Silver Fox is the nickname of Wang Yi, China’s vice foreign minister and state councilor. Chinese have given him this name not because of looks but because he can easily take diplomats, politicians and countries for a ride. Yi loves playing Mahjong like all Chinese but on July 27 he played geopolitical Mahjong with an international foursome through video conferencing. The other players were Pakistan’s foreign and economic ministers, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Khushro Bakhtiar, Nepal’s foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali and Afghanistan’s acting foreign minister Hanif Atmar.
Silver Fox threw the opening dice by praising “Iron Brother” Pakistan and exhorting Afghanistan and Nepal to join the Iron Brother Club (IBC). The brotherly part remains ambiguous though Pakistan has provided human guinea pigs for China’s Wuhan Virus vaccine trials. But Beijing for sure has put Pakistan in an iron cast that is tightening by the day. Before China fired the Wuhan Virus, Pakistan’s GDP growth rate was estimated to be 3.3% for 2020 and 2.4% for 2021 – lowest in a decade. But now Pakistan’s real growth rate for 2020 has been projected by the World Bank to go into the negative, between -1.3 per cent and -2.2 percent. Pakistan’s total external debt stands at US$ 111 billion which includes $27 billion to multilateral donors, $22 billion to China, $12 billion to international bonds and $11.3 billion plus to the Paris Club.
Wang Yi’s plank for calling the video conferencing officially was to discuss ‘strengthening anti-epidemic cooperation between neighbouring countries in regular epidemic prevention and control, and promoting economic recovery and development’, which in itself implied promoting sale of Chinese medical and pandemic preventive equipment as well as China’s vaccine in the making. Very cleverly he omitted mentioning the joint China-Pakistan covert project to set up a mini Wuhan-type P4 lab in Pakistan under the garb ‘Collaboration for Emerging Infectious Diseases and Studies on Biological Control of Vector Transmitting Diseases’, which permits thematic research to monitor potential new diseases – providing the handle to develop newer deadly viruses and biological weapons. Notably, China is engaged in DNA research enabling a biological weapon to specifically target people of particular race (s) or be ineffective against them.
But the main reasons for Yi calling the meet were two: signaling solidarity in South Asia with global backlash against Xi Jinping’s overall aggression following Beijing’s biological attack, and; promoting trade and commerce through the CPEC and BRI projects on pretext of development and economic recovery of Afghanistan, Nepal and Pakistan which in effect provides for employment of Chinese companies and nationals in these countries to help China’s mounting unemployment and downturn of own economy. The Silver Fox is adept at hawking sugar coated debt pills where the target country can only payback in strategic terms that favour China.
Pakistan’s debt to GDP ratio is 85 percent and expected to increase to 90 percent with negative GDP growth and a higher budget deficit than the previous year (8.9 per cent). Pakistan has asked China for rescheduling debt-repayments for the CPEC and China has indicated their willingness to consider Islamabad’s request favourably. It is significant to note that when the CPEC project was launched in 2014, it was valued at $46 billion. However, this figure had already gone up to $62 billion in 2019 – increase of $16 billion in just five years with consequential debt repayment increase towards China. Moreover, this comes at a time when Pakistan is already living beyond its means with mammoth external debts. Unless Pakistan’s debt repayments are rescheduled, its debt servicing obligation for 2020 is over $29 billion.
It is more than evident that Pakistan will keep sinking deeper into China’s debt – same which is happening to other countries like Sri Lanka forced to handover Hambantota Port to China for 99 years. In 2012, US media and regional Pakistani reporters had stated that Pakistan was leasing Gilgit-Baltistan to China for 50 years, which it may have already done clandestinely. Gwadar Port has been handed over to a Chinese company for 49 years and China Overseas Ports Holding Company has been given a 23-year tax exemption. Veteran Pakistani military officer Agha H Amin had prophesied in 2005 and reiterated in 2012 saying, “There is no doubt that Pakistan will be a semi autonomous Chinese province by 2030 or so… Pakistani Baluchistan by 2030 would be a completely Chinese run show”. But when Amin made that prophecy he was not aware that Xi Jinping will convert China’s so called ‘peaceful rise’ into overt aggression by 2019-2020. Amin’s predictions therefore could be advanced by five years or so especially with Pakistani Generals and politicians having no issue about sovereignty of their country.
