Circumventing the global power tussle

Published April 5, 2021
Pakistan hopes to maintain cordial ties with both China and the United States despite the growing animosity between the two giant economies.
— AFP/File
Pakistan hopes to maintain cordial ties with both China and the United States despite the growing animosity between the two giant economies. — AFP/File

Pakistan hopes to maintain cordial ties with both China and the United States despite the growing animosity between the two giant economies.

Last week, US President Joe Biden floated a proposal to counter the growing influence of China in the developing world by initiating a similar programme collectively sponsored by advanced Western nations.

“I suggest we should have, essentially, a similar initiative coming from democratic states, helping those communities around the world that need it,” President Biden said, referring to China’s increasing influence on the strength of the Belt and Road Initiative. Earlier, the Alaska meeting was far from cordial. Soon after the meeting, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States slapped sanctions on members of Xinjiang’s leadership over the allegation of rights violations. Beijing retaliated and sanctioned certain EU and UK nationals.

Pakistan’s economy is so West-centric that it can’t afford to annoy the United States

When approached for comment, some members of the hierarchy were hesitant to go on the record. Zahid Chuadhry, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was quick on the phone. “We support all initiatives aimed at supporting the development efforts in lagging economies. We wish not to let the bitterness between other nations define our diplomatic goals. We aim at broadening the base of our economic connectivity in the region and beyond.”

He later emailed a more detailed response. “Pakistan believes that cooperation and mutual support between countries can bring greater dividends for economic growth.

“Pakistan believes that the cooperation between China and the Western countries is beneficial for international peace, stability and development.

“The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative. We welcome and encourage the Western countries to invest in Special Economic Zones (SEZs) of CPEC. They can also enter into joint ventures with the Chinese companies. Pakistan is a sovereign country and will take all those decisions that promote its vital national interests.

“Despite the challenges posed by Covid-19, work on CPEC projects has continued at a steady pace. Both China and Pakistan are committed to the expeditious completion of CPEC projects. We are confident that CPEC will not only be beneficial for China and Pakistan but also help unleash the economic potential of the entire region.”

“The development is not a linear path. There has been some back and forth but the country is moving ahead with CPEC. We also did manage to revive the stalled IMF programme despite challenges. Yes, we wish to diversify but currently our export destinations are in the West and import originates also in the East,” said a source in an economic ministry. He probably meant to say that Pakistan’s economy is so West-centric that it can’t afford to annoy it.

“To our chagrin, in the high-level meeting held last month in Alaska, the United States and China focused on what divides rather than unites them though the pandemic continues to threaten lives and livelihoods around the globe. The tit for tat actions by the rivals that followed did not bode well for either nervous investors or the suffering humanity,” commented a senior trade expert privately.

Another analyst said: “Diplomacy is not a zero-sum game. We do not wish to pick and choose.”

Limiting his response to CPEC and its future, a senior official of the Ministry of Planning shared a detailed comment. He started with dismissing the perception of a slowdown in CPEC projects under the PTI rule. “The progress on CPEC is 150 per cent better today than ever before.” Some extracts from his note are reproduced here: “Pakistan has successfully completed CPEC early-harvest, short-term projects in 2020 as planned. In the second phase, medium-term projects cover manufacturing, agriculture, social sector and information communication technology.”

He busted what he terms “the myth of CPEC-inspired debt”.

“Out of the total $53 billion committed under CPEC, barely $5.3bn is debt. The remaining is either investment or grant. So far, 17 projects worth $13bn have been completed and work is in progress for 21 projects worth $12bn.

“Energy projects will generate 17,045MW electricity collectively. Currently, eight completed power projects are providing 5,340MW to the main grid. Energy projects created 21,000 jobs. Most of the work on the network of roads is complete. Gwadar has been commercially operational since May last year. Work on SEZs in Faisalabad, Rashakai, Dhabeji and Bostan is in progress.”

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, April 5th, 2021

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