ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has told the United States that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative or selection of any other economic partner from around the world is its sovereign right.

The ministries of planning and foreign affairs on Thursday issued guarded reactions to reported comments by US diplomat Amba­ssador Alice Wells at a think tank in Islamabad earlier this week about CPEC pitfalls to Pakistan’s economy like debt burden.

On Wednesday, the Chinese Embassy had warned the US against meddling in Pakistan-China relationship and CPEC.

“Pakistan being a sovereign state exercises the right to choose economic partners from around the globe on a mutually beneficial basis,” said the planning and development ministry in a rejoinder. It asserted that the CPEC project was “a well thought out initiative involving mega development projects for the economic and social development of Pakistan”.

Planning, foreign ministries issue guarded reactions to comments by Alice Wells

The ministry said the projects completed so far in Phase-1 had already brought relief and started yielding dividends and tangible socio-economic benefits. Also, it added, the CPEC projects would accelerate the pace of development, boosting economic growth and ensuring ultimate prosperity for the people of Pakistan.

The ministry said that all CPEC-related projects were being pursued as per laws and regulations of Pakistan and through an institutional mechanism wherein transparency was a priority consideration. Necessary due diligence with all financial implications is also being undertaken before finalisation of any project. “Pakistan’s debt sustainability strategy has an endorsement of international financial institutions,” it added.

Separately, responding to a volley of questions, Foreign Office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui also defended the CPEC and strong Pakistan-China relations. She said Pakistan and China were “all-wea­ther strategic cooperative partners” and Islamabad had already underscored that the CPEC was a transformational project.

She said the expeditious completion of the corridor projects was the number one priority of the government and the CPEC Authority had been recently established to ensure and oversee completion of the projects across the country.

Since the launch of the CPEC, 12 power projects in the energy sector have either been completed or are under construction with a total capacity of 7,240MW and an investment of $12.4 billion. Another nine projects are at an early stage with total capacity of 6,390MW, Ms Farooqui said, adding that energy projects under the CPEC were contributing over 14pc of total energy supply in Pakistan, serving over 33 million people on a per capita power use basis.

In addition, these projects have paid about $250 million in taxes during the construction period and created over 10,000 jobs. There are a number of projects that are financed through Chinese grants and concessional loans.

“To claim that CPEC is always in the form of loans or other forms of financing, often non-concessional with sovereign guarantees, is not based on facts,” the FO spokesperson said, adding that the total CPEC debt was about $4.9bn which was not even 10pc of Pakistan’s total debt.

She said the CPEC, a long-term project negotiated through multi-tiered processes, had helped address development gaps in energy, infrastructure, industrialisation and job creation in Pakistan.

Ms Farooqui emphasised that the CPEC should be perceived in terms of its enormous economic benefits for the people of Pakistan and its socio-economic development. “We believe it is also beneficial in the context of both regional connectivity and prosperity,” she said, adding that all countries were welcome to invest in special economic zones under the CPEC.

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2020