China’s concerns

Published June 23, 2024

RUMOURS had been swirling that China was less than enthusiastic about forging ahead with new CPEC schemes, primarily due to concerns about the security of its people and assets in Pakistan.

Some media reports had hinted that little of substance was achieved during the prime minister’s tour of China earlier this month, particularly where the CPEC file was concerned, even if official statements from both sides reflected an air of normalcy.

Yet even in official handouts, China’s security concerns were unambiguous. For example, in his meeting with Shehbaz Sharif, President Xi Jinping expressed the hope that Pakistan would “create a safe, stable and predictable business environment” that would “guarantee the safety of Chinese” personnel and projects. This same message was delivered to our civil and military elite on Friday in Islamabad by a Chinese official, though in an uncharacteristically direct manner.

Liu Jianchao, who heads the International Department of the Communist Party of China, told a forum attended by representatives of Pakistan’s mainstream parties that the security situation here was “shaking the confidence of Chinese investors”. He also called for improving the business environment, reiterated the necessity for political stability, and stressed a “CPEC-friendly media environment”.

Though the message may have been delivered by a relatively mid-level official, in the Chinese system where the Communist Party is the state, it is safe to assume that the contents of the statement were endorsed by the highest authorities in Beijing. Moreover, the fact that China chose a public forum to air its concerns speaks of the seriousness Beijing attaches to security.

China’s concerns should not be taken lightly by Pakistan’s ruling elite, especially at a time when the country needs all the foreign investment it can get. Regarding the official’s observation about a “CPEC-friendly media environment”, more transparency about the long-term plans for the project can clear the air. Both governments should let the media and the people know the facts about the economic corridor, as opacity will only fuel rumours.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has no option but to neutralise the militant threat to Chinese and all other foreign projects in the country. The prime minister hinted at this during Saturday’s apex committee meeting. If foreign workers are killed in terrorist attacks, and multimillion-dollar projects targeted, no overseas party will want to invest in this country.

Regarding Chinese concerns about a conducive business environment and political stability, again Pakistan has little choice but to improve its performance in both areas. Foreign investors need to be facilitated and bottlenecks have to be eliminated. Furthermore, all local stakeholders must pledge to honour commitments with foreign parties, and not derail them when governments change. It is only in Pakistan’s interest to heed most of China’s advice.

Published in Dawn, June 23rd, 2024

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