CPEC: Enhancing Pakistan-China Cultural Exchange

Spearhead Special Report – 04.12.2017

By Shirin Naseer
Senior Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

With a massive network of motorways, railways, hydropower, and developmental projects, the $60 billion worth China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is set to give a new dimension to Pakistan’s economy and development in the coming years. Connecting Pakistan’s deep-sea Gwadar Port with the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China, CPEC is expected to change the face of regional economic integration. In the most recent interaction the matter of economic zones under CPEC was discussed. KPK favors Rashakai as a location instead of Hattar. Baluchistan believes most of its area could be declared an economic zone. There seem to be two views—selected economic zones or new mini cities in selected locations.

It was decided that the Bhasha Dam project would not be part of CPEC and the Karachi Circular Road Project has also not been included. All provinces have to do considerable homework to craft carefully considered and feasible projects. Pakistan needs to safeguard its interests to the maximum and as a model the Chinese-Malaysian agreements may be studied.

Other than India’s opposition to the project, the reaction toward Xi’s economic corridor has so far been outwardly positive. Majority policymakers in Pakistan see the CPEC as an effective tool in improving Pakistan’s economy with enhanced investment, trade and economic cooperation.

From the perspective of the BRI, Southeast Asia has become a place of prominence for China. The China-Pakistan relationship goes back decades. Pakistan and China have always maintained some degree of cultural exchange through art, literature and education. In the past half a decade, however, there has been a significant increase in the number of visits exchanged by cultural delegations from both countries. This is because both countries realize a critical part of furthering CPEC is also promoting dialogue between Pakistan and China. During his address to the Senate of Pakistan in 2013, the Chinese Premier Keqiang Li said, “It is necessary to engage citizens of both Pakistan and China in mutual interaction through cultural exchanges and people-to-people contacts.”

Historically, ancient trade routes between the East and the West have led the development and transfer of culture, religion and art. Along with goods, trade routes have also helped in the exchange of ideas and languages. The ancient Silk Road, which connected China and India on the east with the Roman world on the west, is known to have advanced cultural activity substantially between different civilizations and regions. Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism spread along the Silk Road as a consequence of these interactions.

The southern route of the Silk Road, which is now being revived as part of CPEC, covers the north-western parts of Pakistan and its revival is predicted to have a significant impact on Pakistan’s socio-cultural condition.

This paper will focus on the cultural dimension of CPEC. It will explore the future prospects of Pak-China people-to-people contacts, and the opportunities likely to be created with enhanced multifaceted human interaction between Pakistan and China. It will also consider the risks associated with extensive cultural exchange in an attempt to examine the stakes of the multi-billion dollar project from a cultural angle.

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