CPEC & The Year 2020: RECAP

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Reema Shaukat

CHINA Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) despite the Covid-19 outbreak, which largely affected the global economy continued with its pace and achieved some notable milestones. The year 2020 witnessed many challenges worldwide where countries suffered major economic setbacks due to pandemic but still with the looming threat they somehow have attained stability. Same goes for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor venture where foes of this project blamed China for creating this virus and tried to give whatever possible dent they can. But despite conspiracies which popped up about this virus we see China’s efforts to tackle corona outspread as a success story.

CPEC has become the framework and platform for wide-ranging and practical collaboration between China and Pakistan where the leaders of both countries have attached great importance to this project apart from active promotion to the construction of CPEC. It has gained across-board support from the political parties and peoples of China and Pakistan, which further strengthened by public support for CPEC. Starting since the signing of MoU between the two countries in May 2013, CPEC has gradually entered into the state of full implementation from planning, which is playing an increasing role in leading and promoting the bilateral cooperation between China and Pakistan.

In the initial consensus of this corridor development, both sides agreed to promote and work on “1+4” pattern of economic collaboration having CPEC a central role and four keys areas to be focused and flourished including Gwadar Port, energy sector, transportation infrastructure and industrial cooperation. In the medium to long term plans it was decided that both sides will work in the fields of business ventures, educational exchange programs, science and technology, tourism, poverty eradication and city planning. So far many small and medium-range projects have been accomplished.

CPEC is the flagship project of Belt & Road Initiative, and Gwadar is considered as the centrepiece of CPEC. In 2020, the first bulk-cargo ship “MV Manet” carrying wheat and urea reached Gwadar in the month of June, under Pakistan-Afghanistan Transit Trade Agreement. Likewise, a ship carrying 200 tonnes of fish in refrigerated containers arrived from international waters for onward shipment to China in November 2020. Gwadar port holds immense strategic and economic significance for Pakistan. After Karachi and Qasim ports, Gwadar is the third port of Pakistan.

Being located at the cross-junction of international sea shipping oil trade routes, Gwadar has the potential to become an international trade hub for Pakistan while connecting regions of Central Asia, the Middle East and South Asia. In a recent meeting of the Joint Working Group (JWG) on Gwadar under China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), officials from China and Pakistan called for the expedition of Gwadar projects especially New Gwadar International Airport, a five-million-gallon water desalination treatment plant, Gwadar Port’s berth, breakwater projects, Eastbay Expressway project, a 300MW coal-fired power plant, Pak-China Friendship Hospital, and a school. Chinese side appreciated the pace of work at Gwadar port and reiterated its commitment to provide support to Pakistan in the socioeconomic domain.

In energy sector already many projects have started working while HUBCO Coal Power Project, Hub Balochistan, was inaugurated in 2019 and this project carries another energy project that is HUBCO Thar Coal Power Project (Thar Energy) its financial closed was achieved in January, 2020 and in year 2021 it will be fully operational. Likewise, ThalNova Thar Coal Power Project will be soon operational. In transportation infrastructure KKH phase-II from Havelian to Thakot was completed. Another landmark beautiful addition was the construction and completion of Gwadar Marine Driveway which attracted a lot of foreign media attention too, because of its scenic beauty. The government of Pakistan decided to propose eight new projects relating to transport infrastructure for inclusion in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) framework 2020-21.The eight projects include Greater Peshawar Mass Transit Project, 82-kilometre (km) Swat Expressway Phase-II, Karachi Port Development Project, 105km Thar-Chor Railway Line, 22km Hub-Karachi Railway Line, Keti Bandar Port Development Project, 182km Karachi-Quetta-Chaman Motorway and Optical Fibre Phase II. In CPEC Rail based mass transit project, Orange Line Lahore was completed while Karachi Circular Railways’ groundbreaking is likely to take place soon. Work in the domain of industrial cooperation and proposed special economic zones remained under progress in 2020.

CPEC being a project of regional connectivity attracts many regions of the world and while noticing the development in this BRI, powers like Saudi Arabia, Russia, United Kingdom, Brazil, and Romania have shown their interest in CPEC by investing in the project. CPEC is an endeavour of economic opportunities and development and will largely benefit Pakistan. CPEC’s importance to China’s geopolitical and economic goals is reflected by the inclusion of the project as part of China’s 13th five-year development plan.

Statistics suggest that if the projects are completed in due course with desired investment then the value of those projects would be equal to all foreign direct investment in Pakistan since 1970, and would be equivalent to 17% of Pakistan’s 2015 gross domestic product. Pakistan estimates the corridor project will create some 700,000 direct jobs till the year 2030 and add up to 2.5 percentage points to the country’s growth rate. Pakistan is one of the top ten emerging economies of Asia though due to Covid outbreak its economy also suffered but not as much as other countries, hence if focused and followed the timeframe required in the completion of projects, it can support its economy and overcome financial losses.

On the other hand, China is an economic giant also suffered during Covid but then it made an example to the world how effective pandemic management can support sustained economic growth. Pakistan has the semi-industrialized economy and its major exports include textiles, leather goods, sports goods, chemicals, carpets and medical instruments. The economy primarily consists of three major sectors which are agriculture, industry and services.

The improved security situation of Pakistan and playing a pivotal role in the war against terrorism, Pakistan’s efforts are acknowledged worldwide. Pakistan has a strategic location in South Asia with easy access to Central Asian states and China making it an important hub in world trade and investment. Huge investment through CPEC in various projects has boosted the confidence of European and Western countries who wish to invest in Pakistan. Also evading the FATF blacklist has given foreign investors to trust Pakistan’s serious efforts in curbing corruption and money laundering.

Apart from industrial projects, there are certain sectors which are waiting for immediate response by government and officials. Tourism is one such sector which needs immediate attention as during the construction of CPEC routes there are many unexplored beautiful areas in Pakistan which if developed with all necessities can generate revenue apart from providing jobs to locals. Likewise, with the construction of another port in the country, the seafood sector can be explored and exported to countries which rely on sea-food as a basic commodity.

With this, the tin, processed and halal packed food products industry can gain momentum too. Instead of relying on big industries, small and medium enterprises hold equal opportunities in Pakistan and must not be neglected. CPEC is a win-win model and the past few years have proved that if something is done with sincerity and good intentions, results definitely come as desired. Hopes must be kept high that in coming few years, this CPEC will surely prove a fate changer to Pakistan.

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