The Belt and Road Summit for International Cooperation held on May 14-15 in Beijing represented the practical manifestation of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road vision, which has been described as the pivot around which the foundation of a community of shared interests and common prosperity is being laid.
The spirit behind the Belt and Road Summit was to identify and address problems that afflict regional and global economies, create fresh energy and momentum to pursue interconnected development models and unlock the huge potential of Belt and Road initiative for the world.
The fact that over 100 countries and global institutions have warmly welcomed the initiative and more than 40 of them have actually signed agreements with China speaks volumes about the game-changing nature of the project. The mention of the Belt and Road vision in the UN Security Council resolution signals greater global ownership and an affirmation of trust in the universal and all-encompassing nature of President Xi Jinping’s vision.
President Xi Jinping’s OBOR vision is an innovative and trailblazing concept that is rooted in the idea of ‘bread and butter’. The rejuvenation of historic Silk Roads that this vision advocates has the potential to usher in a new era of peace, development and prosperity. It will also bridge the yawning gap between the North and the South and promote cooperation among the developing countries.
The six economic corridors that are part of OBOR connect 60 countries of the world and will benefit three billion people of the world. CPEC – a flagship project of OBOR – is one of the corridors being built at an unprecedented speed as part of the overall vision of President Xi Jinping.
CPEC is Pakistan’s moment of transformative opportunity. Such opportunities do not come every day. Ever since CPEC has been launched, all manner of voices have tried to create doubts and promote half-truths at the cost of facts.
We shoul, instead, be asking questions such as: how do we plan to ensure maximisation of benefits to the country? What are the weaknesses and deficiencies in the existing system? How do we improve our capacity and strengthen the institutions to reap full dividends from such a mega project?
CPEC’s benefits to Pakistan’s economy are of three types: direct benefits, indirect benefits and induced effects or externalities. Since the largest part of CPEC is located in KP and Balochistan, it is going to improve the living standards of the deprived districts of these provinces by integrating them with national goods and services markets. The resolution of energy crisis alone is going to add at least 2 percent to the growth of the GDP.
Successful completion of CPEC requires a national effort both from the federation as well as from the provinces. I would talk about the five things that we should be doing to unlock the potential of CPEC projects.
First, the provinces should align their development initiatives with CPEC investments. Second, they need to review, revise and reform laws and regulations, and increase the institutional capacity of their administrative departments that are engaged in the implementation of CPEC. The idea of these reforms should be to attract investment and reduce the cost of doing business.
Third, there is a need to strengthen the capacity and technical know-how of our local firms and businesses to enable them to form joint ventures with foreign (Chinese) firms. Fourth, sustained efforts need to be made to increase the coordination between federal and provincial governments so that any apprehension or concern regarding any aspect of CPEC can be addressed. Unity of thought and consistency of policy are key factors to ensure successful and fast-paced implementation of CPEC projects.
Lastly, students should be trained to produce the finest and best quality of human resources. They need to be equipped with the skill sets that are in high demand by the industry and market.
I would go a step further and say that CPEC is an opportunity for us to revisit our education curriculum. CPEC is a clarion call to establish linkages between our academia and industry. We need to make our progress knowledge-driven. Unless we turn to high-end manufacturing and bring about technological innovation in different sectors of our economy, we cannot accelerate the process of economic progress.
Those of us who raise speculations about CPEC through misinformed opinions are doing no service to the country. The insinuations of likening CPEC to East India Company are regrettable.
Such people need to study the Chinese model of development. China under President Xi Jinping is looking to promote and encourage win-win partnerships. China’s role in African development is a case in point where China has been contributing to the continent’s economic growth both in terms of trade and building infrastructure. It has built roads, railways, ports and airports and thus filled a critical gap that the Western donors had shied away from.
Those who say that all jobs will be monopolised by the Chinese only spread misinformation. The fact is that labour in China has become costly. China has become so industrialised that it is left with no option but to export its excess capacity to other countries such as Pakistan where cheap labour and low-cost inputs are available. According to an estimate, CPEC will create around two million jobs directly and indirectly.
What we need to look at is how to upgrade the skill set of our youth. This requires policy focus and investment in education and empowerment of the youth. Such investments are instrumental in technology transfer.
Given the transformative value of CPEC, our real challenge lies in doing our homework through policies that seek to make the country self-sufficient. While CPEC can certainly provide us with the much-needed launching pad, the responsibility of turning Pakistan around is upon us. We cannot and should not expect anyone else to be doing this for us.