The Cultural Implications of CPEC

The Cultural Implications of CPEC

Reciprocal goodwill is the answer

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is an initiative toward attaining “Greater Connectivity” through roads, railways and maritime routes between Beijing and Islamabad. The CPEC is one of the seven economic corridors being built under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI initiative brings a win-win situation for more than 76 nations of the world.

Pakistan is a country of diverse cultures, traditions and languages with almost 73 different dialects. CPEC is said to be a combination of three Cs i.e. connectivity, corridor linkages and cultural relationship, between the two states. Since Pakistan and China have two entirely diverse socio-cultural and religious setups; therefore, cultural harmony is a prerequisite for regional integration.

Pre-CPEC and Post-CPEC scenarios in the context of cultural integration are essential to be discussed. Pre-CPEC was an era where less attention was given to cultural ties or people-to-people linkages, whereas the post-CPEC is having substance more in economic terms; it has a strong commitment toward people-to-people engagements and more robust cultural ties. Even cultural exchange is one of the priorities under the BRI.

And, it will not be wrong to say here that China is committed to promote people-to-people bonds and cooperation under its cooperative priorities in CPEC, owing, mainly, to its investment-friendly philosophy with Pakistan. CPEC is one branch of over $60 billion for Pakistan from an ‘investment tree’ of nearly one trillion dollars. Fortunately, this came as a privileged bounty for Pakistan due to its geostrategic location and time-tested Pak-China friendship.

As discussed earlier, the CPEC is a combination of three Cs i.e. connectivity, corridor linkages and cultural relationship between Islamabad and Beijing. It is a bilateral agreement that creates connectivity from Kashgar in China to Gwadar in Pakistan, covering a total area of 2,934 km. It consists of railways, bridges and roads. The CPEC is the product of almost a decade of research and planning done by Beijing and Islamabad, and is expected to be completed during the ongoing year.

The common components across cultures are symbols (language), values and norms. All cultures include symbols that confer meanings to things and events. These symbols are expressed through what we call language.

CPEC and Two Diverse Cultures

Both states possess two diverse cultures due to socio-cultural and religious differences; cultural adaptation for Pakistanis seems to be difficult, though. The undeniable significance of CPEC also necessitates the social integration and cultural assimilation for success.

Two countries’ diverse cultures are based on their ideology and religion that are quite different from each other. Chinese norms are based on Confucian ideology whereas the Pakistani culture and society mirrors Islamic values.

In the following paragraphs, the two entirely diverse cultures would be keenly observed in connection with the “Greater Connectivity” initiative.

For cultural integration, some efforts of both governments are as follows:

1. Confucius Institutes

The year 2005 remained significant with regard to Pakistan. It was in April this year that the first Confucius Institute in Pakistan – also the first in the Islamic World – was founded by the Office of Chinese Language Council International (Hanban), Beijing Language and Culture University and National University of Modern Languages in Islamabad with the name of Confucius Institute of Islamabad (CII). It is to be noted here that the Confucius Institutes are present in 50 countries worldwide with over 500 branches.

2. Pakistan-China Institute (PCI)

Although this Institute came into existence before the CPEC project, it is one of the leading institutes in creating strong bonding among Chinese and Pakistanis. The PCI was established in October 2009 under the Chairmanship of Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed. It is a nongovernmental, nonpartisan and non-political think-tank. As per the information on its website, “PCI endeavours to be the principal nongovernmental platform to promote people-to-people ties between Pakistan and China in all areas, particularly defence and diplomacy, education and energy, economy and environment, and with a particular focus on youth and women.”

3. Sangam Club

In 2016, another effort by the Chinese embassy and the Government of Pakistan came with the founding of the Sangam Club. According to the Chinese Ambassador Sun Weidong, “It is a new platform for the Pakistanis who have visited China under the programs organized by the Chinese Embassy during the past few years. It is on voluntary basis and will keep expanding.” While addressing the Sangam Club 2016 Gala, Ambassador Weidong stated, “In Urdu, ‘sangam’ means conflux of rivers. Friends present today are coming from all walks of life in Pakistan. You have made great contribution to the solid and enduring China-Pakistan friendship.”

4. China Radio International (CRI)

Radio is an important tool of communication and CRI, a state-owned international broadcaster established in 1941, has proed to be an effective communicator. NEWS Plus Radio is China Radio International’s English-language broadcasting platform that provides the “global audiences with news, reports and feature programmes with a distinctive Chinese flavour and an international perspective.”

