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January 25, 2020

Conflict over CPEC

Editorial

 
January 25, 2020

Washington and Beijing are continuing the increasingly bitter war of words over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). While Pakistan has defended the corridor as a possible game-changer for both economics and politics in the region, Alice Wells, head of central and South Asian affairs in the US State Department has once again lashed out against the corridor on her recent visit to Pakistan. She used essentially the same terminology as she had employed in November last year, saying that Chinese firms involved in building the railways which are a part of the elaborate project have been blacklisted by the World Bank, that Chinese debt on Pakistan is being increased dramatically by the project which would benefit only China and that there is corruption involved by the companies given contracts by China. The Chinese embassy in Islamabad has countered these accusations in an equally angry rebuttal, asking what the US has done to benefit Pakistan and how it can call itself a key ally of the country when it has contributed almost nothing to its development and progress. On its part, Pakistan has said the corridor will indeed serve it very well and is the most important regional project at the present moment.

This battle involving CPEC is part of a wider war being fought out between the US and China, in the wake of China emerging as a potential superpower as well. There has already been an exchange of verbal hostilities and threats over certain kinds of technologies being developed by China in terms of data systems and communication tools. The US is obviously desperate not to be shown up in any way by China. At the same time, to most Pakistanis it is obvious that China has come to their help most often when required. It has done so at many global forums such as the FATF and on other occasions, in contrast to the US.

When China suggests that the people of Pakistan be permitted to vote on CPEC, it makes an important point. Many in Pakistan strongly back the project and, despite security concerns, there are hopes that it will create jobs, opportunities and improved communication. Most importantly, the corridor would allow Chinese goods to enter Pakistan and be transported from the Gwadar Port which China is developing. The US had long sought to take control of Gwadar, which is strategically placed and of significance in the global trade sector. It is unfortunate for Pakistan to be caught up in this battle. CPEC is important to Pakistan and as such has built trust and regard for China. This goes to partially explain the degree of angst the project is causing in Washington.