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CPEC — Economic integration

Muhammad Javaid
PAK-China friendship is considered higher than Himalayas and deeper than the deepest seas. It is time tested and has a history of mutual trust and cooperation. Pakistan was the first Muslim country to recognize China in 1950 and the third non-communist state to do so. Pakistan then voted for a bill concerning the restoration of China’s legitimate rights in the United Nation (UN). Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) became the first non-communist airline to open corridor to China in 1964. Pakistan was also instrumental in breaking the thaw in US-China relations and initiating what was termed as ping pong diplomacy when the then US President Nixon and the then Chinese Premier Chou en Lai informally played table tennis during their ground-breaking talks in Peking. China has also proven to be a trust-worthy friend for Pakistan for decades and has always been there to lend its unconditional support and cooperation in all fields like social, economics, diplomatic and security matters. The Karakoram Highway (Shahra-e-Resham) constructed with the cooperation of China has established a road linkage between the two countries, and has been instrumental in further strengthening their economic relationship.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) envisaged in mid-2013 and launched in April 2015, a set of projects under China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”, marks a new era of economic ties in a bilateral relationship and a framework of regional connectivity. CPEC is considered as a game changer which will incorporate a 2000 kilometre transport link between Kashgar in north-western China to the Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea near the border with Iran. There is a total misconception about CPEC that this mega project would only benefit China and Pakistan, whereas it will also be equally beneficial for Iran, Afghanistan, India (if joins), Central Asian Republics and the whole region, through better connectivity between Asia, Europe and Africa. It may be called revitalization of the organization of “Regional Cooperation of Development” (RCD) initiated in the 60s between Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. China through its “Belt and Road Initiative” is working on a new concept of economic cooperation – International Capacity Cooperation – spearheaded by Premier Li Keqiang himself. Unlike European Union (EU), this project is planned to link different regions for economic integration and trade.

CPEC is required to be analyzed in terms of importance for its participants and its role in enhancing the economic integration and trade openness among Asian, European and African states. Pakistan is the second major partner of CPEC. Unfortunately some local and foreign security constraints and the uncertain economic conditions prevailing over a decade never let Pakistan to make long-term planning and sustainable growth. It is the first time that China and Pakistan have conceived and initiated a game changing project, which is not only beneficial for them but also for the whole region. The keenness of countries like Russia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE to join CPEC and the interest shown by other countries has further proved the importance and essentiality of this mega project. This Corridor is aimed to serve as a linkage for connectivity, trade expansion and economic integration between a large community of the world connected through “Belt and Road Initiative”. The enhancement of geographical linkages having improved road, rail and air transportation system with frequent and free exchange of trade and people to people contact, enhancing understanding through academic, cultural and regional knowledge and culture, activity of higher volume of flow of trade and businesses, producing and moving energy to have more optimal businesses and enhancement of co-operation by win-win model will result in well connected, integrated region of shared destiny, harmony and development. This project is expected to reshape the bilateral trade agreements between adjoining countries.

CPEC could help revive Pakistan’s economy. All what is needed is to ensure its successful and timely implementation. The smaller provinces particularly the KP and Balochistan had some reservations and apprehensions about the project. They contend and believe that the Corridor’s route and its infrastructure and industrial projects are mainly to benefit Punjab. They had complaints that the project details were not thoroughly shared or deliberated with them. Although the previous government had committed to starting work on the Western Route of CPEC which mainly passes through KP and Balochistan to address their concerns and reservations, however, no development activity was initiated on this route. So if the CPEC moves ahead without more thorough debate in Parliament and provincial legislatures and consultation with locals especially taking on board the smaller provinces, it will deepen the friction between the federal government and provinces and widen the social divides and may potentially create new sources of conflict. Good news, however, is that considering the concerns of smaller provinces the present government has already initiated work on Western Route of CPEC and the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Imran Khan, had inaugurated the start of construction works of Zhob to Kuchlak section of the Western Route on 29th March 2019.

The PTI government should, however, also mitigate all risks being transparent; encourage debate about CPEC; consult business leaders, Chinese partners, civil society and locals affected; ensure landowners receive fair compensation; encourage hiring local labour; and allow space for dissent. Hopefully China will and should also support such measures by the Pakistan government. CPEC is not only the name of road, port and railway system but a multi-billion dollars mega project which will bring peace and prosperity in all the provinces of Pakistan. Functioning of Gwadar port will bring an economic revolution and business activities will get a much needed boost. CPEC would not only benefit Balochistan but also prove beneficial for the country’s three other provinces and would bring more prosperity in the whole country and reduce unemployment in the country.