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EFSAS organizes Seminar on CPEC in the European Parliament in Brussels

07-11-2018, Brussels

The European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) organized a very successful, thought-provoking and well-attended day-long Seminar, ‘CPEC – East India Company Mark 2?’, in the European Parliament on 7 November 2018. The Seminar was organized under the aegis of Member European Parliament (MEP) Mr. Jonathan Bullock.


A high level panel consisting of Members European Parliament (MEPs), Scholars and Academicians spoke at the event and discussed the construction of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and its interrelated legal, geo-strategic, economic and environmental issues, which directly impact the stability of South Asia. MEP Jonathan Bullock, MEP Geoffrey Van Orden, Dr. Paul Stott (SOAS), Dr. Matthew McCartney (University of Oxford), Dr. Dorothée Vandamme (University of Louvain), Mr. Burzine Waghmar (SOAS) and Mr. Fernando Burgés (UNPO) were among the main panelists. 


Mr. Junaid Qureshi, Director EFSAS, chaired the Seminar and gave a profound insight on the objectives of EFSAS while also giving an introduction to the topic, especially in regard to CPEC’s disastrous effects on the issue of Jammu & Kashmir in general and Gilgit Baltistan in particular. The Seminar was officially opened by Mr. Jonathan Bullock, MEP, Member of the Committees on Budgetary Control and Industry, Research and Energy.

Mr. Geoffrey Van Orden, MEP, Chair of the Delegation for Relations with India and Vice-Chair of the Special Committee on Terrorism, analyzed whether the building of the multibillion economic corridor throughout Pakistan had parallels with the East India Company and argued that acquiring control of trade, inevitably translates into governmental influence, which is very well the case with CPEC. Mr. Geoffrey Van Orden further discussed the current Sino-Pak stalemate according to which, if the investments on behalf of China towards Pakistan are of such colossal magnitude and respectively the obligations of Pakistan towards China are so unbearably high, Pakistan might find itself in a situation where the only possible solution for overcoming this issue is through its transfer of power, independence and sovereignty to Beijing.


Dr. Paul Stott, Lecturer at the University of Leicester and in the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS, University of London and EFSAS Research Fellow, focused on the evolution of the United States under President Donald Trump and his approach towards China and Pakistan. Dr. Stott expressed the opinion that Pakistan has burnt its bridges with the United States and China is now one of its last options for salvage. While illustrating the current global balance of power, where the US sees China as an economic and military rival, Dr. Stott elaborated that the relationship Washington maintains with Islamabad is determined by the relation it maintains with Beijing, meaning that the US sees Pakistan through the prism of its connection with China. Dr. Stott remarked that the relationship between the US and Pakistan has been slowly fading over time and has especially deteriorated since the discovery of Osama Bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad and that Pakistan’s sponsoring of terrorism and provision of safe havens for extremist groups and individuals remains a significant factor of the shaping of US foreign policy towards the country. Dr. Stott stressed that during the UN Security Council Al-Qaeda Sanction Committee, China blocked the designation of Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM) Chief, Masood Azhar as a prescribed terrorist, despite being called upon by countries such as India and US. Equally, China has turned a blind eye to the mainstreaming of terrorists into politics such as the head of Laskhar-e-Taibah (LeT), Hafiz Saeed, which subsequently portrays how a long leash has been given to armed actors, potentially in Jammu & Kashmir in order to distract attention from what is happening in China’s Xinjiang province. Dr. Stott concluded by saying that the international community needs to be very critical of China, its relationships, its foreign policy, and its intentions, especially with the advent of projects like CPEC.


Dr. Matthew McCartney, Director of the South Asia Program and Professor in the Political Economy and Human Development of India at Oxford University, approached the topic of CPEC from an economic perspective. Dr. McCartney explained how China and Pakistan have extensive historical connections and that the two countries’ relations go back very far while arguing that the development of CPEC is the natural course of action for the two countries and in essence is a connotation of projects that had been previously planned. He claimed that the financing of infrastructure by China is more opportunistic for Pakistan since the money from the IMF or the United States would have more stringent conditions and regulations. According to his findings, the CPEC is small in terms of proportions by historical standards and most likely will not make a large impact as may have been advertised. He further exhibited how infrastructure usually diminishes the disparity of prices of goods, yet since in Pakistan there already exists a low disparity, transportation and infrastructure are not the aspects which would drive prices in the country. In conclusion, Dr. McCartney stated that CPEC will have little impact on the prosperity of the country and could prove to be negative for Pakistan.


