China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a 3000 km infrastructure network project connecting China’s northwest Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Gwadar Port in the western province of Balochistan in Pakistan. It has immense strategic value as it will pave way for China to access to the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea from Gwadar Port, allowing a complete dominance over the Indian Ocean. Furthermore, transport infrastructure with total surveillance that is being established as part of the CPEC projects has created infringes on India’s sovereignty and integrity. The Ministry of External Affairs has been extremely critical of this project as they say it is an illegal plan which passes through regions of the Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
Since 1960, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the People’s Republic of China have adored a long-lasting and friendly tie. It was fortified by the construction of Karakorum Highway (KKH) in 19721. Gradually, China has taken a geopolitical strategy by investing in Pakistani infrastructural growth to establish an economic corridor between China and Pakistan. This contract was signed between the two countries in 2015; however, their comprehensive plans came out in 2017, which disclosed China’s aim for Pakistan’s agriculture and exports, large surveillance system in cities from Peshawar to Karachi to obtain fibreoptic connectivity and visa-free entry for Chinese nationals in Pak city. They reported that the Chinese’ top priority is to access full supply chain of agrarian economy. Chinese companies have already started producing hybrid wheat commercially in vast areas of Pakistan and cold-water fish farming in Northern Pakistan. Dairy is also one of the sectors that is threatened to be seized under CPEC by Chinese corporations in Pakistan2.
Moreover, environmental degradation is the major concern of some scientific experts as they warn about environmental impacts such as increased frequency and intensity of melting of glaciers, high turbidity in water bodies, heat waves, cold spells, droughts, cloud bursts, land sliding, water-borne epidemics, avalanches, heavy rainfalls, heavy snow falls, and lake-outburst floods due to the developments of CPEC road projects in Pakistan3. Negative impacts on flora and fauna such as loss of habitat, species extension, less grass in pastures, more diseases in wild animals, pest attacks, and water borne epidemics as it requires forest cutting are also foreseen4. Experts have pointed out that various health issues like cardiovascular diseases, bronchitis problems, and other health disorders in
the population of Pakistan due to road developments5. It has been noted that developments of transport infrastructure in Gilgit-Baltistan are leading to uncontrolled pollution and irreversible depletion of aquatic ecosystems as this region holds large glaciers and water resources. The biggest challenge will be the emerging environmental issues due to the release of 36.5 million tons of carbon dioxide from the CPEC route6. It will have a detrimental influence on glacier strength and severe flooding as we saw in Hasanabad city in Pakistan in May 20227. The effect on the oceanic biodiversity encompassing the Gwadar Port, Pakistan, and the Arabian Sea is another major issue of this proposed project as they are planning a 300 MW coal power plant in ‘Gwadar’ which is the epicenter of the Project8.
Long term impacts of these mega projects need to be addressed on a priority basis as the destruction of traditional livelihoods, backyard dairy farms and small-scale fisheries is certain in Pakistan. In addition to that reports say that China are initiating work on mega- dams, oil and gas pipelines, and uranium and heavy metal extraction in this area9. A new cable system came online in November last year10 which is owned by a Chinese company is also a warning sign of certain hidden dangers and overall security of their project11.
Transparency and accountability of the CPEC Project regarding energy, infrastructure, and transportation are the main aspects to be mulled over, since these elements are important to accomplish environmental protection and sustainable development. This project is an essential component of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the modern Silk Road project envisioned by Chinese President Xi Jinping, intended on creating new production sites and trade routes to connect China better with the rest of the world. However, till the terms and conditions are not disclosed, one cannot predict the objective of the overall assessment whether it could be potentially beneficial for the world or not!