CPEC: Beyond regional connectivity | By Professor Dr Muhammad Khan


CPEC: Beyond regional connectivity

PRIME Minister Shehbaz Sharif is currently visiting China on the invitation of Prime Minister Li Keqiang (November 1-2, 2022).

During the visit the Pakistani Premier will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Li. After the successful meeting of 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, the Prime Minister of Pakistan is the first leader to visit China.

The 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) started on 16 October 2022 and closed on 22 October 2022.

President Xi has already been nominated for the third term and he is well on his way to complete his mission: Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) being the most significant mission he has assumed for himself and China in 2013.  The primary objective of BRI is connecting China with the rest of the world through a number of corridors.

These economic corridors are to connect China with its neighbours and then other countries and regions beyond Asia. It is pertinent to mention that the ancient Silk Road started during the westward expansion of the Chinese Han Dynasty from 206 BCE to 220 CE.

Within the ambit of BRI, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the most significant component.

During the visit of the Prime Minister, the Chinese leadership and Pakistani team will deliberate the grey areas of this gigantic project.

The broader dimension of CPEC is that it is a project of larger regional integration. Besides, CPEC provides economic prosperity for various regions of Asia, especially the economically deprived regions.

Pakistan is a key state for the success of this project since it (CPEC) covers over 3000 kilometre area of Pakistani geopolitics. CPEC is a project of immense significance for Pakistan and China.

Wolf, an author, had researched and highlighted the philosophy behind Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and more about the strategy of Economic Corridors (ECs).

The Gwadar Deep Sea Port is central to CPEC and its connectivity towards the Middle East and Africa.

CPEC was chosen as the flagship project of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). There were many reservations and misgivings about the completion of the CPEC right from its beginning.

Among many others security was the chief concern since Pakistan was combating the menace of terrorism and militancy at the time of conception of the idea of CPEC.

This primary issue was immediately resolved once the Pakistan Army took over the responsibility of security of the CPEC by raising two security divisions.

With this guaranteed security arrangement there has been no mishap from the security point of view all along the CPEC.

Recently, there have been many rumours that under pressure or otherwise, Pakistan has slowed-down progress on the CPEC. In the first phase of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) the major focus remained on the development of projects related to energy and communication infrastructure (road network).

Indeed, energy is the most needed component for the development of all other projects of CPEC and the road network is essential for the passage of all stuff needed for the initiation, development and completion of a comprehensive corridor.

The next focus of the road network was on Western Route (alignment); Islamabad-Dera Ismail Khan (DI Khan) Motorway is in the completion phase and DI Khan to Zhob motorway project has also been approved by China.

The salient feature of the Western alignment is that it passes through poverty-ridden remote areas, promising to provide job opportunities for the poor masses and economic prosperity for the entire region.

While the essential aspects of the road infrastructure and energy projects are well on their way to completion, the second phase of the CPEC is all about the establishment and development of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), science and technology and related aspects of economic development all along the corridor.

These are the major projects of the CPEC which would boost the national economy of Pakistan, enable local masses to develop their own business, agriculture and job markets.

In a way, Phase-II of the CPEC is all aimed at reducing the poverty and economic prosperity of the masses at regional level. With the introduction of modern agriculture technology, the trends of corporate farming and community farming will take route in various parts of Pakistan which will substantially boost the agricultural sector of Pakistan.

As part of SEZs, the industrial sector is boosted with work on Rashakai and Faisalabad industrial zones in full swing.

In Rashakai SEZ, more land is being procured for the expansion of this industrial zone, covering an area of 3,600 acres. Similarly, for the development of Allama Iqbal SEZ Faisalabad, German and Canadian firms have applied for a joint venture.

Besides, SEZs of Dhabeji is considered for the development on priority since it has close proximity with Karachi port. The Gwadar Free Zone is being expanded in the second phase to an area of 2,200 acres.

In the first phase it was expanded to 60 acres of land only which is mostly populated and developed now. There is a growing interest of foreign investors for their investment in various sectors.

Pakistan and China are working on a bilateral framework agreement on industrial cooperation which will be signed as part of CPEC. It will be a government-to-government (G2G) deal, earlier launched in 2015 but shut down, to be restarted later.

In summary, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is moving ahead as per the laid-down master plan. Owing to its significance, neither Beijing nor Islamabad can afford to relegate or abandon it all together.

During the meeting of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, CPEC will be the primary focus. Indeed, beyond regional connectivity, CPEC is a new symbol and trademark of Pakistan-China friendship which must be completed in the given time-frame.

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