there, all of which can be linked to the objectives of BRI.
The enormous geopolitical challenges posed by the rapidly changing strategic conditions in South Asia begs the question: Is U.S. policy about to be overtaken by events?
UPDATE: According to media sources, Saudi Arabia has agreed to finance three road infrastructure and energy projects in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
This column was originally published at The Daily Caller.
The views expressed in CCNS member articles are not necessarily the views or positions of the entire CCNS. They are the views of the authors, who are members of the CCNS.