This News could be unsettling for Pakistan, the South Asian nation which is not having the best of times in its foreign policy-making of late. An op-ed in Global Times – the state-run Chinese daily said on Tuesday (Sept 13) that the CPEC or China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is unlikely to remain a “plain sailing” for the two neighbors and there could be “potential setbacks” for both.The op-ed said the rising expenses of protecting the Chinese workers engaged in the $46-billion project in Pakistan had created a “big problem” in carrying out the work efficiently.The daily also said that China should instead focus on Southeast Asia and not “put all its eggs in one basket."

The proposed CPEC project will connect China’s Xinjiang province with Gwadar Port in Pakistan’s Balochistan province and it forms a key part of the ambitious 'One Road One Belt' project which Beijing is eyeing to assert a global impact.

But the region through which this project is set to pass is one of the most unstable in the world and hence is the need to use a massive security machinery to guard the project and the workers.

This voice of concern coming out from within China is significant and could put a reality check on Beijing’s plans to accommodate an unstable Pakistan into a key project like the CPEC.

For China, Pak has only been a strategic ally

Historically, China and Pakistan have displayed camaraderie more out of a strategic need to deal with India – a common rival. For China, Pakistan has been a key regional ally also to keep the Uighur problem in check while the current CPEC initiative is more to keep the US away.

For Islamabad, though, the Chinese connection has been far more beneficial than just strategic. For a country which is struggling economically and also in the diplomatic fraternity of late, Pakistan’s dependence on China for both growths of infrastructure and moral support has been enormous.

But the Chinese daily’s latest viewpoint could leave Islamabad nervous.

At the same time, given Pakistan's track-record since 1947, one cannot really blame the Chinese. Beijing, which had once worked closely with Pakistan to back militants fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and also relied on the Inter-Services Intelligence to enhance its battle against Islamic militants to deal with the Uighur problem on its own soil, subsequently saw its confidence in Islamabad reducing – thanks to the latter’s losing control over the militants.

The continuity of the Uighur militant threat and the killings of Chinese staff members in Afghanistan and Pakistan gave a clear message to Beijing that expecting much from Islamabad isn’t wise.It should be clear to the policy-makers in Beijing that Pakistan can never be a same-level strategic partner of China. They have actually acted wise these years by not backing Pakistan in any form of military adventure against India. China clearly wants the tension between the two South Asian countries to continue so that India remains engaged in its neighborhood but never turning into a threat.

Chinese plans have been challenged by PM Modi

But under the premiership of Narendra Modi, New Delhi has revived its foreign policy outlook and is not really acting as per China's expectations.

Besides reaching out to the US which has threatened China in the Asia-Pacific, Modi’s India has also been strengthening rapport with Japan and Vietnam – countries that do not share great relations with Beijing. This strategy of counter-encirclement by India has alarmed China and hence came the Communist Party-run daily’s suggestion to Beijing to look South-east and not just remain engaged in Pakistan.

By suggesting that the key 'One Belt, One Road' initiative’s focus might need a shift towards Southeast Asia because of its “relatively stable regional environment”, the op-ed clearly showed Beijing an alternative. The inherent message is simple: do not get involved in South Asia’s problems that have their epicenter in Pakistan.

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