A Decade Of CPEC

A Decade Of CPEC
The year 2013 was a landmark year for the Sino-Pak friendship and it took a new strategic turn with the beginning of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Part of China’s one world – One Belt One Road Initiative or the BRI; CPEC has been termed as a “game changer” for South Asia. The idea of uniting the world through their economic prowess is one of the most ambitious projects President Xi could have undertaken. Many associated it BRI & CPEC as the modern-day East India Company, an imperialistic takeover decoyed in the name of economic unity.

Here we are, a decade later skeptics continue to question CPEC, western pressure mounts on Pakistan, foreign terrorism hinders the progress – yet slowly but surely CPEC inches towards completion. As the second phase begins amidst all these trials, many are forced to rethink, recalculate and remind themselves of the commitment Pakistan made for its economic independence. While I walk along the Yangtze River in Jiangsu, China the most awe-inspiring view is not the river, but the skyscrapers and mammoth high-rise in its surroundings – a view envisioned for Gwadar.

My aim is not to look at CPEC from purely a project management’s perspective but to piece together the glitches that truly continue to undermine the true potential of the project. Soon after its announcement began a string of foreign negative propaganda against the CPEC which primarily claimed that CPEC has been designed to rob Pakistan off its natural resources, burdens the taxpayers, has increased the IPP debt and the import bill, due to machinery import, and the infrastructural development is a financial trap for the country. The foundation for these criticism stems from the understanding that while Pakistan bears the developmental cost, the Chinese continue to employee their labor and machinery on site – the possible earning may not match the investment.

My response to all these critics would be that they have spoken too soon and on weak grounds. With the beginning of the second and most crucial phase of the project, a huge investment will be made in the workforce transformation through adequate skill development and skill enhancement. One must understand that the Chinese workforce is extremely efficient, professional and proficient in technology, a skill that we are still acquiring. The capacity building of the Pakistani workforce in technology and Chinese language would help embark the youth on an upward trajectory where they will not only become an integral part of the economic engine, but drive personal growth both financially and professionally. This is how the Pakistani youth will walk with the one of the world’s economically strong nations and keep their heads high.

Is this huge debt an indication of cynical Chinese negligence or due to our own political instability, bureaucratic incapability and economic malfeasance?

The development of labor in my opinion will lead to a domino effect that will trickle down to the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) attracting FDI, local businesses and another of young talented professionals.

Looking into the “debt” conundrum surrounding the CPEC, the West remains a huge opposer. In 2013, when CPEC was initially initiated, Pakistan owed China $4.1 billion. By March 2020, however, this debt had increased by 185%, from $4.1 billion to $11.8 billion owed to China, making it Pakistan's one of the largest lenders. But is this huge debt an indication of cynical Chinese negligence or due to our own political instability, bureaucratic incapability and economic malfeasance?

Pakistan’s leadership has perhaps never understood the real potential of the CPEC that will become a trading gateway for more than 65 countries, representing 60% of the world-population and 40% of the global GDP.  We need to more sincere with the Long-term Plan (LTP) of the Vision 2025 that the Ministry of Planning and Development so carefully drafted and undertake all future execution with the following in mind.

Tough decisions will and must be taken. Bureaucratic reforms are necessary to become effective enablers. International pressure must not be succumbed to, and the false and negative propaganda against the CPEC must be neutralized. Government and private stakeholders need to be more transparent and seamless in their operations.

The last decade is a stark reminder of the strategic importance Pakistan holds in the region and CPEC offers sufficient proof.  CPEC encompasses the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in western China and the entirety of Pakistan with a "core zone" and "radiation zone" structure. The corridor traverses key node cities, including Kashghar (Kashi in Chinese), Atushi, Tumshuq, Shule, Shufu, Akto, and Tashkurgan Tajik in China, as well as Gilgit, Peshawar, DI Khan, Islamabad, Lahore, Multan, Quetta, Sukkur, Hyderabad, Karachi, and Gwadar in Pakistan. The development of western China is in accordance with China's longstanding "Go West" policy, which aims to eliminate developmental disparities between China's eastern coastal regions and its underdeveloped mountainous regions. Therefore, we must shun all the negativity about CPEC, continue to disarm the enemies and remain steadfast on the path of economic growth and independence.

This $62 billion project, with a 3,000-kilometer network of railways, oil and gas pipelines and renewable energy projects, is a decade long testament to Sino-Pak vision of economic independence and the growth that will follow.

The author is a senior economist and analyst. He is also the International Secretary General for BRI College, Jiangsu University, China