CPEC: US apprehensions

December 08, 2019

Email

THERE are legitimate concerns about the impact that investments coming into Pakistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will have on the country’s economy.

But the recent intervention by United States Assistant Secretary Alice Wells in this debate only serves to muddy the waters rather than spark a helpful conversation.

As a senior American diplomat, Ms Wells has sometimes been perceived patronising Pakistan.

Her remarks about China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in which she tried to underscore the rising debt burden that Chinese investments are bringing to this country can hardly be expected to ensure progress in the Pakistan-US relationship which itself has undergone a long period of tension.

Should Washington decide to act on Ms Wells’ words, far from yielding any dividends, it will only create more obstacles in bilateral ties.

The concerns being voiced about the growing ties between Pakistan and China by a faction within the Trump administration need more than words before they can be considered credible.

Ms Wells should be asked what the current US administration is willing to do to help Pakistan meet its needs for infrastructure in a way that does not aggravate the country’s debt burden.

If her response is not convincing, then her words will be overshadowed by the ability and willingness of Chinese capital to acquire long-term stakes in this country.

There is no doubt that a more detailed conversation is needed within Pakistan around the growing Chinese stakes in the economy.

The repayment obligations are part of this debate.

In addition, the direction in which these investments will take our economy in the future, particularly in vital areas such as agriculture that is the cradle of our food self-sufficiency, also needs a more sensitive discussion.

But this should first and foremost be a conversation among Pakistani stakeholders, including business leaders, political parties, the research community and the media.

The Trump administration will struggle to find a place in this debate since its input will inevitably be viewed through the prism of its escalating struggle to contain the emergence of China as a great power.

It would be better if the bilateral dialogue between the Pakistan and the US were to focus more on the tangible outcomes that both sides wish to see in Afghanistan, and leave out China and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor until such time that the US has something useful to contribute.

Rao Nauman

Islamabad

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2019