Urbanisation, special economic zones and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor: Upgrading Pakistan’s urban system or bypassing metropolises?

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The key research questions in this project are:

  • How will the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’s (CPEC) special economic zones (SEZs) shape urbanisation in Pakistan?
  • What are the economic, social and political impacts of the SEZs?
  • How has Chinese investment prioritised sectors to offer potential to improve human development indicators?
  • What are the political impacts of the CPEC Authority managing construction and circumventing civilian oversight? Will urban development be depoliticised?

The details

The deterioration of the relationship between the US and China has been termed the ‘new Cold War.’

As China’s economy is on track to become the largest in the world, the situation exhibits a novel territorial logic where China, and the US and its allies, compete to strategically integrate territory in ways that orients it towards value chains anchored by their domestic champions.

To this end, the US, Australia and Japan recently established the “Blue Dot Network,” whose objective is to “strengthen development finance cooperation in support of principles-based infrastructure and sustainable economic growth.”

China has a head start, however, because its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was launched in 2013 and it is perhaps the world’s most ambitious infrastructure development scheme. Through a series of terrestrial and maritime development corridors, the BRI serves to expand China’s infrastructural linkages, and open new markets for its oversized construction sector and offshore labour-intensive manufacturing.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is one of the BRI’s primary components, and it links China’s remote western border to Gwadar on the Indian Ocean via a Trans-Himalayan highway and railways that criss-cross Pakistan. This transport network is anchored by a series of special economic zones that serve as key urban nodes designed to attract Chinese investment and foster export-oriented growth.

The overarching question of this project is how CPEC’s SEZs shape urbanization in Pakistan, and it focuses on their economic, social and political impacts.

Many SEZs become enclaves which offer few benefits to the city in which they are located. In this case, however, Chinese investment is proposed to prioritize sectors that offer potential to improve human development indicators.

The graduate researcher on this profile is: Hannah McNicol

Supervision team

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