China has rejected accusations that its financial backing for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was a “debt trap” that could compromise Islamabad’s sovereignty.
China has billed the Gwadar to Kashgar corridor as the flagship of China-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) — a comprehensive giant connectivity project in Eurasia.
Mounting a robust defence of its no-strings-attached backing for CPEC, China’s visiting state Councilor and Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, asserted during an Islamabad press conference on Saturday that among the 22 projects within the framework of CPEC, 18 of them are directly invested or offered aid by the Chinese side, and only four of them used China’s concessional loan.
70,000 new jobs
He stressed that nine of these projects have already been completed and 13 are under construction.
The Chinese state Councillor clarified that only $19 billion had been invested in the CPEC, which had generated 70,000 new jobs. Pakistan’s growth rate is expected to be pushed by 1% or 2%.
During the first phase, CPEC’s focus has been on energy and infrastructure projects. It was now up to the Pakistani side to drive the trajectory of the “next phase” of the undertaking, Mr. Wang said.
An editorial in the Dawn newspaper said Mr. Wang’s visit offered a “good opportunity for the government to clarify all issues with the Chinese authorities regarding CPEC, and its own thinking on the project’s future”.
During his talks in Islamabad, Mr. Wang has apparently got solid support for CPEC from the Pakistan’s military — an institution that is known to play a decisive role in critical decision-making.
Army assures support
Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan Army chief, assured Mr. Wang that the military will “guarantee” the smooth development of CPEC, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
“[Mr.] Wang said that the Pakistani military is the protector of the China-Pakistan friendship, and the bilateral military relations are an important part of the all-weather strategic cooperative partnership between the two countries and a symbol of their high political mutual trust,” Xinhua said.
Gen. Bajwa also reassured Mr. Wang, Pakistan’s commitment to firmly fight the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) as part of its counterterrorism effort. The ETIM was founded by Uyghur separatists whose stated goal is to establish East Turkestan as a separate state in Xinjiang.
In talks on Afghanistan, Mr. Wang spotlighted the undiminished relevance of the trilateral China-Pakistan-Afghanistan dialogue as a platform to align perceptions between Islamabad and Kabul.
The Chinese state Councillor said that Pakistan-Afghanistan ties had started improving, which highlighted the continued importance of uninterrupted dialogue among the three.
Last year, at the inaugural meeting of the trilateral mechanism in Beijing, Mr. Wang had offered Afghanistan’s possible participation in CPEC. China has also apparently agreed to train an Afghan mountain brigade without putting any boots on the ground in Afghanistan.
Mr. Wang’s visit has followed the presence in Pakistan of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whose talks in Islamabad also focused on Afghanistan.