Pakistan continues to rely on CPEC despite sluggish implantation so far

CPEC

Pakistan has signed a slew of agreements with China, showing “blind faith” in Beijing, despite serious difficulties being faced by the China- Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). However, this is likely to remain on paper and rather can create more problems for the cash-strapped Pakistan as several CPEC projects are experiencing delays or being halted.

Azeem Khalid, a Pakistan-China relations scholar at Islamabad-based COMSATS University, said the CPEC has failed to meet the expectations so far. “The overpromising and underdelivering have remained a crucial factor, coupled with inherent capacity issues, and instability on the political and security fronts,” he said.

“It is safe to assert that the hype surrounding CPEC was more a product of propaganda than a reflection of reality.”

Pakistan’s caretaker prime minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar participated in the recent Belt and Road Forum (BRF) event in Beijing.

“We will always stand with China and trust you blindly,” said Kakar after signing several MoUs. Disregarding the financial liabilities building up due to delayed and inefficient CPEC projects, Kakar expressed support for the expansion proposal for developing CPEC as a corridor of growth, innovation, livelihood, green economy, openness and inclusiveness.International experts however do not have a positive outlook for the BRI and CPEC.

“The CPEC slowdown can be attributed to both economic and security factors. Pakistan’s worsening economic crisis, and China’s own recent slowdown, have dampened prospects for new projects,” Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

In the runup to Kakar’s visit to Beijing, concerns were raised in Pakistan over the challenges being faced by the CPEC.5 Development specialist Mariyam Suleman Anees said Pakistan’s inability to pay huge debt and China’s not-so-good economic situation affected CPEC’s progress and expansion.

“There are concerns that Islamabad may be debt-trapped.These concerns are not without basis. Pakistan’s debt owed to China is three times more than what it owes the IMF,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Chinese economy is struggling with a structural slowdown. The prospective growth is showing a significant decline.”

The minutes of the meeting of the CPEC’s 11th Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC), which were signed on July 31, highlighted the financial and security-related roadblocks hit by the CPEC project. JCC is the highest decision-making body of the CPEC, which has participation from both China and Pakistan.

“Both sides acknowledged that the Chinese personnel, projects, and institutions in Pakistan are facing a ‘challenged security situation’,” the documents read.The minutes also revealed that China refused to implement several proposed measures in the areas of energy, water management, climate change and tourism as both countries failed to reach consensus due to the difference of opinions.

Notably, both countries took 10 months to sign the minutes of the 11th JCC meeting. “China, aided by elements within Pakistan’s media and academia, vigorously marketed the project, leading to inflated expectations,” Khalid said.

China has been serious about the security of its nationals working on CPEC projects in the wake of frequent fatal attacks targeting Chinese nationals. “Naturally as an external investor, China is worried about political stability because of the risk of unrest and violence that may pose a threat to its nationals and interests in Pakistan,” Kugelman said.

Muhammad Tayyab Safdar, assistant professor of global studies at the University of Virginia, said “The fact that President Xi has personally raised security issues highlights the seriousness of the situation.”During Kakar’s visit to China, the Islamabad government said leaders from Pakistan and China “had in-depth exchanges of views and reached extensive consensus” on cooperation and partnership.

They also spoke of bilateral collaboration in the context of CPEC and prospects of further deepening economic linkages.

While there have been talks of cooperation and signing of agreements, economic problems are set to be major roadblocks. Pakistani analyst Syed Fazl-e-Haider said the financial difficulty is one major problem that has plagued the CPEC.

“There are also structural economic problems with CPEC that exacerbate these issues. This economic instability has been a factor in project delays on the Chinese side, which then exacerbate the situation on the ground in Pakistan,” reads his research published by Washington DC-based Jamestown Foundation.

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