CPEC projects to be put on fast track

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Mohammad Jamil

PAKISTAN and China are resolved to keep the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) unaffected by the temporary challenge of Coronavirus outbreak. Speaking at a ceremony – Energy Week – organised by National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA), Chinese Ambassador in Islamabad Yao Jing said despite the challenge posed by Corona-virus, China was determined to take forward the CPEC initiative, and the projects under the CPEC would not be affected by this temporary challenge. Speaking on the occasion, Energy Minister Omar Ayub Kahn said the country’s energy sector offered investment opportunities of $100bn, which included about $45bn in power generation, $20bn in transmission and $15-20bn in distribution. He said Pakistan was a large and open market for all industries of the world to come, invest and enjoy high rates of return, adding that Pakistan government was determined to remove barriers of entry.

Chinese Ambassador Jing lauded the overall structural reforms taking place in the power sector and assured continued cooperation in energy, agriculture, science and technology sectors. He said that the CPEC-funded energy projects would be completed on time and the next stage of the CPEC will focus on cooperation in diverse sectors including industrial, agriculture, science and technology, renewable energy and hydro power. This would give a new momentum to the future development of Pakistan’s economy and electricity tariff will be reduced. First phase of economic corridor was completed; the phase-II is currently in progress with focus on the promotion of industrial, agricultural and science and technology sectors, while the approval for the phase-III was in the pipeline.

CPEC has indeed opened new vistas of development as a result of which the national economy will grow fast, help create new job opportunities, lead to poverty reduction and develop transportation sector to boost industrial growth. Energy sector was assigned top priority to help Pakistan overcome energy shortages which ended load-shedding and gave relief to the people. Detractors of Pakistan and the US continue their propaganda campaign against CPEC and express concerns regarding lack of transparency, high costs, a heavy dependence on Chinese labour, and major debt risks for Pakistan, which are not true. These worries formed the crux of US government rebuke of the project, issued by Ambassador Alice Wells, the top South Asia official at the State Department, in a speech at the Wilson Centre on November 21 last year. Coincidentally, it was the very day after Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Qureshi had declared CPEC to be Pakistan’s top priority.

The fact of the matter is that only Chinese engineers are deployed on the projects and all labour or work force is Pakistani. Secondly, many CPEC loan repayment deadlines aren’t due for at least another decade. According to a Chinese official CPEC debt now amounts to less than a 10th of Pakistan’s total debt. China had reacted to the US criticism and said that when the US had done nothing to help Pakistan in building infrastructure or development, it should not blame those who are helping Pakistan. According to Business Recorder Research (BRR) in 2018, about 75,000 jobs had been created in the past five years on some 22 projects, out of which nine projects were completed. BRR analysis showed that in six road/transportation-related projects, 51,000 blue-collar jobs were created, out of which 48,000 were held by Pakistanis.

In another study, concerning the Sahiwal Coal Power Project, there were 220 Chinese engineers and managers working in the operational phase alongside 190 Pakistani engineers and managers. These Pakistanis were also sent to China for training before they started their work in Pakistan. The Chinese labour and employees are six to ten times more expensive than what you can hire in Pakistan. The security, travelling and lodging of the Chinese, all those things need extra money. The Chinese had the plan to replace Chinese workforce in CPEC with local people after training.

Last month, Prime Minister Imran Khan directed the authorities to give a final shape to consultations with China on future projects. The statements were made at a high-level review meeting to ascertain progress on different CPEC projects. The directions from the Prime Minister came as Beijing asked Islamabad to convene the 10th Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) meeting under the CPEC framework ahead of schedule in order to finalise different mega projects. The request was made by the Chinese authorities as President Xi Jinping is expected to visit Pakistan in May or early June 2020. China always supported Pakistan during difficult times, and the CPEC was a manifestation of the partnership between the two countries. “Chinese experiences in the social sector, especially for the eradication of poverty and promotion of agriculture, must be fully explored”, the Prime Minister said.

The Prime Minister directed the CPEC Authority to accelerate implementation pace on the different projects under the second phase on a priority basis, asking relevant ministries to improve coordination. He said that he should be briefed about the upcoming review meeting on the projects falling under the CPEC second phase, including their completion period and implementation mechanism. In the meeting, the ministers explained in detail the progress so far made on the short, medium and long term CPEC projects. According to the PM office, the Premier was informed during a meeting that a majority of the projects in the energy and road networks had been completed, whereas work on seaport and airport in Gwadar was under progress.