The One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative launched by China’s Xi Jinping aims to recreate the legendary Silk Road. A flagship project of OBOR, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) envisions connecting Kashgar city Xinjiang Province with Pakistan’s Gwadar deep sea port through a network of highways, railways and pipelines. An international interchange for Eurasian land and maritime silk routes, Pakistan will become a hub for international trade as well as integration of the economies of Asia, Africa and Europe. Costing an estimated $75 billion, CPEC will provide much needed impetus to Pakistan’s industrialisation, both Pakistan and China will gain from the proposed connectivity.
That a project like CPEC is being targeted by detractors — many of whom have ulterior motives — is not surprising. Many anti-Pakistan lobbies in the region and beyond are intent on sabotaging the project. Such misconceptions need to be removed quickly, or CPEC will become far too controversial to be practical. Many industrialists in Pakistan fear that the local market could be flooded with cheap Chinese products while others question the rationale of giving preferential treatment to Chinese companies. Certain interest groups are trying to label China as an imperialist or colonial power. Until the 1940s, almost 85 percent of the world was ruled by western colonial powers like Britain and France. Compared to these imperialist powers, who were hell bent on enriching themselves at the cost of their colonies, the US and China are the only industrial powers with global clout who have never tried to colonise any country.
One nonsensical claim is that Beijing is after Pakistan’s natural resources, specifically in Balochistan. This is absurd because China is blessed with huge deposits of natural resources of its own, including some rare earth elements. With OBOR spanning three continents, spread over 60 countries with a population in excess of 4 billion — can someone point out any exploitation of natural resources in these countries so far? Another malicious allegation is that CPEC will not bring about any positive change for Pakistan. This is also a highly misleading claim. To claim that the massive investment of over $70 billion in Pakistan, over $600 billion in Russia and more than $200 billion in Central Asia, Iran and Afghanistan will not bring any change is both unrealistic and absurd.
Another myth relates to the huge influx of Chinese citizens into Pakistan. Certain figures seem anxious about Beijing eventually occupying Pakistan. While the canard about Chinese prisoners working in Pakistan is ridiculous enough, various Chinese companies are executing about 300 projects in Pakistan, 9000 Chinese nationals work on CPEC projects while 10,000 work on non-CPEC projects. Most will go back once their terms are completed.
A particularly misleading and malicious is claim that Chinese military bases are planned in the coastal belt and Gwadar Port. CPEC is an economic project with no military designs. Its aim is to create connectivity and economic opportunities in the region. Anti-state sentiment in Xinjiang will only exacerbate the likelihood for militant ideologies to connect across the CPEC. The socio-economic project will open new vistas for prosperity and peace in the region, particularly in the less developed areas, thus reducing space for terrorists. Because young people will be engaged in jobs, their vulnerability and exposure to terrorist organisations will be reduced.
Many point at Pakistan’s rising trade deficit with China to show ‘concern’. Currently, the trade deficit with China stands at around $6.2 billion but China’s competitiveness in its exports is not Pakistan-specific. Just compare this with other countries. India’s trade deficit with China stands at $47 billion and $347 billion when it comes to the US. Can these two economic powers become Chinese colonies? Another canard is that Pakistan is having terms dictated to it by China, and the provincial governments are not being consulted. The truth is that all four provinces are consulted and government representatives from all the provinces are invited to every meeting held in Pakistan and abroad for their recommendations.In May last year, all Chief Ministers (CMs) under the leadership of former Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif attended the OBOR Summit in China.
While the canard about Chinese prisoners working in Pakistan is ridiculous enough, various Chinese companies are executing about 300 projects in Pakistan, 9,000 Chinese nationals work on CPEC projects while 10,000 work on non-CPEC projects. Most will go back once their terms are completed
Fears about CPEC harming local businesses are also misplaced. Entrepreneurs always believe that by providing incentive for producing quality products, CPEC will increase competitiveness of goods in local markets. Another lie being circulated is that Pakistan cannot provide security to the Chinese, especially in Balochistan, due to the prevalent law and order situation. This is an attempt to malign the project as well as our security forces. The fact is that two Special Security Divisions (SSD) have already been mobilised by the Pakistan military. These consist of 15,000 personnel,who provide security on CPEC projects.
There is an immediate need to counter the prevalent apprehension about CPEC and the propaganda that feeds it. For starters the government must ensure that greater transparency is ensured in the project and corruption kept under wraps. In a 2017 report titled Agenda for the Economy, the Pakistan Business Council (PBC) said, “CPEC will no doubt be a game-changer for Pakistan and there is hardly a facet of the economy that will not be touched by it. However, there needs to be greater transparency on how CPEC will impact the competitiveness of existing domestic industries and the safeguards that will be deployed to prevent it becoming a channel for cheap imports”.It further added, “Pakistan should leverage CPEC to attract a meaningful percentage of the millions of jobs that are likely to move out of China, given the rising labour and conversion cost there”.
While government ministers have released statements or held press conferences to clear doubts created by such misconceptions, this has not been enough.The government needs to immediately initiate a concerted campaign on electronic and print media to educate and inform the masses about the falsehoods being circulated and give the actual facts. With the government by and large failing to make significant impact, the print and electronic media must do its duty by airing programmes and talk shows to remove negative misconceptions.
Chinese investments will not only improve the state of Pakistan’s economy but also enhance its geopolitical role in the region. It is truly a game changer for Pakistan.
These were extracts from a talk given by the writer, a defence and security analyst, at a recent CPNE Seminar.
The writer is a defence and security analyst
Published in Daily Times, June 30th 2018.