ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan decided on Monday to shift the focus of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) from motorways to agriculture, job creation and foreign investment.

The decision was taken in a meeting presided over by the prime minister at Prime Minister Office.

“Earlier, the CPEC was only aimed at construction of motorways and highways, but now the prime minister decided that it will be used to support the agriculture sector, create more jobs and attract other foreign countries like Saudi Arabia to invest in the country,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told Dawn while giving details of the meeting.

He said the prime minister’s proposed visit to China was also discussed during the meeting.

The minister said Prime Minister Imran Khan will pay his first visit to China in the first week of November. “Arrangements are being made for the visit and its date is yet to be finalised,” he said.

Meeting presided over by prime minister discusses his proposed visit to China next month

According to details of the meeting, the prime minister said strengthening the strategic cooperative partnership with China was the cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy and early implementation of the CPEC projects would help realise the true potential of Pak-China economic relations not only for the two countries but for the entire region.

Imran Khan said that CPEC was a great opportunity to learn from the Chinese experience, especially in the social, agricultural and other sectors.

He said that agricultural output of the country, considered as the backbone of economy, could be enhanced manifold by learning from Chinese expertise and employing latest technologies and efficient methods.

Prime Minister Khan stressed the need for focusing on early establishment of special economic zones in various parts of the country along the CPEC which would help the local industry grow through industrialisation and would also create huge employment opportunities for youths.

He said the CPEC under Belt and Road Initiative of President Xi Jinping also offered opportunities to other countries to invest in CPEC projects and reap benefits in various sectors.

“Like Saudi Arabia’s initiative to invest in CPEC-related projects, Imran Khan has offered other countries to invest in it,” the information minister said.

Interestingly, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif at a meeting of his party in Lahore on Monday expressed concern over new agreements [Saudi investment] in the CPEC and claimed that a gulf was being created between China and Pakistan.

However, Prime Minister Imran Khan said the Pak-China friendship would be made stronger.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Finance Minister Asad Umar, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, Planning Minister Khusro Bukhtiar, Power Minister Omar Ayub, Advisers to Prime Minister Abdul Razak Dawood and Dr Ishrat Husain, the foreign secretary, secretary planning and other senior officials attended the meeting.

Last year China had temporarily suspended funding of road projects related to the CPEC till what the Chinese authorities said “new guidelines” to be issued from Beijing.

It is expected that the prime minister will raise the issue during his meetings with the Chinese leadership.

Due to suspension of funds, over Rs1 trillion road projects of the National Highway Authority, which were in the pipeline, have been affected. It was also expected that not only road projects but ventures in other sectors of the CPEC, including power, could also halt.

The road projects affected by the decision included 210km Dera Ismail Khan-Zhob road which will be completed at a cost of Rs Rs81 billion – Rs66bn will be spent on construction of road and Rs15bn on acquisition of land.

The estimated cost of 110km Khuzdar-Basima Road is Rs19.76bn — construction of road to cost Rs14.5bn and land acquisition Rs5bn.

Remaining portion of the 136km of Karakoram Highway from Raikot to Thakot will be improved at a cost of Rs8.5bn.

It is expected that the funding of the three projects will be approved at a meeting of the Joint Working Group of the CPEC on Nov 20.

Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2018

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