By Sherry Rehman
Over the years, all of us have worked closely with Chinese officials and investors in facilitating projects, people‑to‑people relationships, cultural exchanges, and, most importantly, ensuring the security of everyone involved in CPEC projects. As we speak, 2,700 students from Pakistan were granted scholarships to study in China with thousands already learning Mandarin across the country. This kind of exchange is as important as big ‑scale projects. Because building trust between peoples is what binds countries together in ties that sustain the tests of time, in all weathers and all storms.
As the first containership sailed into Gwadar in March, CPEC has already started making an impact in all provinces. We have a long way to go in providing safe drinking water and schools to the people of Gwadar, but I am glad to see that social responsibility and signature projects are beginning to complement each other.
This must be something we work on together as early projects start harvesting into reality. Everywhere there is an industrial park or SEZ, a port or energy project, there should be a groundswell of children going to schools, functioning healthcare units and waste‑to‑energy plants, which China is so good at doing at every level. The responsibility for this lies with Pakistan, and with the provinces too, but I urge our Chinese friends to double their interest and investment in social development as they are doing already in partnership with UNDP in Balochistan.
We are proud to say that the forward-looking government of Sindh has also been leading the way in renewable energy projects. Sindh province contributes 930 megawatts of wind energy to the national grid with the help of CPEC projects. In line with this, the federal government should allow the use of renewable energy in Sindh.
As part of our history of joint cooperation, PPP looks forward to continuing to work closely with local and Chinese stakeholders in achieving our common goals and interests for the betterment of our people and the region. Two ports are now operating in their optimal capacities and other commercial ports, including the important Keti Bunder, are under development in partnership with the Chinese.
Pakistan is not equivocal about its relationship with China. Right now, as we see promises turning into projects, the widespread public ownership of the ‘feel‑good’ factor that China generates in Pakistan continues as do questions about equity transparency spread. With a multi‑billion dollar investment like CPEC, responsibilities and obligations for both Pakistan and China double. Transparency and equitability are the foundations for which an initiative with a scale as grand as CPEC must be built on.
As CPEC rolls out in Pakistan, there are three obvious areas to focus on: economy, environment and security.
It is undeniable that as an infrastructure and investment pipeline, CPEC has the potential of taking Pakistan into a quantum leap of prosperity and peace. It is believed that Chinese investment can stimulate a 15pc increase in Pakistan’s GDP by 2030 and would likely create over a million jobs across multiple sectors in Pakistan. While still in its very early stages, CPEC has already created 60,000 jobs and we hope that Pakistanis would be able to capitalize on this new job market. We need more Pakistanis trained to hold down these jobs.
However, development does not start and end at infrastructure and economic growth. We must also look into tech‑knowledge sharing and collaborations as we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The development of regional value chains, a phenomenon that has entirely reshaped global trade in recent decades, is a particularly exciting prospect. Pakistan is well positioned to gain from this shift and CPEC is the perfect opportunity of bringing advanced manufacturing and production practices to the country.
We have a responsibility to empower our youth and Pakistan can be a powerhouse of opportunities. Almost 60pc of Pakistan’s population is under the age of 30, making it the country’s most important demographic. To put that in context, three out of five Pakistanis are under the age of 30, full of hope and energy, but most without real employment prospects. Close to 60pc of them are currently in unstable or underpaying jobs and about 35pc are working in unpaid jobs. CPEC has given the millions of young people who enter the workforce every year a renewed hope. We have a joint task to find ways in which we can tap into the potential of Pakistan’s youth and expand their growth, and look at ways to accelerate youth employment and skill training.
As CPEC grows, Pakistan and China must look into a broader range of ventures and issues where we can cooperate and work on, one of which is environmental protection and climate change. Pakistan currently is the 7th most vulnerable country in the world to climate change. Pakistan’s carbon emissions are expected to double in two years and surge 14 times by 2050, which is way more than the global average. Given my travels in China, I know that the People’s Republic is no stranger to challenges brought about by climate change.
The enormous industrial investment and projects that will come with CPEC can be amplified if we prioritize creating a clean energy economy. I can only hope that we safeguard the future of the generations to come and that what we do today, in the name of progress, does not create new challenges for them. We hope that the Chinese government can bring to Pakistan the clean energy initiatives they have strictly enforced at home. We are old friends, and whom else can you ask for more, except from friends. Together, we must resolve to move towards eco‑friendly, sustainable and renewable energy sources.
Let me reiterate, if there is one thing that Pakistanis agree on, it is CPEC’s vision of human security, economic cooperation, reform and joint prosperity. As an economic bloc, South Asia will be one of the wealthiest regions in the world, with markets and growth vectors second only to China. At the same time, the region is also forecast for growing inequality, land hunger, poverty‑based migrations, water stress and socialdeficits. These trends can be divisive in a region already crackling with tension.
We believe that CPEC will create a new engine for reinvigorating innovation and ingenuity not just in both the countries but for the region as well. It is this cooperation, innovation and ingenuity that will drive the project of peace in a world divided by inequities, conflicts and social disorder.
(The writer is former Information Minister of Pakistan)