London, October 21: Running 1,300 kilometers over the world’s highest mountain pass, the “Friendship,” or the Karakoram, Highway is evidence of China’s willingness to spend big as a contributor to global development. Costing tens of billions of dollars, the road links western China with Pakistan, part of Beijing’s “One Belt One Road” Initiative, which seeks to rekindle ancient Silk Road trade routes linking China with Europe and Africa and is a central tenet of President Xi Jinping’s leadership, said professor Steve Tsang of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.
“The government is committed to do whatever it can to make sure that it is successful,” Tsang said. “So a lot more money and resources will be put into it to support that.”
But figures show that since the Karakoram Highway was built, Pakistani exports to China have fallen while imports have increased, raising concern China’s new Silk Road could become a one-way street.
Stephen Gelb of the Overseas Development Institute says Beijing should focus its investments on global development goals.
“At the moment there’s a lot of focus on infrastructure and particularly transport, pipelines, that sort of thing, which don’t directly address poverty,” Gelb said. “And in fact there’s been in some cases some controversy about the social and environmental impacts. But I think the focus should be to address development, including poverty and related issues.”
Gliding above the choking traffic of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, the Chinese-funded tramway system opened last year at a cost of half a billion dollars. Beijing says investments like this will boost African economies, thereby alleviating poverty.
Gelb says it is also part of China’s plan to become a dominant force on the global stage.