Mr. Burzine Waghmar, Member of SOAS, University of London, Centre for the Study of Pakistan, Centre for Iranian Studies, and London Middle East Institute and EFSAS Research Fellow began his speech by quoting the American Analyst of Pakistani Studies, Christine Fair, who described the CPEC project as, ‘Colonizing Pakistan to Enrich China’. He examined in depth the historical genesis of the erstwhile Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir and the evolution of Sino-Pak relations. Mr. Waghmar said that it is necessary for Europe to begin to pay attention to Chinese expansionist designs, since Beijing is drafting its own parallel system of rules that can be seen mainly through its Belt and Road Initiative. He further observed that Gilgit Baltistan’s arable land stands at just 1% and its population, per the 1998 census, is just under 2 million and asked where the Hunza, Burusho and other settled indigenous population will go when outside investors come in to parcel out this hilly area whose alpine ecosystem will be exposed to immense industrial upheavals and pollutants as never before in its history. Concluding his detailed presentation, Mr. Waghmar compared Pakistan to a Greek tragedy and added that Chinese lending is usually murky, resulting in antagonizing those very societies by debt restructuring and graft, and that Beijing lends, but never disburses grants, at rates anything but concessional with the rider and the condition that Chinese companies must solely be involved in such businesses.


Dr. Dorothée Vandamme, Research Associate at the University of Louvain, Centre for the Study of Crises and International Conflicts and the Genesys Network and EFSAS Research Fellow, deliberated upon the role of the Pakistani Military Establishment in CPEC. Dr. Vandamme explained that the military establishment in Pakistan has vouched for a more influential and dominant role in the construction of the CPEC and said that the building of the CPEC has only further reinforced the role of the powerful Army. According to her, this has been displayed via the safeguarding of the CPEC project by armed personnel, providing security for Chinese workers and army personnel and thereby trying to ensure the stability and continuity of the project. According to her data, there have been 15,000 troops dedicated to this division, a number which is expected to rise to 25,000, while China remains Pakistan’s largest supplier of arms and continuously keep displaying the pattern of being more inclined towards negotiating with the Pakistani Military rather than with the civil government of Pakistan. Dr. Vandamme reasoned that according to Beijing, the Pakistani Army has proven to manifest greater stability than any civilian government in the history of the country and keeps pulling the strings either when in power itself or behind the screens. Dr. Vandamme also argued that it is very unlikely that the new government in Pakistan will change the poor economic condition of the country due to the lack of financial aid and stated that there may be a clash between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and China if Pakistan turns itself for assistance to the IMF, as the latter will demand more transparency on CPEC in order to provide the necessary funds, which neither Beijing nor Rawalpindi would like to give.


Mr. Fernando Burgés, Programme Manager at the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), provided his perspective on the negative repercussion stemming from the construction of the CPEC, which goes through the disputed territory of Gilgit Baltistan, part of the erstwhile Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir over which Pakistan does not have any legal right. Whilst arguing that in this backdrop, the CPEC is illegal, Mr. Burgés remarked that the indigenous people of Gilgit Baltistan have been stripped away of their natural resources of their land and forced to accept the CPEC project without any compensation in return. He highlighted the fact that those who have opposed the building of the corridor have been subject to violent crackdowns and enforced imprisonment under the pretext of Anti-terrorism laws. Mr. Burgés concluded by saying that the CPEC is ultimately a marriage of two States which both treat its peoples with violence, injustice and abuse.  


The event was followed by a Q&A session during which the audience and speakers engaged in a debate on issues pertaining to CPEC, Geo-Politics and Chinese expansionist designs as well as the issue of Jammu & Kashmir and the fact that such Chinese intrusions will only jeopardize any possible solutions to this long-standing conflict. 

The Seminar was attended by MEPs, Policy Advisors, Terrorism Experts, Security Officials, Government Agencies, Human Rights Activists, Scholars, Academicians and Students from all over Europe who also actively participated in the discussions during the networking reception held afterwards.