Pakistan’s recent handling of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), where Pakistani representatives keep publicly hinting towards rearranging CPEC and reviewing projects, risk offending China when there had never really been any bad will amongst the two countries. The project was not only heavily advertised but has also been promised that it would bring prosperity to several impoverished regions of the country.

It started with Abdul Razzak Dawood, commerce, textiles, industries and investment advisor advisor to the Prime Minister (PM), who stated to the Financial Times that Pakistan was mulling over a review of the CPEC agreement with China, citing Islamabad’s unease with what it claims was unjust benefit being enjoyed by Beijing-owned companies. This evoked a strong reaction from the Chinese government, with the Chinese Embassy replying that CPEC was a mutually beneficial product. Although the Pakistani government at that time retracted the statement and reiterated their commitment to CPEC, it seems PM Imran Khan has decided to stroke the flames by again stating that Pakistan is reviewing projects under CPEC to restore the interests of the people of Balochistan. Khan’s remarks about the CPEC projects came as he chaired a Balochistan cabinet meeting on Saturday in Quetta during his first visit to the province as the prime minister.

It is fine to renegotiate and review CPEC terms and Pakistan has the right to safeguard its interests by inquiring if the fruits of CPEC will also be reaped by the Pakistani people, particularly the Baloch, where most of CPEC projects are planned to be. However, the government needs to do it in a way that is diplomatic and with the cooperation of all parties. If a review has to be done, it had to be through diplomatic means of talks, mutual cooperation and agreement, not through confrontation. A decision of review should have been made through both Chinese and Pakistani forums. To announce publically and unilaterally gives the wrong impression of hostility between China and Pakistan.

It should be understood by the Pakistani government that CPEC is a vulnerable project, which has stroked some flames internationally. With increased hostility between China and United States during the Trump era, breakdown of Pakistan-China relations can be easily exploited. CPEC is a crucial project for Pakistan’s way forward- it should not be undermined for political millage, as it seems to be in this case.