China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: White Elephant? – OpEd


Pakistan believed that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will be their “Alladin’s Lamp and the Genie will full fill all their wishes.” CPEC was to be believed to be a ‘Game Changer’ for Pakistan.Initially valued at $47 billion, the value of CPEC projects was worth $62 billion as of 2021. Since 2018 onwards, however, it has not been smooth sailing and  the work on the corridor seemed to be on a snail’s pace.

China with the help of Pakistan has made concerted efforts to establish the foundation for a mutually beneficial relationship amid deteriorating regional security post the US withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asian countries will connect China mainland to the Middle East, the Mediterranean and on to Europe. Interestingly with shifting geopolitical competitions China is the new player in Afghanistan and Central Asia. It is not surprising that Central Asia will have one of the main routes connecting China and Europe under the BRI. Initially Pakistan’s CPEC and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) did provide the springboard to the Chinese dragon to leap frog over continents.

China now has become the first country to establish diplomatic relations with Afghanistan.Chinese ambassador to Afghanistan, Zhao Sheng, presented his credentials to Taliban Prime Minister Mullah Hassan Akhund in the capital Kabul on Sept 13, effectively becoming the first country to establish diplomatic relations.During the ceremony, the new Chinese envoy expressed his happiness on his new mission in Afghanistan.

Economically Cash-strapped Pakistan is in a greater mess than ever before. Foreign direct investment (FDI), which is key to economic growth and development, is touching the lowest level one can imagine. The ever-increasing gap in exports and imports is another ill to be taken care of, as is the current account deficit. Security issues are popping up day by day. But the most crucial question is: how to tackle these economic issues? 

“Pak-China friendship  higher than Himalayas, deeper than ocean, sweeter than honey,and stronger than steel.”

China has rejected several proposals from Pakistan regarding direct investments in various sectors under the CPEC. The proposals included areas such as energy, tourism, water management, and climate change so essential for any nation especially for Pakistan’s survival and domestic needs.

  • The minutes of the CPEC’s Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) meeting reveal the challenges faced by both sides in deepening economic ties.The JCC meet was held in October 2022. 
  • However, the minutes of the meeting were signed almost a year later on 31 July,2023 during the visit of Chinese vice premier  highlighting the difference of opinions on both sides that led to such a huge delay in reaching a consensus.
  • China disagreed with a host of measures Pakistan proposed. The final document indicates that Islamabad has given up its opposition to a number of Chinese demands in order to address Beijing’s concerns.
  • China had turned down cooperation in cross-border tourism in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Pakistan-controlled Jammu and Kashmir and the country’s coastal areas.Tourism is a remarkable, relatively easy tool for not only boosting a country’s revenue but also promoting a nation’s image across the globe. 
  • To mark the importance of tourism, every year World Tourism Day is celebrated on September 27 to remind countries and eager travellers why tourism is important to “foster cultural exchange, economic growth and sustainable development”. This year, given the challenges created by climate change, countries are also interested in promoting sustainable tourism. While local communities have also welcomed tourism since it acts as a source of good income.
  • The report suggested that China also did not agree to Pakistan’s push for inclusion of water resources management and climate change and urban infrastructure development in the CPEC framework. A plan for a new joint working group on water resources management and climate change was also rejected.
  • Other Islamabad plans that did not make the grade with Beijing included a proposal to develop a policy framework for coal gasification for fertiliser projects based on coal in the southern Sindh province’s Thar desert. Similarly, China did not agree to meet Pakistan’s energy needs from indigenous resources and conversion of coal into other products for domestic demand as well as exports.China refuses to further expand cooperation with Pak in energy, water, climate under CPEC.
  • Pakistan had proposed Chinese participation in a strategic underground gas storage project but it was not included in the final minutes. The minutes are also silent on a push to get Chinese technology for joint exploration, development and marketing of metallic minerals.

All the above developments signal a strain in the ‘Ironclad’ friendship between the two “All-Weather Allies’.Cash-strapped Pakistan also gave up its opposition to setting up a new imported coal-fired power plant in Gwadar in Balochistan province and agreed to a number of Chinese demands to address Beijing’s concerns, The Express Tribune newspaper reported, citing the signed minutes of the 11th Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) of the CPEC.

CPEC  may fail under its own weight, due to local resistance in GB , Balochistan and Imran Khan’s political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Jihad against the  government and the  current economic situation. Pakistan is going the Sri Lanka way like it got sold out through the Hambantota port to China. Pakistan’s CPEC and Gwadar Port will lead them the same garden path.

BRI: China-Nepal

During the just-concluded visit of Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal to China, the two countries signed a number of agreements. But security deals and the BRI were conspicuously missing,It is well-known that China has been pushing Nepal to join its Global Security Initiative (GSI). He is steering clear of any overt security tie with China.

Secondly, he is not too enthusiastic about Xi Jinping’s pet project and China’s flagship global venture, the BRI. He said that China had proposed a Global Security Initiative (GSI), a Global Civilizational Initiative (GCI) and a Global Development Initiative (GDI). Among these, Nepal is interested in joining the development initiative. “We cannot wade into security-related issues. It is our stated policy not to be under the umbrella of any side. Ours is a non-aligned foreign policy. 

The $60 billion CPEC, which connects Gwadar Port in Pakistan’s Balochistan with China’s Xinjiang province, is the flagship project of China’s ambitious multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI along with GSI,GCI and GDI is seen as an attempt by China to further its influence abroad with infrastructure projects funded by Chinese investments all over the world through the ‘Corridor of Uncertainty’.

Patial RC

Patial RC is a retired Infantry officer of the Indian Army and possesses unique experience of serving in active CI Ops across the country and in Sri Lanka. Patial RC is a regular writer on military and travel matters in military professional journals. The veteran is a keen mountaineer and a trekker.

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