Mian Fazal Ahmad  - The recent historic visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping promised an investment of $34 billion in the energy sector and an $11 billion in the proposed Economic Corridor. This does have the potential to be a real game changer for Pakistan as well as for the region as a whole. It has also sent signals of stability & investment friendly messages globally for Pakistan economy. The military establishment and parliamentary support to the cooperation has fortified the elevated Pak-China cooperation endeavour. Chinese national economy today is the strongest in the world with its highest foreign exchange reserves globally touching $3.6 trillion and GDP in double digits. China is now a major investor in foreign markets. At the same time, the economic corridor linking China with Gwadar would be one of the biggest land route trade routes in the world providing access from China to hot waters, and the Middle East thus providing new avenues for boosting Chinese trade.

To implement the projects planned with Sinopak collaboration, the Government has done well to reserve a strong security task force to provide reliable security cover for the manpower assigned for the covering projects.

The real challenges for Pakistan Government would be to implement all the projects with the state of the art management techniques, professionalism and transparency rather than the outdated “Babu culture” and red-taped methodologies. Fast track working systems are available for projects planning & execution without delays and consequent cost overruns.

The economic corridor is a major challenging project. According to Wikipedia “The China-Pakistan” Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a development mega project that aims to connect Gwadar Port in southwestern Pakistan to China’s northwestern autonomous region of Xinjiang, via a network of highways, railways and pipelines to transport oil and gas. The economic corridor is considered central to China-Pakistan relations and will run about 3,000 km from Gwadar to Kashgar. Overall construction costs are estimated at $46 billion, with the entire project expected to be completed in several years. The Corridor is an extension of China’s proposed 21st century Silk Road initiative. According to a first post report, “this is the biggest overseas investment by China announced yet and the corridor is expected to be operational within three years and will be a strategic game changer in the region, which would go a long way in making Pakistan a richer and stronger entity than ever before.”

It would require realistic surveys, design & implementation to avoid hold ups & delays. On the route, industrial estates can be established to promote industrialisation. This project is likely to generate tremendous employment opportunities for skilled workers and professionals. Additional trained manpower would also be needed for the venture. The project would generate toll revenues to be shared by Pakistan and China apart from other economic benefits in exports boost. Local construction industry would also be benefited in a big way. Infrastructure development for both countries play a key role in boosting economy.

Energy projects worth $34 billion have been signed which involve coal-based thermal and small hydel projects as well as wind & solar ones. It is understood that Thar coal would be used which is a positive factor to cut generation cost being a local fuel. In the case of coal projects, environment issues have to be addressed to avoid air pollution with sulphur ridden gases. Hydel, solar and wind power projects are environmental friendly and produce energy at comparatively lower costs. For coal based projects, additional transportation facilities would be needed. In all projects of power generation, fast track implementation strategies will be required. At the same time, related transmission facilities would be required simultaneously, otherwise additional power generation would not be utilised.

All the energy projects need to be executed in a transparent manner with competitive bidding process. Project planning and execution methodologies will have to be done using latest technologies & updated know-how. With stereotyped and outmoded procedures and red-tapism, all projects are likely to be delayed extensively resulting in costs overruns. These may not be completed before 2020 if implementation methodologies are not updated and made free from red-tapism.

Gwader Port will assume role of an important national shipping port for imports and exports handling. With Chinese involvement in management and operation of the Port, it is going to be an international sea port of global standards. It will also change the geo-political paradigm in the Indian Ocean.

(The writer is Chairman S/C Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry)