CPEC’s next phase spells promise

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S M Hali

CHINA-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is entering its next phase. Despite murmurs of dissent be the detractors of China and Pakistan, the mega project is on the rails to reach fruition. Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing, in an exclusive briefing to former ambassadors, academics and media at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad (ISSI), in a talk titled “Pakistan-China Relations and Next Phase of CPEC”, the Chinese envoy termed the CPEC project as a platform of regional connectivity and prosperity. He declared the anti-CPEC voices as propaganda of the Western powers. Yao Jing sought to address the doubts that exist both locally and internationally over the massive Chinese investment through the CPEC in the country, saying before deciding any major investment abroad, his country sees “who is good to us and who is not”.

Formally challenging the false accusation, the Chinese envoy categorically stated that China is not coming to Pakistan as a colonial power. He reiterated that China’s aim is the development of Pakistan and the critics cannot stop Sino-Pak joint cooperation. He asserted that China is committed to common prosperity and regional peace. Without mentioning any quarter, the Chinese envoy also rejected the concerns raised over the transparency of the CPEC projects. “These are not the problems, but just perceptions.” Addressing the opinion makers, he advised: “If you have any question…if you are writing any article, please check with us before publishing.” The Chinese Ambassador spoke emotionally and from the heart, stating that Western media is propagating that China is persecuting the Muslims. In fact, these terrorists, who can be found in any other country, do not represent any religion. He proclaimed that China has no desire to be “Number One”. It only aims at playing its part in global peace and development. It wants peaceful coexistence on the basis of mutual respect and a win-win situation in state-to-state relations.

The Chinese envoy once again rejected the US concerns over Pakistan’s borrowing under the CPEC, saying that the total loan was of less than $6 billion with a repayment period of 20-25 years and an interest rate of approximately two percent. He further said 63 percent of the companies engaged in the CPEC projects are Pakistani companies. However, he pointed out that China needs very skilled labour and completion of the work within the set completion period, ‘though Pakistan labour is, yet they are unskilled’. In response to another query with regard to concerns over the massive Chinese investment in Pakistan, he said that the decision of the Chinese leadership to massively invest in Pakistan was the right decision. It was heartening to hear from Yao Jing that “Pakistan is a true choice by China’s leadership and its people.” His Excellency, the Chinese Ambassador emphasized that whenever China wants to invest anywhere abroad, it first evaluates who is good to China and who is not. He concluded that Pakistan is the most favourite, true and trusted neighbour and foreign ally.

He also stated that the 10th Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) meeting scheduled to be held in April in Islamabad, is going to be held via video conference, as the Chinese delegation, which was due to arrive in Islamabad cancelled its visit due to Corona-virus. He insisted that CPEC is the major part of Pakistan-China strategic partnership. It is essential to note that the next phase of CPEC is focusing on the social development of Pakistan with key priorities of 17 fast track projects aimed at improving the infrastructure of railways, industrial cooperation, agriculture, health and education, as well as some more energy projects. There is also a proposal of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), but so far only one has been finalized—Rashakai.

Yao Jing elaborated the next phase of CPEC and outlined three parts: Firstly, Business to Business (B2B) collaboration with the private sector. The private sectors of both China and Pakistan are teaming up with each other. As an example, he mentioned the Sarhad Iron & Steel Mills Pvt. Limited at Gadoon Amazai, which has been set up by Chinese and Pakistani cooperation in the private sector. The SEZs, are acting as a catalyst in increasing the growth. The establishment and operationalization of the Special Economic Zones in all of the provinces is a top priority and the progress in that regard is being closely monitored. Social sector development in Pakistan, which includes the provision of low-cost housing is an important ingredient. Mega infrastructure projects like railways will play an important role in the capacity building and connectivity. The third element receiving focus in the next phase is the development of the agriculture sector, in which irrigation, farming and livestock will gain impetus.

The honourable Chinese envoy was candid in lamenting at the callous attitude and red tapism of Pakistani bureaucracy in extending No Objection Certificates (NOC) to certain projects essential to the uplift of humanity. He mentioned the projects related to the provision of facilities such as drinking water, electricity supply and healthcare for local people in Gwadar. He informed that he had to himself visit Quetta and hold meetings with three different chief ministers over a period of two and a half years to get NOC for a Chinese government power project, desalination plant and health centre in Gwadar. The Chinese envoy mentioned that he finally got the NOC for the power project in November 2019. It is reassuring that CPEC’s next phase also spells promise.