Developing More Positive Perspective Change for BRI and CPEC

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Nauman Munir Afzal

China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is one of six land routes under Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) started in 2013. ’Belt’ refers to six overland routes for road and rail transportation, called ’the Silk Road Economic Belt’; whereas road refers to the sea routes, or the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. Basically, it is revival of old silk route which remained functional from 2nd century BC to 18th century BC. Silk route was not just a trade route to export Chinese silk, as the name implies, but this was a source of forming an interaction between different civilisations along the route in economic, cultural, political and religious domains. Chinese government looks at this initiative of CPEC as not only a way for global connectivity to boost trade and economic growth, covering Asia, Europe and Africa but also with reference to infrastructure development and investment in nearly seventy countries, consisting of 65% of the world’s population. However, United States of America and her allies look at it as a Chinese centred trading network and Chinese endeavour for global dominance. Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that this initiative has challenged US supremacy in the current international world order. The Belt and Road Initiative is a very ambitious initiative allowing China to have presence in the involved countries which may not be acceptable to US-led Western Bloc presently leading the world, so their opposition to BRI is natural. On the other hand, at first look, BRI appears to be a trade route where Chinese goods will be transported to these countries and beyond. There is a genuine question about what will be coming back to China in return, whether this will be a foreign exchange from these countries or natural resources and raw material for Chinese manufacturers or there is something else of value from these countries. Countries which are a part of BRI hold the right to ask these questions. Moreover, transportation infrastructures to export Chinese goods, are establishing with Chinese loans and concern about earnings to payback the loans with interest are genuine. In business, a financially viable project is one that returns its investment in 6-8 years, will that happen in case of Chinese projects? There has to be a clear business plan to earn and pay back the loans Pakistan is taking from China. Some of these issues are still not very clear, at least to the general public. For any international joint venture, there is always this fear that the stronger country will dictate the terms. CPEC is a small yet very important part of this project. Pakistan needs to critically analyse the projects to get maximum benefits as per our needs. As our needs may be different from Chinese vision, so we should be fully involved in planning and execution of CPEC projects. There is a lot of potential for Pakistan in CPEC projects but we need to identify and effectively exploit these opportunities in our favour. People are concerned and they want to know about the benefits and dividends of the projects’ in tangible terms. Economic viability of these projects to payback the loans is also a genuine concern. CPEC projects shall bring economic benefits and prosperity to the region, allow sustainable growth, raise standard of living (eliminating poverty and hunger, improving health and education), bring stability and more importantly shall win hearts of people. CPEC shall be considered as a framework or a foundation for a new era of economic development but the actual building has to be built by Pakistan. We, as a country, need to redefine our policies to make these projects business friendly, time efficient, allowing equal opportunities and an environment of fair competition. The newly established communication infrastructure does not just support trade and economy, but acts as a means of creating an interaction in cultural, political and religious domains. In such a situation people have their own concerns, which need to be addressed. Environmental impact of any project is also very important to consider. We need to make sure that these developments have least impact on environment. CPEC (KKH) is passing through Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan where glaciers, which are main source of fresh water for this country, are already receding. Detailed EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) of each project is essentially required. There is a need for more open debate and to allow people from different walks of life from both countries to interact at different forums. A lot of controversies have been raised on the Chinese initiatives under BRI and CPEC. We must listen to these arguments with patience and there is a need to critically analyse each observation individually and respond effectively with some counter-arguments based on facts and data. We must realise that these projects are part of a business and in business there are always negotiations and a person or a state that can negotiate in a better way earns economic gains. Chinese institutions, effectively ensuring transparency and accountability within their country, are required to look after the work ethics and behaviour of Chinese firms working in other countries with weak institutions leading to ineffective or inefficient systems. Someone could argue that weak institutions and incapacitation of these countries to effectively negotiate, is doing no harm to China, rather this is good for China to get good business and huge profits. It is a common belief that China, being an emerging superpower, has to play a leading role in the coming times which demand China to remain away from any controversies and present herself as a just and fair nation. This is of more value to China as a world leader rather than looking for temporary financial gains and will enable China to win trust of the world.

(Courtesy JISS)

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