China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has been the previous government’s most prized achievement. It was also a decisive strategic move that reverberated in the geopolitical arena, making it a project of the military too. As can be expected in these circumstances, inquiries into the efficacy or even the intricacies of this mega-project were met with either silence or rebuke. As a result, the national consensus stands overwhelmingly in favour of the project - and rightly so. However it’s hefty bill, which is starting to accrue now, as well as its vast potential, has led many to ask if the priorities of the project could be readjusted to meet the requirement of current times. Once a far-fetched notion, it seems both Pakistan and China would be amiable to a “readjustment”.
After an extensive meeting on Sunday, the Planning, Development and Reforms Commission of Pakistan and the National Development and Reforms Commission (NDRC) of China agreed to formally invite “third-country” investors to be part of the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and add social sector and regional development schemes to the existing portfolio of CPEC projects. These two major changes stand out in a slew of minor one that should align the CPEC more closely with the vision of the new Prime Minister.
While significant, it should be noted that the meeting represents the very early stages of the process; it would be more accurate to see this as a display of interest, and a willingness to discuss the proposals in more detail. Nothing concrete is on the table yet.
Regardless, a commonsense negotiation between the two countries would be beneficial to both. So far China has been both reasonable and receptive to Pakistani concerns and requirements, and has remained a steadfast strategic ally as well. A successful re-negotiation is very much on the cards. Especially when the example of Malaysia – whose new government has suspended Chinese projects – is held in comparison. Both countries need this to work, and both should try their utmost for a diligent and timely execution of the process.
The Pakistani government should also keep a few things in mind. It would be unfeasible to take on additional debt to finance new public sector projects of the kind Imran Khan wants. It would be better to focus on the already agreed Public Sector Development Projects (PSDP), none of which have been completed yet. Apart from several energy projects nothing from the “corridor” itself – road, rail, pipelines etc., has become operational yet. It would be wise not to jump the gun.