Published:  08:14 PM, 05 June 2024

Economic and Territorial “Colonization” of China is being continued in Pakistan

Economic and Territorial “Colonization” of China is being continued in Pakistan Collected Image
Pakistan has been compromising its sovereignty to fulfil China’s economic, military, and geostrategic goals in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The Gwadar Port, which is situated in Balochistan province, serves as the gateway to the IOR for China. Since the inception of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in 2015, Pakistan has de-facto surrendered the port city of Gwadar to the Chinese government. Even local people are not allowed to enter the port area and big fences have been put up to curtail their movement. Reports indicate presence of several ‘Chinese only’ colonies in different parts of Pakistan, where local Pakistanis cannot enter. The justification given for such ‘exclusive’ zones is the safety and security of Chinese nationals from terror attacks.

Many analysts in Pakistan believe that special privileges accorded to China, akin to the former western colonizers, fulfil its ulterior motives such as unchecked plundering of local resources, illegal businesses, heavy concessions on certain import products, and excessive control over local markets in Pakistan. Notably, the Pakistani military establishment, which runs the parallel economy in the country, is the main beneficiary of China’s increasing economic and territorial strangulation of Pakistan. Both entities have been working jointly on multiple big projects such as Diamer-Bhasha dam in Gilgit-Baltistan or the Gwadar Port Authority Complex in Balochistan. Such projects help the security establishment in Pakistan to run its military industrial complex despite dire economic situation in the country. Additionally, there are reports of growing military cohesion between the defense forces of China and Pakistan in sensitive areas like Balochistan and Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK).

For the local population in Balochistan, the increasing Chinese presence means further loss of their territory to the “outsiders”. The Pakistani State authorities have already caused massive economic, human rights, political and security mayhem in the province since August 1947. Now, by losing territory to China, the Baloch people are feeling completely trapped with nowhere to go. Consequently, many human rights activists in Balochistan are risking their lives to raise the issue of “Chinese colonization” of the province. Mahrang Baloch, a known political worker in Balochistan, posted on X/Twitter, “the colonial project of fencing of Gwadar is part of CPEC, which aims to evict the local population of Gwadar and hand over Gwadar to China. But we, the local population, will not hand over our land and sea to foreigners in any case, nor will we allow any such project to succeed.

Furthermore, the Baloch Yakjehti Committee (BYC) organized a full day conference on May 18 to address the fencing of Gwadar, which has turned the port city into a “concentration camp” for the Baloch population. According to a BYC statement, “the fencing of Gwadar is part of China-Pakistan’s colonial project CPEC, which aims to handover Gwadar completely to China.” Furthermore, the fencing of Gwadar is a “gross violation of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and all kinds of rights. The BYC also launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #StopFencingGwadar to garner support for their cause and amplify their message on digital platforms.  The initiative has been noticed by both local and international human rights activists, who are noticing China’s “colonizing” tendencies in Balochistan, with the backing of Pakistan’s security establishment, through so-called economic and trade zones.

It is noteworthy that around 37 special economic zones (SEZs) were initially proposed under CPEC. However, that project has been quietly sidelined as China understood the futility of wasting money and manpower in SEZs. As a result, their focus is now on developing exclusive trade zones in sensitive areas like Karachi. According to sources, China-Asia Economic Development Association (CAEDA) is now planning to develop a Zero-Tariff Trade Zone (ZTTZ) near Karachi port on the lines of Gwadar Free Zone in Balochistan. CAEDA is supervised by Chinese foreign ministry and support the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The proposed trade zone will further consolidate Chinese financial and strategic interests along the strategically important southern coastline in Pakistan. Notably, the Karachi port is the largest commercial port in the country. 

Pakistan has in the past shown reluctance in allowing Chinese footprints in and around the Karachi port. However, with the looming default crisis and a ‘willing’ victim of the Chinese ‘debt trap,’ Pakistan is not in a position to refuse demands from Beijing. As per the World Bank data, Pakistan owes over 72% of its external bilateral debt to China. Immediately after the official announcement of CPEC in 2015, Pakistan’s total external debt stocks owed to China rapidly surged from USD 7.6 billion in 2016 to USD 26.5 billion in 2022.  China is using the same ‘debt trap’ strategy in other South Asian countries like Sri Lanka, the Maldives, etc, to expand its physical footprints by economically subduing smaller countries.  

Reports further suggest that Pakistan military may collaborate with CAEDA to develop the zero-tariff trade zone in Karachi. Though, it is still not clear who will fund the project and how much will be the realistic financial return for the stakeholders. CAEDA had reportedly claimed that the new trade zone could generate an annual revenue of USD 12 billion. These are speculative figures and naysayers in Pakistan may cite failures of several CPEC projects before taking the project seriously.  Moreover, like Chinese “colonization” attempts in Balochistan through fencing and the exclusive economic zone in Gwadar, the proposed trade zone near the Karachi port may create another Chinese “colony” in Pakistan.  Fences may also be erected around the proposed trade zone and locals will not be allowed to enter the area. Since Pakistan military is involved in the project, human rights violations, enforced disappearances of Sindhi activists, forced land grabbing, plundering of local resources and financial corruption may become rampant in Karachi.

Pen & Ink by: A R M Deluar Hossain (Journalist)

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