China and Pakistan have now invited any third country to join the multibillion-dollar infrastructure project for what they call mutually beneficial cooperation as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) encounters hurdles owing to financial constraints and excessive delays.
The CPEC Joint Working Group (JWG) on International Cooperation and Coordination held a meeting on Friday 22nd July 2022. In this meeting, the foreign office issued a statement that said, “As an open and inclusive platform, both sides welcomed interested third parties to benefit from avenues for mutually beneficial cooperation opened up by CPEC.”
During the meeting, both sides reviewed the continued implementation of CPEC and its expansion to jointly agreed on priority areas. It is notable that in 2018, Pakistan invited Saudi Arabia to be the third ‘strategic’ partner in the CPEC. Now, this time, both China and Pakistan are seeking the direct involvement of a third country in this mega project.
According to reports, China and Pakistan have discussed expanding the CPEC to Afghanistan in order to foster economic development and stability in the Taliban-ruled country in exchange for guarantees on security and human rights, especially girls’ education.
Current situation of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor
At a time when Pakistan is being pounded by a domestic financial crisis, the $65 billion mega project has started its second stage. Additionally, China is also dealing with a real estate crisis and an increase in depositor protests. The CPEC is the central focus of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims to reintroduce historic trade networks by creating a modern-day Silk Road that links it to the south and southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.
China has given a significant boost to the BRI, which is at the heart of its foreign strategy. As part of the interconnectivity project, it was extensively spent on the construction of power plants, harbors, trains, 5G networks, and the installation of fiber-optic cables along the route.
CPEC is one of China’s most significant projects in a single country. It was intended to demonstrate the success of the BRI while also allowing China to harness connections with its ally in order to get licenses and protection assurances for its projects. However, China’s inability to pitch CPEC as a roaring success and template has caused a setback to other BRI projects that are also in debt.
Pakistan and the CPEC problems
For Pakistan, CPEC was envisioned to be a boon when Chinese President Xi Jinping and the then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif launched the CPEC in 2015. Seven years down the line, it has proved more of a curse for Pakistan’s economy. Islamabad was forced to import billions of dollars in materials for the project, which increased the country’s current account deficits. COVID-19 pandemic only added to the worries of the Islamic country.
Besides financial problems, security and corruption emerged as major issues plaguing the CPEC’s stretch passing through Pakistan. This is because a major part of this stretch passes through Balochistan and the Baloch people are resisting this project and the presence of the Chinese and Pakistani armed forces in the name of providing protection to and monitoring the construction works. Strong Baloch opposition to Islamabad’s control over their land has expressed itself in opposition to the CPEC projects.
The resource-rich Balochistan province, which has long been a hotbed for conflict, is a critical link in the CPEC. China is particularly interested in utilizing the area’s gold, gas, and coal reserves and wants to redevelop the dormant Gwadar port to get access to the Indian Ocean. According to analysts, the construction of a futuristic dock in Gwadar will open the door for the establishment of a Chinese army base there in the future. But this can be achieved in a streamlined manner only if there are no terror attacks, which seems to be a utopian case given that the site is in Pakistan.
Terrorist operations have frequently attacked CPEC infrastructure. Even Chinese soft power faces severe obstacles. Three Chinese instructors were among the four individuals slain by a Baloch suicide bomber at Karachi University earlier this year. China, therefore, urged Pakistan to take appropriate actions to avoid attacks on Chinese people working on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) facilities in Pakistan’s Balochistan province.
On the other hand, CPEC has also faced stiff opposition from the Baloch people, who contend that their region is being used for Islamabad’s profit, causing the area to remain underdeveloped. On this backdrop, a third country entering this initiative in no way looks like a deal that could be mutually beneficial.