Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Sunday reiterated that America's stance on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would have "no impact" on the project.
Speaking to reporters in Multan, Qureshi said that Pakistan does not agree with the views expressed by US diplomat Alice Wells.
He was referring to a recent statement by Wells, who is in charge of South Asia affairs at the US State Department, in which she had "warned" that CPEC would further add to Pakistan's debt burden. She had said the multi-billion-dollar CPEC would take a toll on Pakistan’s economy at the time of repayments and dividend in the coming years.
"Pakistan does not agree with that view. We have rejected that view," Qureshi said, adding: "We do not think that the burden of CPEC will increase our debt burden." The foreign minister said that Pakistan's total debt burden is $74 billion of which CPEC is $4.9bn.
"To say that CPEC is increasing our debt servicing is incorrect," he said, adding that the second phase of the development project has been launched.
Meanwhile, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said CPEC is the (government's) first priority, also saying that Pakistan does not agree with America's concerns regarding the project.
In a tweet, Awan said: "This great corridor will open new paths for economic development and prosperity in the entire region, not just for Pakistan and China."
The premier's special assistant added that the project is a "surety of our economic development", adding: "China is our close friend and has stood by us during every trying time."
On Saturday, in a move to allay US concerns over CPEC's impact on Pakistan’s debt crisis, the newly appointed Federal Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar had said the bilateral commercial debt from China would start declining in two to three years.
He, however, made it clear that Pakistan would neither back out from CPEC and its time-tested friends like China nor would it become the "collateral damage" of any conflict between major powers.
The minister said that Wells' primary contention was that Pakistan was sinking further into the quagmire of debt with CPEC.
"She said that Pakistan's economy has begun to be crushed under the weight of the Chinese debt. There is no doubt that Pakistan's external debt has mounted to an extent that economic progress is being impacted and a year ago there was a crisis-like situation. But that has nothing to do with China," said Umar.
He then went on to explain the role that China has played in Pakistan's debt crisis.
"Our total public debt right now is $74bn of which the Chinese debt amounts to $18bn — even less than one-fourth of the total debt. And if I further break it down, the CPEC debt under this figure of public debt is $4.9bn — not even 10pc of the total debt," the minister had noted.
'Avoid presenting unverified stats'
PML-N Secretary General Ahsan Iqbal on Sunday disputed the stats presented by Umar regarding CPEC.
"Avoid presenting unverified stats on a project as important as CPEC," Iqbal said in a statement.
He added that "irresponsible" statements by the PTI government have already created problems and clarified that the total value of CPEC loans is not $18bn but around $5.8bn.