By Liu Zongyi
Pakistan’s Sindh Province saw a bomb attack against Chinese engineers and small-scale protests against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) recently. Meanwhile, the Pakistani government claimed that anti-CPEC activities by foreign forces have been busted in Baluch Province. At the Beijing Forum held in Islamabad in late May, countries including the US and Japan have shown concerns over CPEC construction and even bluntly criticized the China-Pakistan friendship. CPEC is seeing intensifying opposition from both home and abroad, which, on the other hand, shows that CPEC construction has achieved major progress that gets on the nerves of opposition groups.
CPEC is a significant part of the “Belt and Road” initiative, which is not only a domestic strategy of China to open up its central and western regions, but also a regional and international development proposal. As a by-product of cooperation between China’s “Belt and Road” initiative and Pakistan’s domestic development plan, CPEC provides Pakistan with a historic opportunity to get connected with SAARC, ASEAN, and CAREC and so on to realize regional integration.
If Gwadar is developed into an international free port, Pakistan will become a center for regional trade and industry, transforming the marginalized status of Islamabad in regional economic integration. Therefore, the Pakistani government and the public regard CPEC as a game changer for the region and a fate changer for Pakistan. After Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Islamabad visit in April last year, CPEC construction has seen real progress. China-invested energy projects, which target the weak spots of Pakistan’s economic development, have made a number of major breakthroughs.
Coal, hydroelectric, wind, nuclear and solar power stations are springing up in Pakistan. In addition, infrastructural projects are in full swing to enhance domestic transportation in Pakistan and aid connectivity between Beijing and Islamabad. The Sukkur-Multan motorway has started its construction work, and the Western Alignment roadway network has been halfway completed. The construction of the Gwadar port and its auxiliary projects are comprehensively progressing. In the meantime, the Chinese side is gradually allocating loans to Pakistan in diversified forms based on the progress of the projects. CPEC’s progress may not be speedy enough to satisfy many Chinese scholars, but it has already impressed their Pakistani counterparts.
CPEC’s construction worries Pakistan’s domestic and foreign opposition groups. Some international forces tend to interpret CPEC and the “Belt and Road” initiative from a geopolitical perspective. This is partly due to their geopolitical competition mentality, and partly to our exaggeration of the initiative’s strategic significance and inappropriate ways of publicity.
When CPEC was first proposed, some opposition forces were suspicious of the determination and capability of the two nations to promote the project, and thus were attempting to thwart the project by provoking domestic political conflicts in Pakistan. However, after realizing CPEC is achieving real progress, they used more extreme means to upset and destroy the corridor construction. In this sense, the attack against Chinese engineers is just a beginning, which China and Pakistan should take seriously.
At the Beijing Forum, some harshly criticized CPEC, arguing that China’s commodities will flood Pakistan after the corridor is constructed, which will strike a heavy blow to Pakistan’s domestic industries and threaten the survival of Pakistan’s local banks. They criticized the current operation mode of CPEC as well. However, they disregarded CPEC’s positive effects on Pakistan’s international image, steel and iron industries, commercial activities, employment and the market prospects of the nation’s motorcycle industry.
The Pakistani government has created a special security division and will take further security measures to protect Chinese engineers. This suggests that the attacks against Chinese engineers will not succeed, and it is impossible for the opposition forces to thwart CPEC’s construction by terrorist attacks. However, the bomb attack suggests that loopholes exist in Pakistan and they have been exploited by opposition forces. The Pakistani government should strengthen its management capabilities.
Currently, low efficiency is the biggest obstacle to CPEC’s construction, which should be addressed by the joint efforts from governments of all levels and the army in Pakistan. If the CPEC can bring concrete benefits to local citizens after rapid development, the opposition will automatically become protectors of the corridor. The author is a research fellow of Shanghai Institutes for International Studies and a visiting fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.