Building a China-Pakistan ‘cultural corridor’

By MAQSUDUL HASAN NURI — Much debate has swirled around the pros and cons of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) being launched in Pakistan. Its economic potential is discussed at length and it is considered a “game changer.” The net result of regional connectivity is invoked that would ultimately benefit the entire region.

Scarcely mentioned are possible socio-cultural implications of the project along the eastern and western regions where the CPEC routes would traverse.

China describes itself as a “socialist country with Chinese characteristics.” It advocates “peaceful development.” Confucian norms and roots in Buddhism also help shape China’s cultural life.

Can China radiate some of its value systems in Pakistani society in the next decades while completing the momentous CPEC project?

Confucian values epitomize discipline, consistency and a result-oriented approach. Also, family values, respect for authority, harmony, work ethics and management are emphasized.

Wherever Chinese workers have gone on development missions overseas, they have demonstrated these virtues. The Western world, perturbed by dynamism and competition, sometimes decries this as “Chinese neo-colonialism,” little realizing that China has hardly ventured beyond its borders to occupy foreign land or built any colonies.

Over the last six decades, Pakistan-China friendship has stood the test of times. Pakistan is no stranger to Chinese work ethics and value system; the latter has already built dams, and defense- and energy-related projects in Pakistan.

If and when the CPEC matures and fructifies after long gestation, it is bound to have lasting socio-cultural spillover in Pakistan. For, any major economic development often brings in its wake significant socio-cultural changes.

When Pakistani and Chinese workers have a chance to work together and interact on construction projects, there is going to be some sharing of cultural values. Besides transfer of skills by China, cultural and social values might be disseminated. Should the project see completion in time and benefits trickle down to common people, goodwill towards China will correspondingly increase.

Besides, education for the locals to study in China will get a fillip and many young people will be tempted to travel and get education in different fields. In return, they might be infused with Chinese values and its phenomenal progress. This admiration is already underway.

China’s aid philosophy and strategy is different from the West. In Africa, Latin America and Middle East they have followed a generally non-interventionist approach in domestic policies of their host countries; avoided partisan and condescending behavior; completed projects in time; and followed an austere working and living style. In addition, projects are cost-effective and are designed and customized to suit local conditions. This has generally endeared them to the local population.

Soft power

True, China is involved more economically and not as socially in Pakistan. But the Chinese education system, language, cultural mores may impinge upon Pakistani culture. The Chinese language is already getting attention and its soft power will affect as engineers, doctors and teachers go for education in China.

Already, people are familiar with Chinese music, dance troupes, fairs, sports and cultural activities in Pakistan, and Confucius Institutes in universities are imparting language, history and cultural courses.

Some may object that Chinese are used to living insular lives with different language and eating habits and may not interact closely with Pakistanis. But cultural studies have shown that wherever development goes apace, cultural/social norms and values intermingle and benefit each other.

Pakistan has a multi-cultural and multi-lingual past: it boasts of a rich heritage after having imbibed foreign influences: Arabic, Turkish, Iranian, Greek and Indian. The CPEC’s western and eastern routes, once completed, could create an economic stake for Pakistan’s neighbors, such as Afghanistan, Iran and India. If the going is good they might be willing to also partake from the economic dividends. As a consequence, this would dampen distrust between South Asian neighbors and pave the way for regional connectivity.

Thus the CPEC, if pursued to its logical conclusion, with pre-requisites of effective law and order, national focus and consensus, timely implementation, transparency and accountability, benefits accruing to smaller provinces — may well turn into a “cultural corridor.” Here China and Pakistan will mutually gain.

The writer is Visiting Professor of International Relations at Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, former President, Islamabad Policy Research Institute and former Adviser, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of PKonweb.

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