Projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are moving ahead of schedule and so far these schemes have generated 13,000 local jobs, China’s Ambassador to Islamabad Sun Weidong told participants at a forum organised by the Express Media Group on Monday.
Developments in relation to CPEC were occurring rapidly and both countries recently made minor adjustments to the priority list by upgrading schemes placed under ‘actively promoted projects’, said Ambassador Sun.
Speakers highlighted challenges and opportunities that the $54 billion investment package brought for Pakistan.
Last month, the Energy Expert Group agreed to upgrade another 660-megawatt (MW) Hubco coal-fired power plant to the prioritised list but downgraded the 1,320MW Rahim Yar Khan power project on its actively promoted list, which catalogues projects to be completed over the next five years. The group also upgraded the Oracle power project to the priority list.
The CPEC was ‘open and inclusive’ and other countries could benefit, said Ambassador Sun Weidong while responding to a question about linking Gwadar port with Iran’s Chabahar port.
Before the ambassador’s address, Ports and Shipping Minister Hasil Bizenjo said that Pakistan had proposed building an 85-kilometre-long road, creating a road link between Gwadar and Chabahar ports.
“Chabahar port cannot survive without Gwadar and both ports can complement each other,” said Bizenjo. The minister also underscored the need for prioritising railways projects, which are not progressing at a quicker pace. “Without a rail connection, CPEC is incomplete”, said Bizenjo.
The Chinese ambassador said that CPEC had already entered the implementation phase, and so far 18 under-construction projects generated 13,000 new jobs for local people. Sun said in its last meeting of Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) of the CPEC, both countries had agreed upon a new list of priority projects, medium- and long-term plans. He said this had given a new impetus to the CPEC implementation.
The ambassador said that many energy projects would become operational this year and the next year while construction of industrial zones was also set to begin soon. He said that a medium-term plan would be finalised this year.
However, the ambassador pointed out that action was key to CPEC construction.
Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal stressed upon the need for early groundbreaking of the New Gwadar International Airport and Eastbay Expressway – both projects are critical for making Gwadar port fully operational.
The Chinese authorities have not yet cleared these two projects, although they are part of the priority list.
Iqbal said that the groundbreaking ceremonies of the Gwadar International Airport and Eastbay Expressway would take place in a few months – this was also stated by the minister last year.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s lawmaker Asad Umar highlighted risks to the CPEC and the implications of the CPEC financial deals on the country’s economy.
The repayments of the CPEC loans may expose the country to yet another balance of payments crisis, if Pakistan did not improve its competitiveness, said Umar. He said that the loans obtained for CPEC projects were more expensive than other international loans obtained for various purposes.
Asad Umar said that Pakistan had become extremely uncompetitive in the world and projects initiated under the CPEC like energy and infrastructure schemes cannot help improve competiveness. “The signs of chronic external imbalances have already started appearing,” said Umar.
The CPEC is not solution to all the ills of Pakistan’s economy, he added.
Umar said that Pakistan’s businesses have also started feeling that the Chinese companies that are very competitive might overtake them. The involvement of Pakistani companies and labour is very less, which has given an impression that Pakistani companies are not part of the CPEC development, said Umar, who also heads National Assembly Standing Committee on Industries and Production.
However, the planning minister termed concerns of the business community “another conspiracy against the CPEC”.
The Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Khalid Iqbal also expressed concerns about adverse implications of preferential treatment to Chinese companies on local businesses.