CPEC is dead. Somebody tell Beijing.

Farooq Tirmizi
11 min readMay 29, 2019

Pakistan’s political and military leadership, and business elite, have stopped investing their capital in CPEC. Now how do we get out of it?

It’s over. If ever there was a thought within Pakistan’s leadership — political, military, and business — that Beijing could replace Washington as the foreign capital with the most influence in Islamabad, that idea is now firmly dead. We just have not gotten around to telling China yet.

Over the past few weeks, this scribe has spoken to several sources in both Pakistan’s business elite circles as well as people who are familiar with the thought process of the military leadership and the picture emerging is not a favourable one of the relationship with China: the more Pakistanis learn about the true costs of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the less inclined they are to want to participate any further than we already have.

If anything, the signal coming from the country’s establishment appears to be that, far from pivoting Pakistan’s economic and political orientation towards China, Pakistan should retain its historical role as the country that is able to balance its relationship with both China and the United States.

This emerging consensus — particularly within the military leadership — represents a subtle but important shift in the relationship with Beijing. Pakistan stared long and hard at the costs and benefits of becoming an integral part of what Beijing hopes will become the new Pax Sinica world order, and found it wanting. For all its flaws, Pax Americana still offers Pakistan a good deal. Nobody in Pakistan’s leadership wants to offend China, but nobody wants to bend over backwards to become a Chinese satellite state either.

Why CPEC is a raw deal

The biggest difference between the Pax Sinica and Pax Americana is one of how each superpower defines its own self-interest. The United States, though far from perfect, has a somewhat more enlightened view of the world order and America’s place in it: at least until the advent of President Donald Trump, the United States wanted to create a world order which is designed to benefit both the United States and its allies. China it seems, by contrast, wants to build a world order where China’s needs are met first and foremost, and the…