China has stressed the need for Pakistan to guard against “external interferences” and prevent domestic “disturbances” for promoting the construction of massive infrastructure and energy projects under a multi-billion dollar bilateral economic corridor.
Visiting Chinese Assistant Minister of International Department Wang Yajun made the remarks Monday while briefing a large audience in Islamabad.
Under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), more than $62 billion in Chinese investment during the next 15 years will lead to building of a network of roads, rails, communications, special economic zones, and power plants in Pakistan.
The corridor aims to provide landlocked western China access to international markets through the southwestern Pakistani Arabian Sea port of Gwadar, while addressing Islamabad’s energy needs and economic development. Beijing considers CPEC as the flagship project of its global Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
“I want to express our strong conviction and determination to press ahead the CPEC to deliver more benefits to the people of Pakistan,” vowed Yaun. He noted that completion of several power plants under the project has already effectively addressed Pakistan’s energy crisis.
Questions of transparency
Critics in Pakistan, however, complain about an unfair implementation of CPEC projects and a lack of transparency, saying the most populous province of Punjab is taking away a majority of power plants being installed along the corridor.
There are also concerns Chinese nationals and products will flood Pakistani markets, and undermine local industry and opportunities for laborers.
“We want to build a CPEC that is a clean corridor, a corridor of integrity,” emphasized Yaun, while responding to the criticism.
“We should also guard against the interference from external forces and also prevent the domestic disturbances ... to promote the CPEC construction, so that we can make CPEC a pathway of common development, a pathway of shared fruits and the shared future,” noted the Chinese minister.
He touted China’s national anti-corruption campaign for making “political life” in the country more clean and transparent. Yaun noted that during the past five years, more than 75,000 Chinese officials have been punished for corruption, including 440 high-ranking officers at or above the vice minister levels.
Pakistani officials allege recent rise in deadly militant attacks, particularly in sparsely populated largest province of Baluchistan, where Gwadar is situated, is being sponsored by rival India to subvert CPEC.
India denies the allegations, though it has openly raised objections to the corridor, saying it passes through the disputed Kashmir territory. Both Pakistan and China dismiss those objections.
Last week, China warned its citizens and organizations in Pakistan to keep a low profile, saying it has received intelligence reports of plans for imminent terror attacks targeting them.
Pakistan has also lately been under renewed pressure from the United States for allegedly harboring terrorist groups involved in attacks against neighboring countries.
Chinese Minister Yaun tried to ally fears security concerns might force Beijing to pull out from CPEC commitments. He insisted the collaboration has instead further cemented traditionally "all weather" strong and deep bilateral ties.
“In China, we have a saying that we would rather give up the gold than giving up the friendship between China and Pakistan.”
Pakistani Senator Mushahid Hussain, who heads a parliamentary committee on CPEC, told the seminar that all the infrastructure projects are being closely monitored and so far “no evidence of corruption” has been brought up.
“There are 9,581 Chinese engineers, technicians and experts working on CPEC projects, and another 10,000 working on non-CPEC projects. There is no Chinese labor involved in these projects,” Hussain said, noting labor prices in China are more than double those in Pakistan.
Since launching CPEC in 2013, China has invested $19 billion and 19 “early harvest” infrastructure projects plus the energy projects have either been completed or are in the process of completion.
They include expansion of Gwadar port that officials anticipate will become South Asia’s largest transit and transshipment facility within next five years, with an annual capacity of handling 13 million tons of cargo. It will be among the world’s top deep-water sea ports by by 2030 and will be capable of yearly handling up to 400-million tons of cargo.