BEIJING: China on Tuesday sought to defend the massive trade corridor project with Pakistan after Prime Minister Imran Khan reportedly decided to slash Chinese investments and review the multi-billion dollar CPEC project.
The new government in Pakistan is reportedly concerned over heavy Chinese loans under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC which, it fears, could push the country into a debt trap.
Last week, Pakistan’s Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid announced a cut in the cost of a railway project under the CPEC from $8.2 billion to $6.2 billion, saying Pakistan cannot afford huge loans. Besides, Imran Khan had said that the CPEC was under review.
Responding to the developments, the Chinese foreign ministry said the media has been focusing on only one aspect of the issue. Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said China and Pakistan were equal partners in the CPEC and the terms and rules were fair to both nations.
“You have only noted some aspects of the report. Recently, on the advancement of the CPEC, we have noted that there are different comments on the reports from the media,” Lu said at a press briefing.
“…the new Pakistani Prime Minister has made it clear that he will support the advancement of the CPEC and the CPEC serves the economic and social development. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) also made it clear that the advancement of CPEC did not cause any burden to Pakistan and stated in the long term it will enhance Pakistan’s capacity for development… We should view such kind of comments in a comprehensive way,” Lu said.
The $50 billion corridor that connects Kashgar in western China with Gwadar port in Pakistan, spanning 3,000 kilometres, is one of the pain points in ties between India and China. India has right from the start protested against China’s CPEC push as the corridor passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
“We hope you can see that CPEC as a very important project of the Belt and Road initiative. From the beginning, we have said that we follow the principle of extensive consultation and joint contribution. And also as for the choice for the projects and other aspects, China and Pakistan have conducted consultations on the basis of equality,” the spokesperson said.
The CPEC is the chief component of China’s ambitious Belt and Road project which envisages connecting Asia, Africa and Europe through a network of highways, seaports and lanes. The estimated cost of the Belt and Road is about $1 trillion of which China has pledged some $60 billion for the CPEC. Critics say Pakistan may not be able to pay back the debt and end up becoming its satellite colony.