China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects to march forward despite COVID-19 pandemic: envoy
CPEC projects to march forward despite COVID-19 pandemic: envoy
Published: Jan 04, 2021 07:08 PM

Gateway of the Gwadar port in Southwest Pakistan's Gwadar. The port is part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Photo: cnsphoto

Pakistani Ambassador to China Moin ul Haque Photo: Courtesy of Pakistan Embassy in Beijing

Following the uncertainties brought by the COVID-19 pandemic which has affected the entire global economy, speculation as to whether the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a key project under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), will continue according to schedule has become louder. 

However, despite this speculation and the global pandemic, CPEC projects will march forward based on the consensus reached between the leadership of the two countries, Pakistani Ambassador to China Moin ul Haque told the Global Times in a recent interview.

The ambassador's comments came after some Indian media reported that China is backing away from its initial financial commitments to Pakistan under the CPEC, citing data of Boston University researchers in the US.

However, Chinese Foreign Ministry denied these "groundless reports," saying that as an important pilot project of the BRI, CPEC has maintained a positive momentum since its inception in 2013.

According to Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian, the CPEC projects are being advanced as the two sides held the second meeting of the CPEC Joint Working Group on International Cooperation and Coordination.

The ambassador, who also attended the meeting, told the Global Times that during the meeting, the two countries reaffirmed that the CPEC is an open and inclusive initiative that welcomes third party participation.

"We therefore invite third parties to join us in this 'transformational project' which is bringing a new hope of economic prosperity to the people of Pakistan and the broader region," said the Pakistani envoy.

Progress amid pandemic

According to Haque, 19 projects under CPEC have been completed and 28 are under implementation.

Citing the Lahore Orange Line Metro project, Haque said that the project, the first mass-transit project of its kind in Pakistan which wa   s launched in October, would provide efficient and affordable transport services to the 10 million residents of Lahore.

"Another important project like the Matiari-Lahore transmission line is set to be put into operation early next year. Some of the key projects in Gwadar like Eastbay Expressway, Gwadar International Airport, Desalination Plant and Power Plant are also moving ahead smoothly," he said.

COVID-19 pandemic has posed a severe threat to many businesses, Haque adding that amid these extraordinary times of disrupted international travel and supply lines, there was initially some slowdown in the work on CPEC projects.

However, he said, this was primarily due to the special measures taken for epidemic- prevention and safety of the workers. Thereafter, the work has continued on all projects in a way to make up for the lost time.

According to Haque, the CPEC project has entered a phase II period, in which agriculture, science and technology, vocational training and tourism will be prioritized. The projects in these areas, which are also in line with socio-economic agenda of Pakistani government, would help in poverty alleviation and improving individual livelihoods.

Under Phase II, an important dimension is industrial relocation for which nine Special Economic Zones (SEZs) are being established along the route, he said.

"These SEZs through the provision of quality infrastructure and favorable policies offer attractive opportunities for enterprises from China and other countries to set up their businesses and manufacturing facilities," Haque added.

CPEC has been and remains a central pillar of Pakistan's overall socio-economic development strategy. Even during the pandemic, CPEC mega projects such as the Lahore Orange Line, Azad Patan Hydropower Project, Rashakai SEZ, Peshawar-Karachi motorway and Gwadar have all made substantial progress.

The ambassador's comments were echoed by a Chinese manager who is working for the Gwadar port.

"Amid the pandemic, we made sure that there was not a single COVID-19 case among 3,000 Chinese and local employees, which guaranteed the operation resumption and ensured the port's development," a manager of Gwadar port surnamed Lin told the Global Times.

"We expanded our business scope which includes cargo transshipment service for Afghanistan. The expansion not only increased the cargo throughput, but also ensured the goods supply for Pakistani and Afghan people," Lin added.

Bright future

Citing Indian Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria, the Times of India reported recently that Pakistan has become a pawn in China's policy and its military dependence on China would increase further in view of the debt due to the CPEC.

 "China-Pakistan friendship is a factor of peace and stability in the region. It is not directed against any third country," Haque said.

"It is ironic that a senior Indian military official would make such an absurd statement, when in recent years India itself has become a stooge of the West, playing a second fiddle in their strategy to contain China," Haque added.

Haque also denied Western media speculations that connect CPEC with so-called "debt traps."

"Any attempt to connect CPEC with a so-called 'debt trap' would be absurd and reflect a gross lack of understanding of Pakistan's economy. This has been reflected in the recently concluded rating reviews by international credit rating agencies, all of which have reaffirmed their favorable assessment and outlooks for Pakistan," Haque told the Global Times in a recent interview.

On the contrary, Haque said, Chinese capital investment under the BRI, especially in capital-scarce emerging economies, has helped fill the gaps in infrastructure and connectivity that are essential to sustained growth and economic modernization.

"As we look beyond the pandemic, I have no doubt that these investments under BRI would play a major role in restoring global growth with CPEC leading the way," Haque said.