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EFSAS co-organizes Panel Discussion on China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam


A Panel Discussion, titled ‘China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Violence Along the Way in South Asia’, organised by the Governance, Law and Social Justice Research Group at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in collaboration with the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) was held at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam. The event was moderated by Ms. Soana Deunier (Research Analyst EFSAS) and Dr. Sunil Tankha (Assistant Professor of States, Societies and World Development at the ISS), and was very well-attended by scholars, researchers, government officials and university students.



Ms. Soana Deunier (EFSAS) speaking during ‘China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Violence Along the Way in South Asia’ at the Erasmus University


China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also known as the New Silk Road is one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects ever in history. It promises to revive the original Silk Road, which connected Europe to Asia centuries ago. China’s overall expenses of BRI is projected to reach $1.2–1.3 trillion by 2027. To date, more than sixty countries - accounting for two-thirds of the world’s population - have signed on to various projects under BRI. In the overall BRI scheme South Asia is regarded as a “priority zone”. Currently South Asia also has the highest density of early harvest projects, particularly around four main sub-projects of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM), the Trans-Himalaya Corridor, and China’s cooperation with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. Although there is much discussion and debate on the economic impact of the BRI, globally, regionally and locally, there is very little attention paid to BRI’s implications on changing picture of violence and violent conflicts in the region. Thus, the event brought together researchers, academicians and practitioners in the field of South Asian studies, who shed a light on the latter aspect and deliberated upon China’s New Silk Road Initiative and the issues and challenges related to its expansionist strategic design vis-à-vis violent conflicts in the region.

Dr. Prof. Mansoob Murshed, Professor of the Economics of Peace and Conflict at the International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam, discussed the theoretical and conceptual framework behind the links between trade and conflict. He analysed the perquisites and hindrances of the two schools of thought, namely the liberal peace idea and mercantilist notion.

Mr. Haris Zargar, a PhD candidate at the International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam discussed the fallout of the CPEC on the South Asian geopolitics and security.

Mr. Junaid Qureshi, Director of the European Foundation for South Asian Studies, explained how covering an area of almost 2 million square miles and home to over a quarter of the world’s population, the region of South Asia has been ridden with violent inter-ethnic conflicts, long-running devastating wars and violent extremism. As a result, the common people have witnessed impoverishment, deprivation, anguish and death. In addition to that, the presence of China in the region, under the banner of its BRI, has further deteriorated the stability of the already fragile Indian subcontinent. Mr. Qureshi used the example of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan as a case study, while also further paying attention to China’s objectives in the Indian Ocean and the wider region. He thoroughly analysed the building of the CPEC and discussed how Pakistan and China have managed so far to advance this ambitious, fifteen-year project, valued currently at more than 62 billion dollars.



Mr. Junaid Qureshi (EFSAS) speaking during ‘China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Violence Along the Way in South Asia’ at the Erasmus University


He further analysed how the CPEC, happening without any local involvement, has created enormous dissatisfaction and tension among the indigenous people. He highlighted how immigrant Chinese labor force has taken many of the CPEC job prospects and that Pakistan’s Government has confiscated land of locals in Gilgit Baltistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan under the pretext of development and work placements. As a result, the local population suffers numerous human rights violations on a daily basis, with Baloch nationalists fearing that the influx of Chinese workers and nationals could potentially turn the demographic balance of the region against them. In addition to that, organized crime rings on both sides of the border have also been taking advantage of the ‘China-Pak friendship’, by exploiting the high demand for women in China and the appalling situation of women from marginalized minorities and communities in Pakistan. Mr. Qureshi also deliberated upon the legal background of the CPEC, illuminating the fact that the building of the corridor is de facto in contravention of international law, and Pakistan, virtually is selling territory to China, namely Gilgit Baltistan (part of Jammu & Kashmir), which does not belong to it, under the rubric of infrastructural development.

Mr. Qureshi concluded by saying that following Beijing’s history of trade relations with African countries, it is evident that China is very careful about its investments by initially adopting a soft approach and thereafter quite rigid in receiving its money back. Islamabad might have signed the CPEC agreement believing it would be advantageous to its country but it actually subscribed to an unfair deal for which common Pakistanis will eventually suffer. China is further creating a vacuum of silent power, which is supplemented by its efforts to mediate international conflicts, while countering any voice of criticism in regards to its own domestic issues. Concluding his presentation, Mr. Qureshi stressed that unfortunately, the destiny of the States which have been lured into the Dragon’s fire of loans and debts, looks grim for the economy, sovereignty and citizens of these countries.

Mr. Burzine Waghmar, Member of SOAS South Asia Institute, Centre for Iranian Studies and Centre for the Study of Pakistan, Librarian for South Asia & Indo-Iranian Languages and EFSAS Research Fellow, embarked on his presentation by quoting Christine Fair, renowned American political scientist and professor at Georgetown University, who argued that “If China took on the responsibility of managing Pakistan, Washington might be happy to wash its hands of the problem and let civilians in Islamabad and the uniformed men in Rawalpindi stab someone else in the back for a change”. Mr. Waghmar explained how Pakistan currently owes US$6.7bn to China in loans, twice more than it does to the IMF, namely US$2.8bn. He argued that while Pakistan was enthusiastically taking Chinese money, they looked at the short-term deals for shoring over the financial crisis, without realising its medium- and long-term implications, and the Chinese leverage over Pakistan.  Thus, Pakistan is currently in slow burn mode at both ends where the country claims to begin and end, Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan. Mr. Waghmar argued that this modish fixation on showy infrastructure actually distracts from deeper problems Pakistan faces. As an example, the port of Gwadar, opened since 2007, lies underutilised no thanks to low-level insurgency in Pakistan’s largest, least populated and most impoverished province, Balochistan. In addition to that, he claimed that the old chestnut that CPEC will eradicate terrorism appears laughable especially taking into consideration the November 2018 attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi by a Baloch militant separatist group.



Mr. Burzine Waghmar (SOAS) speaking during ‘China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Violence Along the Way in South Asia’ at the Erasmus University


Mr. Waghmar further stated that the West ought not labour under any illusions of dealing with a People’s Republic whose State-run enterprises are opaque and statistics are stir-fried. To counter China’s misuse of economic power, the West should scrutinise investments by state-owned companies and, with sensitive technologies, by Chinese companies of any kind. He concluded by saying that Chinese lending is usually murky, resulting in antagonising those very societies by debt restructuring and graft.

The event was followed by a very vibrant and thought-provoking Q&A session, during which the audience and speakers exchanged views in a debate on issues pertaining to China’s debt-trap diplomacy, greater transparency regarding the BRI, improved institutional capacity, sustainability dialogue and more effective and equal inter-State negotiations.