Today, CRI broadcasts 392 hours of programming a day in thirty-eight languages from twenty-seven overseas bureaus. On 29th of January 2017, the CRI celebrated the third anniversary of its establishment in Pak-China Friendship Center.

5. CPEC Project Information on Website

Several other efforts have been made by the PCI; such as in July 2012, Youlin Magazine, which is a cultural journal, was launched. It is the first magazine published in two languages: English and Chinese. The purpose of launching this magazine is “to act as a cultural bridge between the people of China and Pakistan as “it has its pulse on the resurgent and vibrant cultural scene of Pakistan.”

Moreover, the PCI, in collaboration with CRI, has developed special CPEC Portal as its flagship project in order to disseminate information about, and enable stakeholder connectivity with, the CPEC.

In addition, the Government of Pakistan, in order to eliminate the language barrier, plans to publish a comprehensive Urdu-Chinese dictionary.

6. Chinese Dramas on PTV

Since cultural diplomacy is an important tool of soft power; therefore, Beijing and Islamabad are collaborating in media sector also. On 7th October 2017, the CRI radio news elaborated that Pakistan Television (PTV) will telecast Chinese dramas dubbed in Urdu language form November 2017. Other than this, around 200 Chinese movies, dramas and documentaries have been translated into Urdu language and will be telecast soon.

Regarding the Urdu-dubbed Chinese dramas, the most important question here is: do Chinese people show interest in our cultural values? Is this cultural engagement a two-way process? Does Chinese telecast Pakistani dramas on their national television? We take pride in airing their culture content, but is this gesture reciprocated? These are some of the questions that should be answered.

7. Cricket and People-To-People Contacts

On 20th October 2017, a Pakistan Super League franchise Peshawar Zalmi signed an MoU with China Cricket Association under which two Chinese cricket players were made part of the 3rd edition of the Pakistan Super League.

Likewise, different programmes and schemes have also been established for promoting people-to-people contacts for the young generation of Pakistan – scholarships are an integral part of it. China Scholarship Council (CSC), entrusted by the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, is responsible for enrolment and administration of Chinese Government Scholarship programmes. All scholarships are planned with a mission of serving as a cultural bridge between China and Pakistan.

8. Educational Linkages

Since 2016, the number of Pakistani students studying in China is on the rise. On 8th February 2018, a Chinese newspaper China Daily reported: “[A]ccording to statistics released by China’s Ministry of Education, more than 200,000 students from 64 countries along the Belt and Road Initiative were studying in China last year, up 13.6 percent from 2015.” The report further revealed: “With almost 20,000 students from Pakistan studying in China last year i.e. 2017, the South Asian country has risen from the ninth-largest source of China’s international students to the fourth.”

9. Role of Media

In the contemporary world, media plays an important role in fulfilling people’s communication needs. Apart from entertainment, media is an effective tool for shaping opinion of the people, especially the youth. In promoting Pak-China ties, media, either electronic or print, will have to play its responsible role. Knowledge of, or introduction to, any cultural activity between Islamabad and Beijing should be broadcast in a positive manner, highlighting both the darker and positive sides of both cultures.

10. Expected Positive Impacts

Pakistan is a multi-cultural society with Islamic norms and values as its main features. Pakistan possesses a very strong and vibrant culture. Although in this age of “cultural imperialism” safeguarding our indigenous culture has been difficult, the foreign media has remained largely successful in foisting the Western cultural values on the Pakistani youth. It is despite the fact that Pakistani media has generally resorted to cut-paste of foreign cultures only to gain ratings and attract more viewers. Since under the CPEC, cultural interaction between China and Pakistan would increase substantially, it should be on an equal level. Amidst the fears that Pakistanis would adopt Chinese culture, our media should play a responsible role.

Nonetheless, one cannot ignore the positives aspects of practically interacting with the Chinese people. Through interacting with them, some following positive aspects could be seen in Pakistani society:

1. Creativity and innovation.
2. Local market competition can give boost to local products.
3. Drawing from a culturally diverse talent pool allows an organization to attract and retain the best talent.
4. Diverse teams are more productive and perform better.
5. Greater opportunity for personal and professional growth


CPEC is an ambitious and a very high profile initiative and both governments are working hard to make it a success in all terms. The national narrative of Pakistan should be strong and unified. As the sluggish progress on CPEC is due to interprovincial discord, there is an acute need to take concrete steps to create harmony among the provinces of Pakistan.

Our policymakers, strategists and statesmen should consider cultural diplomacy as an effective tool and should use it in a perfect way. Pakistan’s foreign ministry also needs to be proactive in reaping the benefits of CPEC and the development of cultural linkages between the two states.

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