Pakistan has a PLA Brigade stationed about 14 km from Skardu and as per media reports China is likely to officially announce a military base in Pakistan in near future. Gwadar will eventually be a PLA Naval (PLAN) base and Jiwani Peninsula (West of Gwadar) is slated to be a joint China-Pakistan military base. After Gilgit-Baltistan Pakistan may lease out Balochistan to China for 50 or more years? The stage appears to be getting set for Pakistan to become Pakistan Autonomous Region of China in not too distant a future.
China is eagerly waiting for US-NATO exit from Afghanistan in order to fill the vacuum. It already has the Taliban on its side and Pakistan in its bag. Not many would be aware that just before 9/11 China signed a Memorandum of Understanding for Economic and Technical cooperation with Taliban. China is the only country drilling commercial oil in Afghanistan since 2012 and is mining copper. China has its eyes fixed on the $1-3 trillion mineral reserves in Afghanistan. In 2018, China invested $4 billion to become second largest investor in Chile giving China effective control over nearly half the global production of Lithium which is critical to electric car batteries. Afghanistan has vast reserves of Lithium which China will secure.
In 2017, China signed an agreement with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense to build a military base in Badakshan region of North Afghanistan for the Afghan National Army (ANA). China committed to fully fund the new ANA base covering all material and technical expenses, including both lethal and nonlethal weaponry and equipment. PLA presence in this base would be permanent on excuse of maintenance and providing training to the ANA. China has strategic interests in Badakshan region that includes making sure the West does not foment trouble in Xinjiang Province of China through the Wakhan Corridor using Uighur dissidents trained abroad. In the same connection Lu Shulin, China’s ambassador to Pakistan, had met Mullah Omar in Kandahar during December 2000 asking Taliban to shut down camps of Uighur separatists in Afghanistan in exchange for China supporting and arming the Taliban.
China’s political and economic warfare is effective and it thrives more on inexperience and corruption in the target country. Cheryl Benard wrote in the New York Times on July 4, 2012, “In 2009, in its rush to riches, the Afghan Government gave a Chinese mining company (MCC) the contract, and for terms that are causing pained shudders to those in the know. The inexperienced Afghan Ministry may have thought $800 million to be a spectacular lot of money and the alleged $30 million bribe to the then minister of mines may have played a part but at 50 or 60 years’ worth of multibillion-dollar annual exploitation of this enormous deposit, it puts the purchase of Manhattan for a fistful of shiny beads into the shade, as great bad deals go”.
With Taliban likely to rule Afghanistan as and when US-NATO exit, Chinese writ will run in that country. As for Nepal, Nepal and China signed a framework agreement on China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative on May 12, 2017 just two days before the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation chaired by President Xi Jjinping in Beijing. How much then Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ was bribed remains unknown but in wake of the present Nepalese Government under Prime Minister LP Sharma Oli having gone overtly anti-India news reports have emerged that China heavily bribed Oli and his wife.
According to Global Watch Analysis Oli’s wealth has grown rapidly over past few years in return for which he has implemented many of China’s business plans in Nepal. Oli has an account with Mirabod Bank in Geneva, Switzerland having deposit of 41.34 crores and has through long term deposits and shares, he and his wife Radhika Sharam profit 1.87 crores annually. Oli also invested in Cambodia’s telecommunications sector in 2015-16 assisted by Wu Chuntai, China’s ambassador to Nepal. In December 2018, Oli signed a contract to create a digital action room with China’s Huawei. In May 2019, Nepal Telecommunication tied up with a Hong Kong Chinese company to create a radio access network. In the same year, a deal was also signed with Chinese company JTE to install 4G network. Both these projects were to be completed at a cost of Rs 1106 crore, though questions were raised on the way these contracts were awarded.
As long as there are corrupt politicians and leaders China will come out winner be it South Asia, Africa, Latin America or another country elsewhere. This will help Xi Jinping dominate the world, as does China’s fondness for bonding with rogue, radical and ideologically similar regimes and organizations.