The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government continues efforts to dispel the United States’ concerns over the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with the foreign minister and the de-facto information minister reaffirming Islamabad’s commitment to the mega project on Sunday.
Speaking to reporters in Multan, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Islamabad had categorically rejected Washington’s claims on CPEC and its impact on Pakistan’s economy.
“We do not agree with the [American] assessment and we have conveyed as much. In fact, we have expedited CPEC projects and have initiated the second phase of its implementation,” he said.
The minister asserted that China’s share in Pakistan’s overall debt burden was minimal and that the mega project would only have a positive impact.
“Pakistan’s total debt burden is $74 billion of which CPEC is only $4.9bn. CPEC is a gamechanger for the entire region and there is no restriction for any country, including the US, to invest in the special economic zones being established under CPEC,” said Qureshi.
In a series of tweets earlier on Sunday, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Firdous Ashiq Awan said CPEC was a top priority for Pakistan and would be a harbinger of economic development and prosperity for the entire region.
She said the economic zones established under CPEC would generate more job opportunities for Pakistanis and help address one of the country’s most pressing challenges.
Referring to the commercial loans Pakistan has taken from China, the PM’s aide said a reduction in the figure would be witnessed in the years to come.
Firdous said the friendship between Pakistan and China had withstood the test of time and appreciated Beijing for its unwavering support over the years.
“Pakistan and China’s friendship has assumed a proverbial status; it really is sweeter than honey, higher than the Himalayas, and deeper than the oceans.”
On Saturday, Planning Minister Asad Umar issued a strong rebuttal to America’s concerns regarding CPEC: “The CPEC projects are not a burden on Pakistan’s economy. Instead, they have provided a strong basis for industrial growth in the times to come.”
“There is no controversy over the CPEC projects. All provinces are on board and foresee a positive impact of these projects on the economy in the long-run,” he said.
Umar’s presser came a day after Chinese Ambassador in Islamabad Yao Jing spurned the criticism of CPEC by US Acting Secretary for South Asia Alice Wells who said Pakistan faced long-term economic damage with little return if China keeps pursuing its giant infrastructure push.
Speaking at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Wells said private US investment, coupled with US grants, would improve the fundamentals of Pakistan’s troubled economy. “There is a different model,” she said. “Worldwide we see that US companies bring more than just capital; they bring values, processes and expertise that build the capacities of local economies.”
Umar said Pakistan wanted to work with all the nations. “The unity between Pakistan and China is against no nations [including the US],” he said. “We welcome US investment offer in Pakistan,” Umar added. “US investors were, are, and would be welcome to invest in Pakistan. They have already been investing in Pakistan and earn handsome profits.”
However, he made it clear that Pakistan’s friendly relations with China remained “higher than the Himalayas and deeper than the Arabian Sea” which would “continue to grow”.
Ambassador Yao, in his scathing rejoinder to Wells, said China has always come forward to assist Pakistan in need without any political or government differences. At the same time, he questioned why the US had suspended its promised aid to Pakistan only because of political priorities.
Asad endorsed Ambassador Yao’s statement that China has always stood by Pakistan in times of need. “China has helped us at times when no one else was with us,” he said. “The friendly relationship would be strengthened further. The [relationship with China] would never be rolled back.”
The Chinese envoy also sought to enlist Pakistani media’s help in nullifying the effects of propaganda against CPEC. Umar agreed that anti-Pakistan elements had run a wide but foiled campaign against the CPEC projects. “I don’t know,” he said when asked if the United States was part of the campaign.
The United States has gone on the offensive against China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a signature project of President Xi Jinping which aims to build ports, highways and railways around the world. The multibillion-dollar CPEC is a part of President Xi’s BRI vision.