ISLAMABAD: The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will remain exclusive to the ‘all-weather friends’ as Saudi Arabia will not be given a seat in the multi-billion dollar project’s decision-making body – the Joint Cooperation Committee.
“Saudi Arabia will not be part of the institutional framework of CPEC,” said Federal Minister for Planning and Development Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar at a press conference in Islamabad on Tuesday.
He, however, added that the strategic initiative was open as third-country investment.
Bakhtiar – flanked by Federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry – was responding to a question whether Saudi Arabia will be given representation at the JCC and the Joint Working Groups (JWGs).
The two-tier institutional arrangement monitors progress on the ongoing schemes and takes decision on including or removing a project from CPEC.
Saudi delegation to size up investment opportunities in Gwadar, Punjab
The 8th JCC meeting is tentatively scheduled to take place in China in December.
The planning minister’s statement would bring an end to the ambiguity over the actual role Saudi Arabia would play in CPEC.
Two weeks ago, the information minister had announced that Pakistan offered the Gulf country partnership in CPEC.
Bakhtiar’s statement affirms the reports that China is not forthcoming in opening the bilateral arrangement to third countries.
“Saudi Arabia’s close relations with the US is another matter of concern,” sources told The Express Tribune.
Bakhtiar said, “Any country can invest in CPEC on a project-to-project basis.”
He said Saudi Arabia or any other country “can enter into a trilateral investment framework” and added the third-party investment framework had been designed in consultation with China.
A Saudi delegation is currently visiting Pakistan to finalise projects for investment. Information Minister Fawad said that Finance Minister Asad Umar would soon brief the media about the Saudi Arabian investment package.
Responding to a question, Bakhtiar, the planning minister, said he was not aware of any decision on reducing the loan component of Main Line-1 (ML-1) project of Pakistan Railways from $8.2 billion to $6.2 billion.
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The project is supposed to be financed by China, but its financing modalities and feasibility studies remained incomplete even after four years.
Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad had claimed on Monday that Pakistan had decided to reduce the ML-1 loan component by $2 billion.
The planning minister reiterated that the PTI government would not take financial risks by completing mega projects on the Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC) model and would instead shift the entire financing risks to contractors.
Under the original CPEC plan, China had promised to give $6.2 billion out of the then estimated cost of $8.2 billion of the mainline project.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) was required to give $2 billion loan, but China opposed the plan and ousted the ADB. Under the May 2017 framework agreement, the project will be solely funded by China.
Bakhtiar came hard on the last PML-N government for its “bad governance” and “wrong priorities” over CPEC.
“CPEC is like a five-day test match, but the PML-N government played it like a T-20 match,” he said while drawing an analogy from the cricket world.
The planning minister said the previous government had set the CPEC priorities on political considerations, which was injustice to the people of Pakistan. He also criticised the PML-N for ignoring development in Gwadar.
Responding to another question, Bakhtiar said the new government would implement only those imported fuel fired projects that had already been agreed upon between China and Pakistan. He added those imported fuel fired projects which were in the pipeline would be dropped from CPEC.
The minister assured that the PTI government would take forward the CPEC projects that were in the implementation phase.
He said the last government allocated only Rs172 billion for CPEC schemes as against the total requirements of Rs192 billion for the ongoing fiscal year.
Bakhtiar said that Pakistan and China had also agreed to set up a new working group on socioeconomic development to deepen cooperation in education, health, agriculture, housing and poverty alleviation.
“The PML-N government did not give importance to the ML-I project the way it gave preference to the $2 billion Orange Line Project and the $6 billion road projects,” he lamented.
He said that out of indicative financing size of $50 billion, over $28 billion CPEC projects were currently under various stages of implementation.
The planning minister said Pakistan’s current oil import bill of $16 billion could be easily cut into half by setting up an oil refinery in the country.
Meanwhile, the Saudi delegation visited Gwadar on Tuesday to take stock of the investment opportunities in the port city.
The six-member delegation was led by Saudi Minister for Energy and Minerals Ahmed Hamad Al Ghamdi. It visited the Gwadar Port, Karwat Desalination Plant and Gwadar Free Trade Zone.
Chairman Gwadar Port Authority Dostain Jamaldini and Director General GDA Sajjad Hussain briefed the Saudi delegation in detail regarding CPEC and Gwadar Port.
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