The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) includes projects ranging from western China to the southern tip of Pakistan. Energy projects account for more than 60 percent of CPEC’s roughly $62 billion in investment. Of these projects, about 70 percent of their planned energy capacity will be generated by coal-fired power plants. The rest is hydro (20 percent), solar (7 percent), and wind (3 percent). Pakistan’s energy needs are great, and its government aims to increase access to electricity from 67 to 90 percent of the population by 2025. However, decisions about increased energy output also need to be carefully weighed against potential environmental risks, including potential impacts on local protected species.
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Most countries along the BRI have urgent infrastructure development needs and many are considered too high-risk for traditional investors, the result being that their governments have been highly receptive to Beijing’s offers of financing, building, and operating infrastructure projects.
Just 10 years ago, regular direct freight services from China to Europe did not exist. Today, they connect roughly 35 Chinese cities with 34 European cities. But despite their rapid advances, these lines must compete with maritime routes that have dominated commerce between Asia and Europe since the late fifteenth century. It remains to be seen how much trade they can capture.
China’s interest in the Arctic seems to be driven by potential energy, commercial, and geopolitical benefits, but each comes with a caveat. First, the region has a wealth of energy and natural resources, boasting roughly 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered crude oil and 30 percent of undiscovered natural gas. While these oil and gas deposits are locked away under the Arctic seabed by thick ice sheets and harsh weather, the steady retreat of sea ice has paved the path to viable future extraction efforts. At present, China’s most significant link to the Arctic is through the Russian Yamal Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) project, in which Chinese companies hold stakes and provide significant financing. For its participation, China has secured long-term offtake of LNG from the project amounting to approximately 195 billion cubic feet per annum (or 4 million tons per annum). However, the appeal of Arctic oil and gas to global markets is subject to the cyclical nature of global oil and gas markets, as well as the future of other supply sources, including U.S. unconventionals. Arctic resource extraction remains difficult and expensive owing to the harsh climate, limited infrastructure, distance to manufacturing centers, and environmental sensitivities. These issues, which have hindered past onshore projects in Northern Russia and Alaska, will likely present even greater challenges for future offshore energy development efforts in the Arctic given adverse maritime conditions.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a flagship project under China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Announced in 2015, CPEC has expanded to include as much as $62 billion of investments. In Pakistan, there have been a range of reactions. CPEC advocates have characterized it as a “game-changer.” Others have warned that it is a new form of Chinese “imperialism.”