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    CPEC: Pakistan Must Pay the Price for lunches


    The announcement from Pakistan’s Prime Minister’s Office about Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s forthcoming visit to China for the ‘launch’ of the second phase of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was less than enthusiastic. Scheduled for June 4, the date remains tentative, indicating that Beijing has yet to confirm. Despite continuous announcements of CPEC-II since 2021, the project seems to be sputtering.

    In 2023, China’s Vice Premier He Lifeng announced five new corridors proposed by President Xi Jinping: a growth corridor, a livelihood-enhancing corridor, an innovation corridor, a green corridor, and an open corridor. However, there has been no visible innovation or progress. Xinhua describes CPEC as a corridor linking the Gwadar port in southwestern Pakistan with Kashgar in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, highlighting energy, transport, and industrial cooperation. Essentially, it is a project primarily benefiting Beijing.

    Ahead of the visit, Pakistan announced a $2 billion road project for the Thakot–Raikot section of the Karakorum Highway (KKH). However, the project faces severe landslide activity, financial constraints, and environmental challenges. Similarly, the Mainline-1 railway project, which Pakistan desperately wants Beijing to fund, remains in limbo without a feasibility study from China.

    So far, an estimated $62 billion has been spent on CPEC, a significant increase from the earlier estimate of $46 billion. Elected representatives in Pakistan have expressed concerns about the high costs of Chinese projects, which are reportedly three times higher than international norms. The International Monetary Fund recently warned against using its funds to pay back the PKR 493 billion owed to Chinese power plants, further complicating the financial landscape.

    Gwadar port, a key component of CPEC, continues to struggle, although a new international airport is expected to be operational next year. China has insisted that Pakistan should be responsible for the road and rail networks to the port, but progress has been slow, exacerbated by attacks from Baloch rebels. Despite setting up a Friendship Hospital and a desalination plant to assuage local sentiment, the situation remains tense.

    One notable aspect of the new corridors is the focus on agriculture. Post-COVID-19 and the Ukraine war, China has become more concerned about food security. Pakistan’s fertile valleys in POK are of particular interest to Beijing. However, local resistance is expected, especially in light of recent attacks across Pakistan.

    Prime Minister Sharif’s visit to Beijing will likely involve discussions on these issues. While the joint statement may emphasize the ‘iron brotherhood’ between the two nations, the small print will reveal more about China’s increasing presence in Pakistan. The solid defense relationship between the two countries, including Chinese-built submarines in Karachi, underscores the ongoing strategic collaboration. The money might decrease, but Chinese exploitation is expected to continue. As a Chinese professor once told Pakistanis, CPEC is not charity, and it’s time Pakistan learns that lesson.

    Sources By Agencies

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