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Business with China

Updated August 29, 2017

Slowly but surely a crucial realisation is setting in amongst the business community here that dealing with their Chinese counterparts is not going to be easy.

The rhetoric coming from the Pakistani government had made the relationship sound like it was some sort of family affair. But those sections of the business community who have tried to build commercial ties with their counterparts in China are finding out that, over there, profits come first and sentiment second.

One thing the business community has noticed is that their Chinese counterparts prefer dealing with the government rather than building private-sector partnerships, according to a report published on Monday in this paper that presented the opinions of a range of Pakistani businesses that have, or are seeking to build, ties with Chinese enterprises. They have noticed that the Chinese do not negotiate very much. They lay down their terms, and expect them to be fully met.

This realisation is only the beginning of what the rest of the country needs to learn about the growing economic relationship with China. The Chinese government has provided some diplomatic support to Pakistan at crucial junctures, even now as relations with post 9/11 US take yet another nosedive. But business is business, and when it comes to economic cooperation and partnering, all countries look out first and foremost for their own interests.

The question that needs to be asked with increasing urgency is this: is our government doing the same when it engages with the growing number of Chinese delegations landing in the country to build the framework under which Chinese investment will come pouring into Pakistan?

Ever since the CPEC enterprise got under way, calls have been growing for more transparency in its execution. By now, there ought to be no further doubts that the CPEC enterprise goes far beyond roads and power plants, and is, in fact, about creating the right environment for Chinese investment to acquire large stakes in Pakistan’s economy.

This is a positive development undoubtedly, but it is also important to ask how far the government is going to protect Pakistan’s economic interests.

There is a need to learn this important lesson from the Chinese government. Only greater transparency with more information being shared through the online portals created by the government for disseminating CPEC-related news can address this concern.

Answers to questions like what sort of dispute-resolution mechanism will govern the partnerships envisioned under CPEC, and what investments are being prepared for which areas, will help dispel the growing anxieties.

It would be a sad but necessary end to the euphoria that has greeted the arrival of CPEC if the government were to learn the same lesson that the business community is busy learning these days, that in matters of business, brotherly relations have no role to play.

Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2017