Dr Muhammad Khan
EIGHTH Round of Strategic Dialogue between Pakistan and China was held on 20 November 2017. According to Foreign Office of Pakistan, the two sides held detailed discussion on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, bilateral trade, defence, counter-terrorism, culture, education and people-to-people exchange. During this dialogue process, the Pakistani side was headed by Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua whereas Mr Kong Xuanyou, China’s Assistant Foreign Minister headed the Chinese delegation. Both countries reaffirmed their support for each other in all areas of mutual interest.
In the meeting, the regional security situation, the Indo-US strategic alliance and situation in Afghanistan came under discussion. Pakistani Foreign Secretary highlighted the massive human rights violations in IOK at the hands of Indian security forces. It was also agreed that, both countries will support each other’s view at all international forums like; United Nations and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
Alongside the Strategic Dialogue process, there began the two-day meeting (20-21 Nov) of 7th Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) of both countries on CPEC in Islamabad. The JCC sets the stage for the Phase-II of this multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. A roadmap is being outlined by JCC for industrial and economic collaboration involving special economic zones along the CPEC stretches in Pakistan and adopt a Long Term Plan (LTP) 2030. The LTP was much awaited to be unveiled in Pakistan. The LTP is going to prioritize the SEZs in Pakistan during Phase-II of the CPEC.
It is worth mentioning that during the last meeting of JCC (6th round), held in Beijing in July this year, Pakistan identified its likely areas for setting the Special (SEZs). However, Pakistan was not able to formalize its group of experts which was pointed out by Chinese side. During that JCC meeting, Chinese side informed Pakistan that China had already built its four special economic zones followed by developing 14 coastal cities, and subsequently, 14 industrial zones were developed. The 7th JCC was primarily meant to focus on the finalization of SEZs and industrial zones. There was a meeting of all the five ‘joint working groups (JWGs) for their input and any observation towards finalization of SEZs. These JWGs include; Working Group on Gwadar, energy, transport infrastructure, special economic zones and planning. There will be finalization of small and medium size projects throughout the country.
Since Phase-I of this gigantic project is nearing completion, therefore, the 7th session of the JCC mostly concentrated on the Long Term Projects of the CPEC. Although the implementation of this project will take place by 2028 or maximum 2030, it is expected that, “By 2025, the CPEC building shall be basically done, the industrial system approximately complete, major economic functions brought into play in a holistic way, the people’s livelihood along the CPEC significantly improved, regional development more balanced and all the goals of Vision 2025 achieved.” This is as per the envisaged planning of Pakistan and China.
Besides, it is expected that Chinese private sector will make investment in a number of industrial parks, part of SEZs. Some of these include; SEZs of AJK and GB and industrial parks like; ‘Rashakai’ near Nowshera, whose feasibility study has already been done and land acquisition completed. The Maqpoondas in Gilgit-Baltistan being closer to Kashgar will also be taken over by China. Feasibility studies of all SEZs have been done in Pakistan and Prime Minister has already approved those in a recent Cabinet meeting. All Chief Ministers, Prime Minister of AJK and Chief Minister of GB will also oversee the projects, finalized during 7th JCC meeting; the Long Term Plan of CPEC.
While Pakistan and China are entering in the most crucial phase of CPEC; the Phase-II, there is a need that within Pakistan there should be a judicious distribution of the SEZs and industrial projects all over the country. While doing this, special considerations must focus toward under-developed areas, the ethnic factor, the provincial aspects and above all the aspect of security. Regionally and internationally, there is formulation of new alliances to counter this gigantic project. At this critical juncture of CPEC, let’s have a well thought out future planning which encompasses the aspects of domestic vulnerabilities and external rivalries.