ISLAMABAD: A senior Chinese diplomat here on Friday said some of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) critics were incorrigible.

Speaking at a seminar on “Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and CPEC” at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), Lijian Zhao, who is deputy chief of mission at the Chinese embassy, said while there was a political consensus on CPEC in Pakistan, there were critics as well.

Government officials dub CPEC as a ‘game changer’ and describe it as a ray of hope for the country’s faltering economy. However, lack of transparency about the projects and reports that Chinese firms earned massive profits on investments and repatriated them has often stirred criticism. Most of the times, the critics do not get convincing explanations.

Says there are two types of critics: people who are not well aware of developments under CPEC and those with an agenda

The diplomat said there were two types of critics: People who are “not well aware of developments related to BRI and CPEC” and these individuals would change “their perceptions once they get to know more about” the two initiatives. However, there are also “those who are having an agenda and they will never accept CPEC.”

Mr Zhao said one of the biggest projects under CPEC - Sukkur-Multan M-5 Motorway - was expected to be completed by mid year. Meanwhile, Thakot-Havelian section of Karakoram Highway is likely to be completed by year end.

The 1,320 megawatt coal-fired power plant set up at Hub in Balochistan, he said, would be fully functional by the end of spring. The first 660 MW unit of the power plant has already been connected to the national grid while the second one would come online shortly. The Hub power plant is being completed at a cost of nearly $2 billion.

SVI President Dr Zafar Iqbal Cheema said criticism of BRI and CPEC was driven by geo-strategic considerations and power politics. Much of the criticism is because of the thinking that China is expanding at the expense of the US, he added.

“The ascendency of a geostrategic perspective precludes the understanding of its desired objectives and undermines an informed and balanced discussion and discourse. From an overriding security viewpoint, it’s more being looked upon as a challenge rather than a cooperative enterprise,” he observed. The other perspective is that of geo-economics, according to which CPEC is promoting regional connectivity, infrastructure growth, trade and development.

Prof Dr Baogang He, Prof Shahram Akbarzadeh and Dr Zahid Shahab from Deakin University, Melbourne (Australia), made their presentations on various aspects of BRI and CPEC.

Dr Baogang said China had global ambitions and was exporting infrastructure in addition to building production networks and supply chains as it had accumulated knowledge, technology, raw material and wealth. He asked China to address issues related to labour, land acquisition and scale of investments.

Prof Akbarzadeh said Middle Eastern countries saw China as a partner because unlike Western countries it did not insist on “political openness”, maintained business like relations and boosted their leverages in negotiations with the US. Dr Shahab, while noting the creation of political consensus within Pakistan on CPEC, said it was a template on which consensus on other opportunities in nation building could be used.

Dr Vaqar Ahmed of Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) said CPEC added to business and investor community’s confidence, attracted foreign investment and accelerated the economic growth allowing GDP to grow at over 5pc after a decade.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2019

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