Is Pakistan playing Saudi Arabia against China?

BY SILVI WRITER

 

Pakistan had informed China in 2016 its intention to invite Saudi Arabia to participate the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), source said.

The diplomatic source, based in Beijing, denied speculation that Beijing was upset about the involvement of Riyadh in CPEC, noting the move shows the project, as well as the whole BRI, were “open and inclusive”.

facebook-cooments-imageThe source, who declined to be named for sensitivity of the issue, said the administration of then Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif had called on Saudi Arabia to join the CPEC in 2016.

“They had briefed China in advance. China’s response back then was it would welcome any related country that wishes to join and support CPEC, which is a non-exclusive regional cooperative,” the source said.

The message came as a reply to recent views that Pakistan was inviting its Arabian friend to invest in CPEC counter China’s influence, as well as to alleviate the so-called ‘debt trap’ brought by large amount of Chinese loans.

Pakistani Petroleum Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan announced last week after talks with a visiting Saudi delegation that Riyadh has “in principle” agreed to establish a multibillion-dollar oil refinery complex in Gwadar. The state-owned Pakistan State Oil would team up with Saudi Aramco to set up the oil refinery.

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Gwadar Port

Desperate for funding to fend off a financial crisis fuelled in part by mounting debt to China, Pakistan is playing a complicated game of poker that could hand Saudi Arabia a strategic victory in its bitter feud with Iran at China’s expense, James M. Dorsey, senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, wrote in a blog post titled Pakistani Poker: Playing Saudi Arabia Against China.

Pakistan’s decision, to invite Saudi Arabia to develop a massive refinery complex at Gwadar, certainly suggests the CPEC is being manipulated to serve ends other than China’s, Tom Hussain, an Islamabad-based journalist and Pakistan affairs analyst, wrote in an article, titled with CPEC, Pakistan risks Chinese anger by courting Saudi Arabia, in the South China Morning Post.

“Not at all,” said Zhao Lijian, the deputy chief of the Chinese embassy in Islamabad, when asked by Voice of America whether his country was upset.

Zhao asserted that Beijing itself has been encouraging Islamabad to engage in investments in CPEC from other countries.

“If any other party would like to contribute positive factors to promote the interconnectivity and prosperity of the region on the basis of consultation, I think this is a positive factor,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters Monday.

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China and Arabic countries actually released a communique in July in Beijing to formally welcome the latter as the first batch of external “investment partners” in the BRI.

Beyond any doubt, the joining of Saudi Arabia will further strengthen the initiative, Khalid Chandio, research fellow at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), Pakistan, argued.

Even if Saudi Arabia invests in some of the major projects under CPEC, it will contribute to Pakistan’s faltering economy, Chandio argued.

With CPEC in place and Gwadar fully operational, Pakistan can provide the shortest route for Saudi-China trade, which will also considerably reduce the cost of transportation, he added.

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