The government has dubbed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) a game-changer for the country economically, but the public was kept in the dark regarding what the project actually consisted of, beyond developing infrastructure and increasing the power generation capability of the country. However, a report by Dawn has changed all of this – released on Monday, the report expounds on the details of the Long Term Plan (LTP) with China, to be finalised in Beijing in the Pakistan government’s current visit to the Chinese capital. What was uncovered is more than a little surprising; the corridor is not just centred on plans to build a road linking the north from the south, but has details about various zones marked on Pakistani territory which will feature resource exploitation, agricultural and industrial production and investment opportunities for Chinese investors and enterprises.

The problem though, is that most of these plans give Chinese investors and producers the ability to lease thousands of acres of land, and penetrate nearly every facet of the Pakistani economy and culture and even potentially drive local producers out of the market, simply by utilising the many subsidies that will be made available. Chinese producers can set-up production units for all aspects of the agricultural supply chain, from seed dissemination and fertiliser production, to operating their own farms and competing with the local suppliers. If this is correct, the government’s need for secrecy becomes obvious – this is not likely to go down well with PML-N’s biggest support base, the farmers and rural landowners in Punjab.

Not only this, but another sector we have not yet heard mention of in the government’s discourse, is the textile sector, which – although in decline – is one of Pakistan’s biggest exporting sectors. With decline in local manufacturing, will local producers be able to keep up with the Chinese enterprises that will be stepping in?

Federal Minister of Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal, did not delay in terming the story “Dawn Leaks II” and factually incorrect, but he failed to mention where the disagreement lay. Whether the LTP actually allows for Chinese farmers and enterprises to step in and compete with local producers is something the government has not yet clarified. And while the government denies this report, it could have avoided this situation entirely had it been more forthcoming about the project. Transparency is important, and using national security to keep the project a secret will make the public suspicious, as it should be, if the contents of this report have any truth in them.