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PR Short Notes


Photo Source: South China Morning Post

Pakistan Reader# 588, 29 April 2023

China-Pakistan railway link is worth it: Study



Report on China-Pakistan railway connectivity project

Ankit Singh

On 27 April, South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported a study which has critically looked at China-Pakistan railway connectivity project. The study by China Railway First Survey and Design Institute Group Co Ltd. estimated the total cost of the connectivity project at around USD 58 billion under the Belt and Road Initiative’s largest pet project, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The feasibility study recommended that despite being the most expensive and largest initiative, the project has the potential to reshape trade networks and geopolitics of Eurasian continent. The rail connectivity project will also enable China to have an alternative route to reach markets of middle-east and eastern African coast. According to the report by SCMP, the feasibility study has acknowledged Pakistan will be unable to make contribution in the cost of the project due to its own fiscal deficits, energy constraints and priority in tackling separatist violence in Balochistan. There can be three takeaways from the resurging narrative on China-Pakistan railway connectivity.

First, railway networks in the past and present. Rail networks during imperial times were longitudinal, intended to transport raw materials and semi-finished goods to Europe. The land routes supplemented the routes along the sea. With BRI, China has concentrated to devise its own cartographic imperialism by capturing what is left, i.e. latitudinal networks, from north to south while supplementing its own energy security through new pipelines. China also aims to have a direct route to Europe without using Pacific Ocean and Panama Canal. This explains its forays into South-East Asia, middle-east and South Asia. There is however, one issue in seamless rail connectivity, China uses Standard gauge (1435 mm), Pakistan uses India gauge (1676 mm).

Second, the development and monetary returns come to the periphery. Decolonised geographies in the periphery of core advanced economies like South-East Asia and South Asia are governed by relatively stable independent states. Studies have been conducted which estimate that informal economy is a result of peripheral accumulation in the world economy. These economies are waiting to be formalized and accounted for, increasing migration to urban centres creates avenues for municipal revenues and demand-inducing policies. Pakistan is also going through such a phase, the SCMP quoted the report in saying that rail network will provide boost for Pakistan with improved infrastructure and easier trade with China.
Third, performance of previous projects under BRI. ML-1, the railway line between Karachi and Peshawar has been under a plan to expand its capacity and efficiency as part of CPEC, however, upgrade project has not even been initiated yet. Another railway project under the vision of connecting Yunan to Singapore has only reached capital of Laos and stalled there. In Indonesia, Chinese entities were selected in for a 150 kilometer high-speed rail line connecting Jakarta to Bandung, costing USD 5.5 billion. The project was estimated to be completed by 2018 while at the moment, less than 50 per cent is complete. China has built rail networks in African countries like Nigeria, Tanzania, Ethiopia-Djibouti and Kenya, some of the projects are facing issues of generating enough revenues and will elongate the time the countries will take to repay the loans for rail projects.

In conclusion, Chinese investors and financiers have gained experience and yet the push for USD 58 billion projects in Pakistan is reflecting the self-harm China is willing to take to win allies and become relevant in fast-growing economies of the periphery.

References
Stephen Chen, “China-Pakistan railway ‘worth it’ at estimated US$58 billion: study,” The South China Morning Post, 27 April 2023
Jevans Nyabiage, “China’s rail spending spree in Africa is over but it’s still laying down the tracks,” The South China Morning Post, 27 June 2021
Shahar Hameiri, “Debunking the myth of China’s “debt-trap diplomacy”,” 9 September 2020
 

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