The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which is China’s 15 years long $62 billion investment in Pakistan is a lynchpin in the grand strategic and economic relations between Pakistan and China. China’s major ambition is to transform Pakistan into a prosperous and fully developed regional trade hub. The CPEC is an organized network of roads, railways and energy projects connecting China’s resource-rich Xinjiang province with Pakistan’s Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea.
The CPEC has been succeeded by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). CPEC was first announced in 2013 under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s regime when he met with Chinese premier Li Keqiang. The central focus was on linking China with the Chinese-invested port of Gwadar through highway, rail and pipeline infrastructure. Initially, the project was based on a five years’ tenure for full implementation and the budget stood at around $10 to $20 billion which is extremely moderate compared to the current budget for CPEC.
CPEC was transformed into Belt and Road Initiative which was formally launched in April 2015 when Chinese president Xi Jinping visited Pakistan. The core concentration of the project was shifted towards power generation in Pakistan and the estimated budget for CPEC rose to a hefty sum of $46 billion. The governments of both China and Pakistan then made out a long term plan instigating in 2017 and the final implementation of the project was moved drastically to 2030. The project’s budget saw another surge in the costs and sparked up to $62 billion and Pakistani officials have brought up even higher numbers for the budget ever since.
The CPEC projects comprise the volume of BRI-related activities in Pakistan and its given goals are directly linked with China’s main BRI policies. However, CPEC does not constitute all the joint Sino-Pakistani infrastructure efforts which can be seen as furthering the BRI goals. Moreover, all the CPEC projects do not always involve china indispensably and directly.
Through BRI, Pakistan is seeking to hold Chinese capital, production capacity and the know-how in order to advance its infrastructure and construct an apparatus for sustainable economic growth. Resultantly, China would be attaining a link with the Arabian Sea, providing a possible trade route to the high risked Malacca Strait in Southeast Asia. But with the high number of project members to the BRI, the importance of Chinese focus on grand geo-strategic designs should not be over seen by Pakistan. China is not solely concentrated on its BRI projects in Pakistan but it has a lot of focus in other South Asian and Southeast Asian countries.
The Chinese sagacity states that state-driven investment in infrastructure projects creates economic prosperity, social security, and a better and improved security environment. CPEC is deemed substantially important by China because of certain reasons. It is seen as a solid counter weight to India in the regional domination race by China and it has also become a potential training ground for the Uyghur militants from China.
Furthermore, the stability-minded development of China’s own Western interior is fostered by creating trade routes with Pakistan. Chinese companies are burdened with overcapacity which they are shedding away on Pakistan under BRI. China is also highly induced in working on BRI specifically with Pakistan because of easy financing and closed bidding process. On the other hand, Pakistan has been able to address its energy shortage problems by adding coal capacity from China under BRI.
Sometimes, the commercial intellect of the CPEC and BRI seems at odds with the overlapping goals of bringing prosperity into Pakistan by China. Chinese companies have often achieved long-term concordant rights to functionalize road and energy infrastructure and to collect electricity or toll fees at high prices. These high price demands put Pakistan at a risk of being at disadvantage as compared to its regional competitors like India or even Bangladesh.
As the CPEC’s second phase kicked in, it had to face several pitfalls. Beijing has had to struggle with domestic politics and bureaucracy as it had to deal with numerous projects along with the BRI. When Gwadar was facing power outages, the Baluchistan government took three years to approve construction on the Gwadar power project which immensely hampered CPEC and Pak-Chinese relations. Pakistan has also been facing economic problems and faced a balance of payment crisis in 2018 as well.
However, the BRI or CPEC seemed to be getting back on track recently when projects worth of $11 billion were signed between China and Pakistan in June and July 2020. Both the nations signed several deals on 25th June 2020 and further on 6th July 2020 for two hydro-power generation projects in the contested Kashmir region worth $3.9 billion. A separate $7.2 billion deal plan was signed to maintain Pakistan’s colonial-era railways. This is considered as the most expensive single project in Pakistan by China to this date.
The man in the middle of the CPEC’s reinvigoration in Pakistan is retired Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa who is former Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan. He was appointed as the chairperson of CPEC by Prime Minister; Khan in 2019. He is currently overseeing projects worth more than $70 billion from highway infrastructure to power plants projects.
After facing the balance of payments crisis in 2018, government had to pledge International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $6 billion bailout. But even in the economic crises, CPEC has been seen as an ambitious scheme to overcome Pakistan’s economic troubles. Entering into its second phase in 2020, BRI is projected to generate massive employment opportunities for Pakistan.
Obtaining all these massive benefits from China, Pakistan has completely been ignorant towards the atrocities being committed on Muslims and the Uyghur Muslims in the Chinese concentration camps. Men, women, children and the elderly people are all suffering brutalities in Xinjiang province of China to which Pakistan has turned a blind eye.
It is hypocritical of government to clutch onto the benefits and interests from China but not confront them openly for the cruelties against Muslims. It is also a huge blow to Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir because on one hand, it has been rooting for the atrocities being committed against Kashmiri Muslims from decades but on the other hand, it is not raising its voice against China just because of the BRI projects and economic gains.