Dr Sarwat Rauf
One of the significant economic projects of the 21st century namely China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), has been gaining so much fame since its commencement. The world’s economists were assessing its feasibility; in the meantime a contagion reported in China which later declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). The reports of the falling economies have been appearing since the beginning of 2020. Explicitly, the evolving situation is upsetting worldwide economists and policymakers. The epidemic has created an odd situation for top-notch leaders of states, economic institutes and defense sectors. Currently, the leaders of developed countries around the world are trying to find vaccine with the help of their scientists. Against this background, the pandemic has also offered a prism to gauge China’s project of regional integration and its interaction with the rest of the world in a global emergency.
Undoubtedly, the current situation is moving most of us to think whether the President of China Mr. Xi Jinping, was fully aware of all the challenges in the pathway of regional integration? Was he cognizant that a novel virus would make people sick and a new security threat will challenge the feasibility of CPEC?
To understand the prevailing cynical situation, it is imperative to know that since the beginning of CPEC, many countries have been busy disrupting it by spreading false news which is why skepticism still exists. Although CPEC was gaining considerable popularity in the world; however, critics were also disparaging its expediency. Various commentators called the plan an imaginary project and some added it to the list of impossibilities.
Notwithstanding the doubts, Pakistan and China have been steadfast in the completion of CPEC. The interesting aspect is that both countries continued their struggle for achieving the set targets in all kinds of social odds, political upheavals and economic difficulties. The ongoing project has already brought Beijing very close to Pakistan. The movement of people between these two states has been increased. The students and entrepreneurs from Pakistan have been frequently moving to China, similarly, Chinese workers linked to CPEC projects, are either settling or moving to Pakistan. However, in the current situation, a standstill situation is obvious because of the lockdowns and border closures.
Whilst the recent crisis has reversed the whole world, the citizens from both countries have also come under great stress. As the clouds of despair have been shadowing the world; China started to fight against COVID-19 with healthcare tech. In order to minimize the risk of cross-infection, several Chinese firms have developed technologies for contactless delivery and spraying sanitizers.
Initially, no one was aware of the potency of new Corona Virus but China’s gradual move to normalcy is becoming a ray of hope. Interestingly, Chinese efforts are admired by thousands who had hitherto remained cynical. Doubts were being cast that COVID-19 will affect ongoing China-supported CPEC-related projects in Pakistan. Conversely, the Chinese government is helping Pakistan in difficult times; equally government of Pakistan is showing confidence in the government of China. Both states are fighting for the greater good of people in Pakistan and China, to control the spread of the disease. Unequivocally, China is setting an example to normalize the situation and restore societal activities, while at the same time minimizing disease-related dangers.
Amid a surge in the nationwide count of COVID-19 patients in Pakistan, Beijing has promised to help Islamabad in this critical time while praising the political and military leadership for standing with the Chinese people in a difficult situation. Indeed, China is upholding a message of friendship, yet the Virus has become a litmus test for the CPEC and China-Pakistan friendship. In return, the Government of Pakistan has shown its full trust in measures taken by China in handling the Corona Virus. Both countries have also publicized their commitment to the scheduled construction plan under CPEC and reiterated to stand with each other. Moreover, China has also sent a heavy consignment of medical supplies to Pakistan. The Chinese medical aid to combat the lethal virus includes virus test kits, masks and protective suits. Especially, amid growing scare financial assistance has also been given to Pakistan to build an isolation hospital.
Since China has won plaudits for managing the disease outbreak relatively well, the hope of getting out of this danger is growing slightly and it looks like work on CPEC will become normal. Foreign Minister of Pakistan Mr. Shah Mahmood Qureshi has recently stated that CPEC would go ahead even in this pandemic, and there will be no curtailment in the project. He has also assured that the current pandemic will not have any long-run impact on the CPEC; however, a slight slowdown is possible in the short run. The current crisis is being considered as temporary glitch by the authorities on both sides and it is believed that it will march forward to benefit the whole region.
Despite all these official satisfactory remarks, it should not be ignored that current measures to stem the spread of the elusive virus are costly and would definitely affect the economies of both states. There would be a slow return to the full functioning of the economy and the majority of the Chinese workers/engineers would take some time to come back. Moreover, the domestic and global campaign of disinformation would make it difficult to restore the confidence of the business lobby. In all these twists and turns, it is expected that both countries will sail through these murky waters and normal exchange of people between the two countries would resume soon.
(The writer is Assistant Professor in IR Department, NUML, Islamabad)