Monday July 22, 2024


By Saleem Safi
November 01, 2018

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is one part of China’s grand Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). To understand it, one needs to understand China.

China is going to become an economic power at par with the US in the near future. Its foreign policy is based not on tanks and missiles, but on economy and trade. To increase imports and enhance trade with the outside world, Chinese President Xi Jinping started the BRI to develop a network of economic corridors on the pattern of the centuries-old Silk Road. Though it is inspired by the old Silk Road, in fact it has a wider scope and aims at developing not only land corridors but sea routes as well. Based on the grand initiative, China started to implement the plan in 2013, and is working on seven economic corridors.

The New Eurasian Land Bridge goes from western China to Russia, and links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor links eastern Russia with China through Mongolia. The China-Central Asia Economic Corridor connects China with Turkey through the five Central Asian countries. The China-Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor goes from southern China to Singapore, passing through Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor connects western China with Gwadar. The Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor goes from southern China to Burma via India and Bangladesh. The last one is the Maritime Silk Route, which connects the coastal part of China with the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea via Singapore and Malaysia.

Under the BRI, China has invested $900 billion, out of which only $60 billion will be invested in the CPEC project. Pakistan is not the only partner in the BRI, which covers about 70 countries. However, unlike Pakistan, the projects in China and the rest of the countries are not politicised. They are silently and smoothly working on the completion of these various projects.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan the case is shockingly different. The PML-N government politicised the project, and made it controversial. They neither took the opposition in confidence nor involved the provinces in the formulation of the agreements. My own articles and TV programmes are on record for having requested for four years for the projects’ details to be brought before parliament and for representation to be given to Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir in the Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) on CPEC.

The PML-N, however, worked secretly and mysteriously on the project. On the one hand, they diverted resources from infrastructure to the energy sector and opted for the most expensive way of electricity generation instead of going for cheap hydel power. On the other hand, they made the eastern route the main route of the corridor instead of going for the original western route. People like Saeed Alam Masood and I spoke against these myopic policies of the then government. Akhtar Mengal also raised the issue and the PPP, ANP and Jamaat-e-Islami also protested against it to some extent. However, the PTI leadership was busy in dharna politics.

CPEC is a bilateral project between China and Pakistan. Like China, Pakistan too has the right to change the conditions of the project. But China is doing it silently – without creating any fuss. Similarly, China is not sensitive about the involvement of any regional country in the project. In fact, the Chinese want Pakistan to involve Afghanistan, Iran and other countries in the project. Former planning minister Ahsan Iqbal had invited Iran and Saudi Arabia into the project in 2016.

One thing that needs to be made clear is that CPEC has two aspects: economic and strategic. China has no objection to the involvement of any other country in the economic aspect of the project. But China would certainly be apprehensive about the involvement of any country which is under the influence of the US.

The PTI leadership has regrettably started targeting CPEC like it is a personal project of Mian Nawaz Sharif and Ahsan Iqbal. First, the PTI government decided – at the cabinet level – that the projects under CPEC would be reopened and reviewed; this decision was propagated in the media. Second, unlike past diplomatic practices, the PTI government welcomed the visiting Chinese foreign minister with an officer from the Foreign Office instead of the visiting dignitary being welcomed by a cabinet-level minister. Third, Abdul Razzaq Dawood, commerce adviser to the prime minister issued a statement in the Western media that work could be stopped on CPEC for one year. He was probably settling an old score.

These immature steps and statements did not go well in China. Initially, it was decided that the army chief would accompany PM Khan on the latter’s visit to Saudi Arabia, but the army chief instead went to China.

Press talks and statements by various PTI ministers after the PM’s visit to Saudi Arabia caused a new controversy about CPEC. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry boasted that Saudi Arabia had agreed to join CPEC and invest billions of dollars in the project. Claims of $10 billion investment into CPEC by Saudi Arabia was also floated in the media. However, later on, it came out that only the establishment of an oil refinery in Gwadar was under consideration.

However, these claims caused both doubts and consternation within some elements. Among others, China was also shocked and surprised on the $10 billion investment claim.

Although Saudi Arabia is our close and trusted friend, it is also a strategic partner of the US and strategic competitor of Iran. As far as the ‘economic partnership’ is concerned, China, Iran and others have no objection on Saudi involvement in the project. This offer has already been made to Iran and Afghanistan as well. But the words ‘strategic partnership’ for Saudi Arabia may have caused resentment.

The immature policies of the PTI leadership show that the new government will continue to commit blunders for the rest of its years, and the overall power structure may find itself having to resolve them. The PML-N damaged the spirit of CPEC and the PTI government seems to be on an even more dangerous path: poor CPEC.

The writer works for Geo TV.