Since its announcement in April 2015, the $54.
5 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has helped South Asia’s second-largest economy achieve consecutive 4 percent-plus annual GDP growth rate year-on-year, expand its State Bank-held foreign exchange reserves from $11.
61 billion in March 2015 to $16.
37 billion in June 2017, and is expected to create 2.
32 million jobs in Pakistan by the end of 2018.
However, as Chinese Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Pakistan rose 3.
4 times in two years while U.
FDI into Islamabad fell 500 percent, the project has also attracted a growing amount of noise.
Some critics, most notably Dr.
Christine Fair in an article published on the website of Foreign Policy on July 3rd, have gone so far as to suggest that CPEC has left a surging nation in “unserviceable debt”, and that its ultimate aim is to set up a Chinese naval base off the coast of Gwadar.
This cannot be further from the truth.
In a way, blaming CPEC for magnifying Islamabad’s debt burdens and security troubles can be likened to accusing China’s vastly popular bike-rental startups of spreading communism.
The claims are equally cynical.
Granted, many rented-bike rides in China are free thanks to the subsidies of the industry’s top two players, neither of which has released profitability projections.
But the Chinese bike-sharing economy is, at the core, a tale of how a few private firms with a bigger mindset boldly took the initiative to build and capture a market that has become increasingly chaotic for policymakers.
For CPEC, despite key facilitation between multiple government bodies in both Beijing and Islamabad, the project’s overarching incentive is also economic in nature, and its contributions thus far in aiding a nation long ridden by chronic energy shortages and militant insurgency have been well acknowledged.
Simply because no apples-to-apples comparisons exist for these scenarios doesn’t lend strength to the contention that Pakistanis “should be worried” about CPEC.
That said, however, CPEC is a never-before-seen project for China and Pakistan alike, as is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of which it serves as an integral part.
And as such, it is bound to draw speculation, perhaps most intuitively and profoundly from institutions and analysts for whom understanding China as a problem solver rather than a troublemaker have always presented an enormous challenge.
If anything, such is precisely the reason all stakeholders should come together for candid exchanges in these open initiatives.
Beijing isn’t and will never be part of any power bloc.
CPEC and BRI as a whole are thus uniquely placed to boost inter-regional development.
Only last month, on June 29, the 80-member Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) received the highest credit rating from Moody’s Investors Service.
The lending agency, of which India is the second largest stakeholder, serves the very purpose of supporting sustainable development of Asian economies through infrastructure investment, and can therefore play a vital role in both endeavors.
In this context, New Delhi’s reservation on, if not outright opposition of CPEC and BRI and its attempts at linking Iran’s Chabahar Port with Afghanistan without engaging Pakistan or China are highly regrettable.
According to the Stockholm-based think tank International Peace Research Institute, Indian opposition to CPEC reflects its concern over the internationalization of the Kashmir issue and China’s growing clout in the Indian Ocean.
While Mehbooba Mufti, leader of India-controlled Jammu and Kashmir, may have repeatedly endorsed CPEC, from where Beijing stands, the Kashmir issue and CPEC are completely separate.
China’s stance on either issue does not affect its position on the other, and the ball is in India’s court to join CPEC and BRI.
Indeed, neither CPEC nor BRI can be accomplished without vibrant cross-border synergies.
This was incidentally the theme of a recent international symposium in Beijing, which focused on reconnecting Afghanistan into the region under renewed opportunities made possible by BRI.
Officials, scholars and corporate executives from all sides, including India and the U.
, discussed extensively about the ways in which, for example, Iran’s Chabahar Port and Pakistan’s Gwadar Port are compatible with each other and can be used to boost the economy and build trust between Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.
At the same time, in spite of consistently successful operations by the Pakistani military against extremist insurgents since 2014, security challenges from Kabul to Karachi continue to loom large.
Year 2016 saw a total of 441 terrorist attacks across Pakistan, which caused 908 fatalities, compared to the 1,717 attacks that killed 2,451 people in 2013, the year BRI was unveiled.
But to an extent, ethnic and sectarian violence in Pakistan worsened in the first half of this year.
Specifically, the purported abduction and subsequent killing of two Chinese nationals in Quetta last month, allegedly at the hands of Islamic State extremists, drew considerable public attention in China, to the point that the Chinese foreign ministry responded to questions related to the incident on 14 different occasions in 10 days.