Syed Qamar Rizvi
IT is surreal to think that Pak-China relationship could be affected amid the Coronavirus crisis. It is why the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor is astutely designed to connect Pakistan with China through a workable tapestry—making a robust network of roads, railways and energy and gas pipelines from the Pakistani port of Gwadar to China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region. It is a mega project with mammoth hidden potential for South-Centre regional connectivity and integration. The corridor will not only transform the domestic equations of China–Pakistan, the dividends of its potentialities will also be extended to other regional countries. Coronavirus will not affect the pace of the flagship project and assured scheduled completion of all projects under the CPEC. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has made concrete achievements and has become an important hallmark for China-Pakistan friendly cooperation in the new era of their cementing partnership.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a flagship project of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s initiative of “One Belt and One Road”. It aims at enhancing connectivity and improving infrastructure between Pakistan and China. Several projects are being implemented under CPEC, for enhancement of infrastructure, power generation, industrial growth and agriculture revolution. Leaders from 37 countries and delegations from over 100 countries participated in the BRI Forum. In his keynote speech at the forum’s opening ceremony, Imran Khan called for greater attention towards tackling climate change and poverty, while urging world leaders to undertake joint efforts to address impediments in the way of sustainable global growth. In his address, Imran Khan presented five proposals to further expand China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Pakistan’s official take is that CPEC is heading forward as China and Pakistan are poised for forming two new joint working groups for agriculture and technological advancement.
Needless to say, China is willing to strengthen the all-round cooperation with Pakistan in various sectors and at various levels, so as to make the friendship better benefit the two sides and forge a closer China-Pakistan community of shared future in the new era. He said Pakistan-China cooperation has become more important in current times. Pakistan is firmly committed to the one-China policy, firmly supports China in safeguarding the country’s core and major interests, he said. Pakistan wishes to deepen cooperation with China in areas such as agriculture, tourism and trade with a bid to promoting the all-weather strategic cooperative partnership further ahead, Pakistan professes China to play a bigger role in international and regional affairs.
Objectively, the bilateral relationship between Beijing and Islamabad is characterized by feelings of mutual trust, respect and goodwill towards each other. There is a regular exchange of visits at the highest level between the two countries. The strategic cooperation between the two states has grown over the past several decades. Economically, China is Pakistan’s largest trading partner and a major investor, especially in infrastructure and energy sectors. Pakistan Ambassador to China Naghmana Alamgir Hashmi said, “China is also extending support to Pakistan to help build a hospital against Covid-19.” During the visit of President Arif Alvi to China on 16-17 March both countries also signed Letters of Exchange to enhance Pakistan’s capability of fighting the epidemic. During PM Khan official visit to China in October-2019 President Xi also reiterated China’s unwavering support to Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and appreciated the PTI Government’s agenda for socio-economic development and people-cantered progress. He asserted that China-Pakistan ties would continue to acquire greater strength, and practical cooperation would be increased over time. The two sides also exchanged views on the regional situation including Afghanistan and South Asia.
As the first phase of CPEC is focused on the overall development of communications and network projects including roads, bridges and motorways, the second phase is primarily committed to giving an important impetus on agriculture cooperation between Beijing and Islamabad, as recently there have been discussions primarily in setting priorities for agricultural development. Both Pakistan and China agreed to jointly implement the Memorandum of Understanding on further cooperation in dealing with disease and pest control including locust, plant diseases and insect and pest prevention. The Karachi-based Applied Economics Research Centre and Pakistan’s Planning Commission said that in the next 15 years, 700,000 to 800,000 jobs may be created under CPEC, largely in the infrastructure, energy and transportation sectors.
New measures to lower bilateral tariff levels under the upgraded Free Trade Agreement between China and Pakistan took effect on the Ist of January and have provided buttress for manufacturing and services industries in Pakistan. Pakistan’s economy should be soon ready for take-off. For that reason, the CPEC should not be suspended. China is willing to carry through the project, but it requires more support from Pakistan by encouraging local people to adopt a rational attitude toward the Coronavirus epidemic. Under the current situation, China and Pakistan should stick together, preventing interference from other countries amplifying the threat of the epidemic in China and working to ensure CPEC projects progress smoothly to benefit local people as soon as possible.
Because of its geopolitical and geo-economics leverage, both the US and India have developed their betenoire vis-à-vis the CPEC. The Chinese Embassy in Pakistan rejected US diplomat Alice Wells’ “irresponsible remarks” regarding the CPEC, calling it another “doomed attempt to defame Sino-Pak relations”. The Chinese government, it said, always urges the Chinese companies to operate according to local laws and regulations. To contain Chinese influence, India and the US have established a strategic partnership. Though New Delhi has tried to intensify its cooperation with Afghanistan and Iran to connect South Asia with Central Asia through Chabahar port and Iran–Afghan trans-border corridor, the significance of CPEC for regional connectivity and economic development is greater than the Indian proposed corridor. Sadly, a biased myth is being projected in the Western media that China’s One Belt, One Road” initiative is sputtering– tainted by corruption and jeopardized by the involving risk that participating governments will default on loans they could never afford.