CPEC in Post COVID-19

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Dr Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan

DESPITE hue and cry of most of the western countries as well as international media outlets, the caravan of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is gradually embarking towards its final destination of completion and optimal utilization in the country. Even Coronavirus (COVID-19) could not produce any serious bad effect on its speed and efficacy. Various projects of energy, infrastructure, ICT etc., under the umbrella of CPEC are fostering towards their in-time completion. It is even reaffirmed by the Chairman China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Authority, Lt.Gen (R) Asim Saleem Bajwa. He further discredited the propagandist approach and policies towards implementation of CPEC and elaborated the project is all set to enter in the 2nd phase encouraging private sector participation from both countries to stimulate process of industrialization, agriculture and other interconnected sectors/sub-sectors of socio-economic development.

The COVID-19 has now generated unbearable/unmanageable shockwaves in the world which has serious socio-economic, geopolitical and geostrategic repercussions for all the countries. Countries across the world have been forced to recalibrate their economic and annual financial targets for the coming years as the majority of growth indicators hew negative. On the contrary, according to many latest research studies and publications of the WB and IMF, mega projects like China’s One Belt One Road Initiative (BRI) and CPEC would be growth pullers in the time of ongoing global recession in the days to come.

Most recently, one of the mega infrastructural projects in Pakistan i.e. the construction of Mansehra-Thakot, a secondary road section, has been completed, the Havelian-Thakot of the Karakoram Highway Phase II (KKH) gets through which will hopefully, further enhance the economic and social development of Pakistan.

The 79-kilometer-long secondary road of Mansehra-Thakot, is a part of the 118-kilometer-long Havelian-Thakot. The other part of Havelian-Thakot, the Havelian-Mansehra Expressway section, 39 kilometres, has already been opened to general masses in November 2019 when Prime Minister Imran Khan attended its launching ceremony. It was launched by China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), in September 2016. The Chinese company employed as many as 8,000 locals during the busy months of the project, which accounted for 81.6 percent of the total employment. Moreover, CRBC has also taught them work skills and trained thousands of locals to be engineers or technicians, which could benefit them more in a long run.

According to a recently published report on China Economic Net (April 20, 2020 said normalcy getting momentum in every sphere of life in China. It would accelerate economic development in Pakistan through the timely completion of the CPEC Projects. WB‘s most recently published report (April, 2020) upheld that CPEC would increase Pakistan’s GDP up to 6.43 percent till 2030.

From 2015 till now, there has been a unanimous opinion in the country that CPEC is fate and game changer for Pakistan. In this connection, the government of Pakistan has liaison with Chinese government for early resumption of all infrastructure and energy projects pertaining to CPEC because it has been reportedly stopped completely or partially because of outbreak of COVID-19. It has also disturbed supply chains. As 100,000 to 15,000 Chinese engineers, experts and management staff concerned with the CPEC are currently not available because of COVID-19.

To execute ongoing CPEC projects, Pakistan and China decided that the Chinese engineers and management staff should be sent to Pakistan and the policy of double quarantine should be adopted. People who were to return to Pakistan first were kept in quarantine for 14 days in China and then again in Pakistan.

Being prominent regional expert of CPEC & BRI, I would like to suggest that these projects should be completed within the prescribed time frame. Moreover, 2nd phase of CPEC must be started immediately including major projects pertaining to science and technology, social development and agriculture. Mix of energy projects from coal, thermal and gas generation/orientation should also be tiled towards hydropower during the 2nd phase of CPEC in the country.

Pakistan Planning Commission has also raised some objections about the huge disparity in the salary structure in some of the ongoing CPEC projects in the country especially in the Main Line (ML-1) Railways where Chinese skilled labourers are getting 1300% more salary than Pakistani labourers which needs to be rationalized and ratified as soon as possible.

Most recently, to provide necessary financial relief in terms of waiving or write-off the loans, Chinese Ministry of Finance and its Central Bank have affirmed to carry out specific work through bilateral consultations at the request of relevant poor borrowers in accordance with the G-20 debt service suspension initiative (DSSI). China, being a strategic partner of Pakistan, should also extend its diplomacy of deferral of loans to Pakistan also so that in the times of national crises because of eruption of COVID-19 some meaningful economic and financial relief may be granted.

While addressing an international forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping has stressed the need to develop unity and international cooperation to combat COVID-19 via construction of Health Silk Road. Global pandemic of COVID-19 has badly exposed national health capacity of the world which needs to be narrowed by initiating mega project of Health Silk Road parallel to BRI which connects more than 71 countries in five continents of the world. It will further enhance pace of regional socio-economic development, energy and food security and energy cooperation because a virus-free world is vital for human survival and sustainable production channels on this planet.

For sustainable growth of the CPEC projects and its viable befitting propositions, a workable strategy must be chalked out for having joint ventures in energy, infrastructure, health, social development, renewable energies, science and technologies and tourism with the provision of early transfer of technology.

Since CPEC has already been rated as a regional game changer, there is an urgent need to form a trilateral regional integration forum with the inclusion of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India gas pipeline (TAPI) to CPEC because during 2019 Chinese side has showed serious interest to be part of this mega project.