If China is to become the economic powerhouse it envisions, the
road to its new future could run, literally, through Pakistan.
Or so the two nations hope. Last month, they inaugurated Gwadar
Port in Pakistan's Balochistan Province, the first step in an
elaborate "energy corridor" that will one day ship Persian Gulf oil
from Gwadar overland through Pakistan to China. China bankrolled the
$200 million port and plans to put billions more into railways,
roads, and pipelines linking Gwadar to China. Pakistan hopes it will
generate $60 billion a year in transit fees in 20 years' time.
The deal could point to new fortunes on the horizon. But many
observers wonder what price the two nations will pay for such
inextricable energy ties.
Gwadar shines a spotlight on a little-studied dimension of the
global showdown for the world's depleting oil. Pakistan, with
Chinese money, hopes to reinvent itself as one of the region's
largest energy players - but it could also become a victim of the
new Great Game, some observers say, crushed in the squeeze between
the American and Chinese race for influence in volatile, lucrative
As China positions itself as Pakistan's chief patron, that could
tilt Pakistan's center of political gravity, observers add,
outweighing US influence dollar for dollar - and without the strings
of human rights, democracy, and counterterrorism attached.
"The Americans come with a great deal of ideological baggage.
There's none of that with the Chinese," says Richard Russell, a
professor of national security affairs at the National Defense
University in Washington. "[Pakistan's] interactions with the
Chinese are not nearly as radioactive as with the US."
Analysts have long fretted over a possible collision course
between the US and China over energy. China is now the world's
second-largest consumer of oil after the US. Its consumption is
expected to double by 2025, with 70 percent coming from the Middle
East. Both giants are competing for finite supplies.
"I think most security experts are looking at this very closely
because this is the closest access point China has to the Persian
Gulf," says Gal Luft, executive director of the Institute for the
Analysis of Global Security in Washington. "I don't know that this
is something the US particularly likes."
Pakistan could be crucial to China's bid for regional influence.
Transporting oil is currently a long, expensive, and dangerous
process for Beijing, traversing some of the most pirated seas in the
world. For that reason, China is rapidly diversifying its sources,
cutting billion-dollar deals from Sudan to Iran and scoping out
alternative transport routes through Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, and
Pakistan is likely to be among the most important routes.
Sitting at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, the Gwadar Port, which
becomes fully operational next year, will provide an overland energy
corridor connecting the Middle East to Xinjiang, China's future
energy base. …