ISLAMABAD: Senior US diplomat Alice Wells on Tuesday renewed criticism of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), impliedly urging Islamabad to rethink its involvement with it.
Amb Wells’ speech at a think tank event, which was attended by members of academia and representatives of civil society, criticised the flagship project of China’s One Belt One Road Initiative.
She alleged that there was no transparency in CPEC projects, claiming Pakistan’s debt burden was growing due to the Chinese financing.
While her arguments looked like a repeat of the remarks she had earlier delivered at the Wilson Centre in Washington on Nov 21, 2019, the claims were renewed during her Islamabad trip a few days after Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi sought closer engagement and a robust trade and investment relationship between Pakistan and the US.
FM Qureshi had also sought help from the US to get the country off the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list.
While reiterating the allegations against CPEC, Amb Wells said companies blacklisted by the World Bank had got contracts in the CPEC.
The US diplomat also questioned the immunity from prosecution for the newly formed CPEC Authority that served as the focal body working to identify new areas of cooperation and projects, besides facilitation, coordination and monitoring of ongoing projects.
About the debt problem, Amb Wells insisted that Chinese money was not assistance. By getting Chinese financing for the projects, Pakistan was buying expensive loans and as a buyer it needed to be aware of what it was doing as this would take a heavy toll on its already struggling economy, she contended.
The diplomat also touched on the cost escalation in railways ML-1 upgrade project. The link connects Karachi with Peshawar. She urged the government to be transparent about the mega project.
A Foreign Office statement, meanwhile, said US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells met Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood.
The agenda of the meeting largely comprised bilateral issues including the prospects of intensifying political engagement and expanding economic partnership. “It was emphasised that a strong trade and investment relationship was key to advancing the shared vision of the leadership of both countries for a long term, broad-based and enduring partnership,” the statement said.
While talking about human rights abuses by Indian troops in the occupied Kashmir and Delhi’s aggressive actions against Pakistan, including intensified LoC ceasefire violations, Mr Mahmood emphasised the need for international community to play its role for ending the rights violations and peaceful resolution of the dispute.
About peace and stability in Afghanistan, the foreign secretary reaffirmed Pakistan’s resolve to continue to support the peace process and pursue positive development in Pak-Afghan relations. Pakistan also remained committed to supporting the efforts for de-escalation of tensions and promoting the prospects of a diplomatic way forward on the differences and disputes in the Middle East, he said.
In a meeting with Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Nadeem Babar at the energy ministry office, Amb Wells said the US was ready to enhance cooperation with Pakistan in the energy sector especially in the renewable energy. Mr Babar proposed cooperation in tapping Pakistan’s Shale reserves, specialised training, investments in LNG infrastructure development, renewable energy and other avenues.
Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2020