Covid-19 and CPEC: Analysis

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Dr.Aqeela Asif

BEFORE the onset of Covid-19, the environment, global warming and globalization have been the major issues of discussion worldwide. The essential element of globalization is connectivity. Relations of different states across the world have many aspects, angles and dimensions including networks, such as cultural, social, political and economic. In fact, the world is really conservative; all states have their own cultural and societal fabrics and associate a sense of fear of loss of traditional and cultural uniqueness linked with such integrations. However, due to strong connectivity, it is difficult to avoid the overlap of socio-cultural occurrences at this stage of development in the perspective of integration.

One of the important tools of economic connectivity is the establishment of economic corridors. The Asian Development Bank coined this term in 1998. Conversely, the corridors have a long history in urbanization and trade planning since ancient times, for instance, the silk route. Economic corridors are actually collective networks for the setting up of infrastructure among the countries sharing common borders to stimulate economic development and cooperation. Economic corridors often have features to integrate infrastructure including highways, railroads, and ports to link different cities and States. Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the autumn of 2013.

In this regard, Pakistan and China signed an agreement “China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)” in April 2015.  The Chinese President inaugurated the work on the $46 billion CPEC agreement, which is roughly 20% of Pakistan’s annual GDP. It was presented as a win-win model to promote regional connectivity among major countries of the region. CPEC is a journey towards economic regionalization in the globalized world.

Despite the black clouds of Covid-19, CPEC is still a commitment for peace and development to serve the poorest communities of the region. The recent ‘mega-corridor’ or ‘euro-corridor’ models projected the context of argument on European regional development.

The European Union (EU) Corridor from Latvia to Frankfurt is an example of economic development and cooperation in European region. Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation Program, Trans-Himalayan Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network, Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy, Nanning–Singapore Economic Corridor, East–West Economic Corridor, Eastern Economic Corridor and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Forum for Regional Cooperation are also examples of such corridors in different parts of the world.

Of course, the economic corridors trigger economic development in several regions among different states, especially neighbouring countries. It reduces transportation and communication costs, the smooth connection of various industrial chains, and the shortening of delivery time and to manage the supply and demand chain effectively. At the same time, the economic corridors may also endorse the local industries especially an ideal business plan for promotion of tourism and hotels.

Therefore, such corridors create the link between manufacturing hubs and value-added goods from the areas famous for the production of any agricultural or industrial product. Success and implementation of such agreements require sound and concrete ‘policy formulation’ at national level. Moreover, well-thought-out policy steps at different levels and common economic interests among the signatories of the agreement are the vital requirements of the success of such mega projects.

Subsequently, the corridors are a complete package of different procedures including infrastructure development, visa and transport agreements, standardization and business cooperation. Social needs and cultural commonalities and differences are also the major area while concluding such agreements. So, economic corridors promote regional integration, economic development, employment, living standards and endorse an international culture of mutual interest and peace.

Anyone with quick intelligent review and honest analysis can easily acknowledge the importance of CEPC and can hardly deny its legitimacy. However, several other related policy issues must be addressed on an urgent basis to make the smooth implementation of such megaprojects with focus on objectives and expected outcomes. So, it has many dimensions and levels each of which requires special attention and legal cover.

In persuasion, firstly, to prepare the local people and address the apprehensions related to their properties, investments and socio-cultural tendencies. Secondly, a sound administrative set-up is very important to engage academia and socio-economic experts, thirdly services delivery to local and foreign corridor users including security, fourthly, to set directions and involvement of participation of local people and lastly, level and limits of the foreign community. A well-defined and comprehensive strategic policy document in this regard will serve the purpose effectively.

At the end of 2019, China was facing the issue of the spread of COVID-19, it was very sudden and horrible, in that stressed time Pakistan donated surgical masks to China and Pakistani Senate passed the resolution to support China. Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chinese President Xi Jinping exchanged the solidarity messages to strengthen ties. In March 2020, President Arif Ali Alvi visited China and gave a strong message of friendly bonds between two neighbours. He was the second foreign leader to fly to China during the Covid-19 pandemic.

President Alvi’s visit also served to lay the grounds for the 10th Joint Cooperation Committee and formulation of the framework regarding CPEC. In Pakistani delegation, the Minister for Planning, Development, Reforms and Special Initiatives, Asad Umar also signed an MoU to establish the Joint Working Groups on Science and Technology and Agriculture between China and Pakistan under CPEC. Pakistan and China once again proved as “Iron Brother” and “all-weather” friends in the joint statement at the end of the visit.

After a few months Pakistan also faced the issue of the spread of the pandemic and as per “face masks diplomacy”, China supported Pakistan and PM Imran Khan publicly praised China’s aid to Pakistan in general and provincial governments in Sindh and Punjab in particular. Even during the stressed situation of COVID-19 China showed solidarity to Pakistan and exchanged views on the issue of Kashmir.

China and Pakistan strongly committed to the CPEC project and it made possible the launching and operational status of the project as there are reports about Gwadar as an operational port despite the crisis of COVID-19. CPEC will prove itself as a game changer in the world in general and in the region in particular. It is important to mention that the greatest weapons are not the traditional arms now, it is the command and control on economic opportunities and resources.

The verified data, information and media are the tools to manipulate all the minds that consume it.  The rapid and stunning economic growth of China with peaceful policies and mutual economic progress even during a pandemic set an example for the international community. It helped to promote regional connectivity and focus on their development for the durable and sustainable peace through economic corridors and strong linkages of connectivity while avoiding manipulated propaganda smartly.

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