Pakistan on Thursday vehemently dismissed news reports that China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which Beijing repeatedly defends as peaceful, took a military turn in the country.
Pakistan participates in BRI through a subsidiary project known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that allows Islamabad to cooperate with the Asian giant on defense projects, including a secret plan to build new warplanes.
BRI, also known as the One, Belt, One, Road (OBOR) project, is expanding into military projects in Pakistan, the New York Times (NYT) argued on December 19, adding:
Chinese officials have repeatedly said BRI is purely an economic project with peaceful intent. But with its plan for Pakistan, China is for the first time explicitly tying a Belt and Road proposal to its military ambitions — and confirming the concerns of a host of nations who suspect the infrastructure initiative is really about helping China project armed might.
“According to the proposal, a special economic zone under the BRI’s China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will be created to produce fighter jets while navigation systems and other military hardware will be jointly built at factories in Pakistan. That reveals how the world’s second-largest economy “is for the first time explicitly tying a Belt and Road proposal to its military ambitions,” the Times added.
Echoing the Times, CNBC reported, “BRI’s China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will be created to produce fighter jets while navigation systems and other military hardware will be jointly built at factories in Pakistan.”
Pakistan reportedly indicated this week that the CPEC component has no military dimensions, Dawn reported.
Mohammad Faisal, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Foreign Office, described OBOR as a strictly economic project between regional allies Islamabad and Beijing last week.
“CPEC has helped Pakistan improve its economy, particularly energy and infrastructure sectors have improved under it. The CPEC is a bilateral economic project, which is not against any country,” he declared.
Beijing’s BRI, also known as the modern-day “Silk Road,” is expected to be a massive network of land and sea transportation infrastructure connecting Xinjiang, China’s biggest province, to more than 60 countries in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and even Latin America along one road, prompting the U.S. military to caution against the move.
China has long been Pakistan’s ally, providing the cash-strapped country with economic loans and military equipment.
Islamabad hopes China’s assistance will help reduce the impact of America’s move to suspend billions of dollars in aid to the Muslim-majority nation until it takes decisive action against Taliban and its Haqqani Network killing and maiming U.S. troops and their Afghan allies in Afghanistan, since the war broke out in October 2001.