Addressing China’s concerns

January 26, 2019

The PTI government appears to have taken a more rational approach to CPEC’s contribution to national development. While, the previous government thrived on perceptions of largesse and gigantic government spending primarily through Chinese funding, the incumbent government’s approach has been to highlight the country’s development constraints in light of its distending fiscal and current account deficits. This difference is evident from the minister of planning and development’s statements following the 8thJoint Cooperation Committee meeting held in Beijing last month. He pointed out that his government had widened the scope of CPEC by laying greater emphasis on developing the country’s agricultural, fisheries and light industrial sectors to help boost exports and scrapping other expensive projects deemed as politically motivated. Nevertheless, moving beyond the political undertones, it is worth-noting that the entire initiative has entered its second phase of development. While, the previous phase was characterized mostly by huge state-led infrastructure projects, the following phase is more geared towards setting up the right conditions for building a long-term industrial base on the back of key private-public partnerships. The development of designated Special Economic Zones, as well as improving the ease of doing business for foreign investors are some of the most significant challenges that immediately require the government’s attention. Apprehensions raised by Chinese ambassador in Pakistan, Yao Jing, concerning ‘propaganda being spread about friendly ties between two countries’, ought to be taken very earnestly by Islamabad. That he mentioned CPEC shows that comments by some government officials might have rubbed Beijing the wrong way. Certainly the government surprised many people when it showed signs of a Malaysia-like revision of some features of the Corridor. This must be the first time the Chinese have uttered their dissatisfaction so frankly. No doubt they are alarmed about a likely, fractional rollback of CPEC, just like Malaysia, that would not only put the spanner in CPEC but also distract the wider one belt one road project. And before any other senior government minister is permitted to shoot from the hip, conceivably somebody should brief everyone about just what we stand to lose of CPEC, if the Pak-China equation is uselessly compromised. Pakistan must not forget that despite all the odds CPEC is, at the end of the day, definitely a game-changer. There is no way the country could build the infrastructural network, which CPEC is now creating, on its own. Scandalizing this project will not just hurt our economy, but also our standing worldwide, particularly in the region. There exist already enough parties trying to take the wind out of the landmark CPEC project; mainly India and USA.

The government must immediately address Chinese concerns and shun unqualified comments that can cause permanent loss.