The zeitgeist of the present age is globalisation which has shrunk the world into a small village via the onslaught of means of information and technology. The phenomenon of globalisation, unleashed in the post-cold war era, has holistically changed the matrix of world politics. Where it has significantly impacted states in their social and political spheres, there it has phenomenally influenced states’ interaction with one another in economic spheres. Given that, in the globalised world and a free market, the more a state is economically well-connected, the more efficiently it can cope with vicissitudes of globalisation.

Isolation is no more an option for any state in an era dictated by globalisation. Knowing the price of economic isolation, which is almost akin to suicide in the present globalised world, not only states individually but, also collectively, in the shape of regions through formation of economic corridors, have been striving hard to create multiple avenues for their economic ventures in order to effectively catch up with the spirit of globalisation.

Like in the rest of the world, where states, either in their individual capacity or collectively in the shape of a region, have been striving to catch up with globalisation through multifarious economic ventures, South Asia, a region pitted against frail economies, political downfall, social and religious cleavages and the resultant inherent discords among various states, has been witnessing one such economic venture which is, though, bilateral in nature, will impact the whole region.

Yes, the venture is China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is one of the projects of China’s 13 five-year development plans that will help her connect with Central Asia, Middle East and Europe. CPEC, which is a $61 billion project stewarded by China and will last from 2015 to 2030, is being touted as a game changer for Pakistan’s economy, which we (the authors) support, because of the huge development it is bringing in its lap through a plethora of projects. Yet there is a cynical approach prevalent among some sectors, which once used to be important pillars of Pakistan’s economy, as the government has not been completely clear about its plans vis-à-vis CPEC; as a result, a sense of disillusionment among some sectors is gaining momentum with respect to true nature of the CPEC. There is a dire need to approach this project in a more nuanced way so that the grievances of those having a major stake in Pakistani’s economy can be catered to.

To impress upon the readers a nuanced understanding of CPEC, here is an illustration. Under CPEC, Chinese state-owned companies are, and will be, allowed to develop Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in Pakistan. What will be the nature, scope and working of the SEZs? We don’t know. How will they impact the Pakistani industry and agriculture? How will Pakistani industrialists and agriculturalists be able to compete with Chinese state-owned companies? Won’t it have unimaginably dangerous effects for the local business class of Pakistan? The answers to these questions, we believe, might not subscribe to the ongoing political discourse about CPEC which is very rosy in nature.

No rocket science is needed to comprehend the grievances of the local business community. For example, China is a bigger economy and has the latest technological tools to enhance their productivity to better excel in the market. Pakistani business class is, on the contrary, facing so many problems, ranging from shortage of power to waves of political instability. If a product costs China 20 rupees, thus setting a market price, for instance, 28 rupees for that product in Pakistan; however, the same product is being made by a Pakistani company in 30 rupees. How will it be able for any Pakistani businessman to compete in the market?

Policy makers at the helm in CPEC are cold-shouldering business owners by being indifferent to their concerns, expressed Ijaz Khokhar, Central Chairman Pakistan Readymade Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (PRGMEA). If objectively studied, a popular narrative has been rearing its ugly head in the unfolding of CPEC discourse in Pakistan in which any one coming up with a counter-narrative to the rosy picture of CPEC is cornered in the mainstream media and is branded as a traitor who is against Pakistan making its way through this venture to economic development.

Prudence dictates listening to what our own business class is feeling, observing and expecting to come out of CPEC. How can the state protect its interests in the face of large and powerful Chinese companies? How will Pakistani companies market themselves when they don’t have the facilities to capitalise on this opportunity?

Overall, the government in Pakistan has a bad tendency of papering over the cracks in policy making. There is nothing bad if someone has some reservations regarding the CPEC. CPEC is not a holy cow, or a divine thing. Every Pakistani has a right to question and to know what the government is doing or intends to do. We pay taxes and have a democratically elected government. Our representatives are answerable to us; hence, it is urged, on behalf of concerned citizens’ lot, to policy makers at the helm to make CPEC as inclusive as possible by sharing terms and agreements signed with China.

Moreover, as students of politics, our advocacy for a more inclusive approach towards CPEC on part of Pakistan is not solely to make CPEC win-win in its nature, but also is aimed at bringing into the spotlight an interplay of politics and economics in the aftermath of actualisation of CPEC. There is no gainsaying the fact that politics and economics deeply influence each other in reciprocal ways. Any blind economic venture with China on part of Pakistan without taking into confidence its citizens’ lot, might turn out to be a short-changed transaction, and because of social backlash it will invoke among citizens. We need not reject CPEC, but we must have a selectively protectionist approach because China is an economic giant and we are politically a fragile democracy.

Cooperation is the only rule to survive in the age of globalisation, but blind economic cooperation on the part of any state without taking into confidence its citizens’ trust, who bear its brunt directly, will not ultimately lead to long lasting desired outcome of economic cooperation.

Inamullah Marwat is an MPhil scholar studying International Relations at the Department of Political Science in University of the Punjab, Lahore.  Farah Adeed is a student of Political Science and Sociology at the University of Punjab, Lahore.