This case study of Gwadar port, part of a series on China’s Indian Ocean “strategic strongpoints” (战略支点), reveals that while Gwadar may one day serve as a major platform for China’s economic, diplomatic, and military interactions across the region, as of August 2020 it remains largely underdeveloped and underutilized.
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The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that was officially launched in April 2015, promised transformational gains. Five years later, a quarter of announced projects have been completed, energy projects dominate, and industrialization efforts are lagging, according to data collected by the CSIS Reconnecting Asia Project.
While most heads were turned to the East-West transport arteries spearheaded by China’s Belt and Road investments, activity along the lesser known North-South corridors has been slowly gaining momentum. Like their East-West cousins, the North-South routes consist of a bundle of land and sea multimodal corridors and connect South Asia to Northern Europe via the Persian Gulf and the Caspian region. Unlike the China-sponsored Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects, however, the development of the North-South corridors follows a more multilateral and multi-stakeholder approach.
The International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), examined in the first part of this series, has developed slowly but steadily during its twenty years of existence. Although mired by political and financial difficulties, including new sanctions on Iran (and Russia) placed by the Trump administration, the corridor will retain its potential for the actors involved. Today, the INSTC is complemented by two other initiatives: the Chabahar International Transport and Transit Corridor; and the proposed Russia-Pakistan (Ru-Pak) Corridor. The two projects are discussed below, followed by a brief evaluation of the potential impact of the full roll-out of these emerging North-South trade routes.
China’s growing military ambition in South Asia is matched in financial terms by its Belt and Road Initiative, including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. What remains unclear is how the U.S. should navigate the new dynamic. This report addresses the question of how the India-Pakistan rivalry will play into the emerging great power competition.