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January 28, 2020

Criticising CPEC

Opinion

January 28, 2020

The recent statement of senior US official Alice Wells regarding CPEC was uncalled for. She had asserted that under CPEC blacklisted Chinese companies had been awarded contracts. Miss Wells also claimed that Pakistan would face a pile of debts because of the project.

In return, Beijing issued a lengthy rebuttal arguing that the historic investment initiative greatly benefited Pakistan, creating thousands of jobs and greatly improving the infrastructure of the country which is likely to go a long way in attracting more investments. The rebuttal correctly asked the US about the type of assistance Washington had extended to prop up the debilitating economy of the Islamic Republic. The Pakistan Foreign Office and the Ministry of Planning also came up with strong support for the project. Prime Minister Imran Khan also heaped eulogies on China in the aftermath of the statement that many think is an attempt by the US to interfere with Pakistan’s internal affairs.

It is difficult to understand why the US loves to be the world’s policeman. Unnecessary interventions by it have already created chaos in several parts of the world. The sole superpower seems to be on a mission to lambast any country it does not like and topple any government that does not toe its line. From Ukraine to Bolivia, it has dislodged defiant leaders, and from Syria to Venezuela it has been hatching conspiracies to destabilise governments that challenge American exceptionalism.

Wells’ statement is a blatant violation of the norms that advocate respect for every country’s sovereignty and recognise the right of every state to choose its own political, social and economic policies. The US is very sensitive about its own internal affairs. For instance, if the Chinese ambassador to the US or any senior official had issued a statement criticising Mexico for striking a trade deal with Washington, the corporate media would have created a storm. But when it comes to the internal affairs of any other country, the US feels free to meddle without any regard to sovereignty and international norms.

The US is widely believed to have used aid and other means of assistance as a way to influence the policies of other states. It coerced Mexico in recent years and in the past as well into signing unfair trade deals. It threatened to use the stick of tariff to extract trade concessions from its allies. Recently a number of European states had to fall in line, condemning Iran after Washington made it clear that it could slap European goods and products with tariffs and duties if they did not express open support for America’s belligerent policy in the Middle East.

The meagre US aid that used to be extended to Palestinians was also withdrawn after Trump became president. Even the UN has been threatened with aid cuts. The International Court of Justice and some other international bodies also faced the same arrogant behaviour of mighty American state.

And it is not just in Pakistan; America and in some cases other Western states have problems with Chinese investment everywhere. In case of Pakistan, it is not the Chinese loans that have done great damage to the economy of the country; it was the financial assistance from US-led financial institutions like the IMF and the World Bank that wreaked havoc with the Pakistani economy, forcing the state to privatise state-owned concerns and raise the price of electricity and other utilities. Privatization rendered hundreds and thousands of people unemployed and also damaged the productive capacity of the country.

Pakistan’s ruling elite claim that the sale of such state concerns was used to repay loans but that is not the case. When this process of auctioning public industrial and commercial entities began at a throwaway price a few decades ago, our debt was insignificant. Today, it has almost crossed the 100 billion dollar mark. Most of it is old and acquired much before CPEC.

The world did not witness large infrastructure projects for a long time. In the US, it was during the decade of the 1930s, when it launched such projects. The Marshall Plan was perhaps the last big effort to improve the infrastructure of Europe. China, the Soviet Union and the socialist states of Eastern and Central Europe launched their own mega projects in the aftermath of World War II without any substantial foreign assistance.

Some experts believe billions of dollars are required to improve infrastructure in several parts of the world. Some estimates suggest around 700 billion dollars is annually required to improve infrastructure in various continents. Given this, Beijing came up with the Belt and Road Initiative, pumping around 960 billion dollars, covering over 60 states and more than three billion of the population of the earth. Such an initiative should have been applauded.

The project is transforming lives in several parts of Africa, which was gifted nothing but slavery and ruthless exploitation by Western colonial powers. The trade volume of the neglected continent with China runs into billions of dollars. Some Chinese industries have also been shifted to the impoverished continent. The Chinese investment created a ray of hope in several parts of Asia where states do not have enough resources to carry out mega projects but are able to work on such initiatives with the help of Beijing.

So, if countries like the US have reservations over Chinese investment in Asia, Africa and other parts of the world, they can come up with their own investment projects to help cash-starved countries like Pakistan. Mere criticism of Chinese investment will not serve anyone. The US needs to let us know how many billion dollars it intends to pump into Pakistan, which not only sided with Washington during the cold war, infuriating the mighty Soviet state at that time, but also threw a helping hand to Washington by being its ally in its ‘war on terror’.

This war played havoc with the people and economy of Pakistan. The Pakistani government claims that more than 30,000 people lost their lives because of this war while more than 100 billion was lost owing to the destruction of infrastructure caused by the Taliban insurgency that was partly triggered by the ‘war on terror’. The US has a greater responsibility to help Pakistan rebuild this infrastructure than China.

What Washington also needs to remember is that a poor economy can create a fertile ground for religious militancy and extremism that has not only harmed Pakistan but the Western world as well. If Beijing is trying to help Pakistan improve its economy by building infrastructure, Washington should appreciate such help instead of criticising. It’s time Washington came up with its own assistance plan for Pakistan if it really wants to prove to the people of Pakistan that it is a great friend of Islamabad.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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