National and International Issues

CPEC: The Way Forward

During the mid-1950s, Chairman Mao said that Pakistan is the window for China to access the rest of the world. It was the time of Blockade of China by the West. At this point in China’s history Chairman Mao had a vision about China-Pakistan relations. He appointed his close friend and trusted confidant General Geng Biao as Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan from 1956 to 59 to further strengthen this relationship. In this era of military rule in Pakistan, General Geng Biao got very close to military rulers of the time and laid down the strong foundation of our friendship, which still remains unshakeable and unbreakable. In spite of frequent political changes in both countries, the friendship sustained. Even Pakistan’s close alliance with the West during the Cold War era did not deter our relation with China. General Geng Biao assessed the importance of Pakistan and connectivity between the two countries by road to connect China with the Indian Ocean or Arabian Sea. Karakorum Highway (KKH) was his brainchild and origin of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). President Xi, General Biao’s staff officer at one point, was very close to him, the General was his mentor, one can even say his true predecessor. President Xi inherited his love for Pakistan from him. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was announced by President Xi in September 2013 but the idea behind was the same which he inherited from General Geng Biao. BRI is an improved and refined version which meets the requirements of today’s circumstances.


Only industrialization can kick-start Pakistan’s rapid economic development, as it will solve the ethnic, political and social issues. Pakistan can be a united, tolerant and stable state if industrialization succeeds in this country.

We need to focus on long-term and medium-term projects. The short-term measures would meet the current economic situation immediately, and provide immediate relief to the public. The medium-term projects may produce results in the next ten years’ time. Maybe the current leadership is not in power, but whatever they sow, the benefits will be reaped by the people of Pakistan. The long-term projects are necessary for keeping Pakistan’s sustainable growth and maybe our next generation will be the beneficiary. Anyhow, we have an obligation to hand over a prosperous Pakistan to our children and grandchildren.


BRI has been recognized by around 100 countries and international organizations. It is an initiative of connectivity further aiming towards creating harmony, promoting trade and exchanges among nations, as portrayed by its message of “peace, harmony and prosperity”. There are 6 economic corridors, one of them being CPEC – a flagship project, one of the most feasible and important. CPEC is a blessing for Pakistan under the prevailing circumstances when the West has written us off, we must avail this opportunity to take-off economically. Whatever challenges we may face, we must overcome them and make CPEC a success story and a role model for the rest of the world to follow.



Cause of Misinformation

CPEC is a topic of frequent discussion in Pakistan. With many experts offering their point of view and a wide variety of perceptions, a lot of confusion is being generated in the minds of the public. What is the root cause of this misunderstanding? First of all, we have to understand the Western media, which is extremely biased against China and is busy disseminating false information about BRI and CPEC deliberately. Due to a lack of understanding of the Chinese language, Pakistani scholars and researchers are forced to only refer to Western literature, which is in English language and easily available. English being the official language in Pakistan is widely understood, especially among scholars and researchers. As the source of information for them is literature written by Western scholars, by default it is wrong to utilize such biased sources.
As a matter of fact, China is a unique country and cannot be compared with any Western country. To understand China, one needs to understand Chinese history, traditions, habits, politics, culture, philosophy, economics, society and system of government. To be an expert on China one needs to understand the Chinese language, experience life in China and integrate into the Chinese society extensively. As the Chinese people are conservative and cannot mix with foreigners very easily, one needs long-term association to understand them. Thus, to understand Chinese psychology, extensive interaction is required. The Chinese culture is rich and the traditions are so diverse that it makes it very difficult for any foreigner to grasp them.

Unfortunately, there are many self-proclaimed experts on China in many countries including Pakistan, but as a matter of fact, they have only read a few articles or books on China, which may be authored by some Western scholars which is, to say the least, totally misleading and against the realities. The worst is the case in Pakistan, the people engaged with CPEC are not really experts on China and with their limited knowledge, they compare everything with the West, which is a major cause of misunderstanding and wrong decisions.
On the other hand, there is no scarcity of experts on China in this country. There are around 20,000 to 30,000 Pakistanis who have studied in China, and lived in China for a long time, they understand Chinese language, culture, traditions, systems, and politics etc. To me, whosoever has studied in Chinese medium in China, and lived in China for 5 years, can be termed as a China expert. He or she might have a degree in any specialization, but his or her knowledge about China is sufficient to be called an expert. The first batch of Pakistani students traveled to China for higher education in 1974, which means that we may have graduates from China with up to 40 years of experience.

The CPEC Challenge

China spent a couple of decades to plan the One Belt, One Road initiative. After the unveiling of the concept in 2013 in Kazakhstan, research and consultations were undertaken widely, with many universities and research centers in China dedicatedly engaged in the improvement of this concept. While in Pakistan, we had not planned anything and we were not ready for CPEC. Most of the projects under CPEC were not negotiated properly and events were not understood well, or evaluated, and terms and conditions were not discussed with the relevant stakeholders. Owing to lack of interest and poor management we have not been able to achieve the desired results. There also exists an attitude that CPEC is a Chinese initiative and thus should be left alone for China to handle, and so we should keep ourselves away.
While it is important that we understand CPEC well in its true spirit in terms of Chinese perception and thought process, what is more urgent is that we need proper planning and our own priorities have to be given importance. Various stakeholders should be involved, a public debate initiated, and a technology-foresight style study conducted before finalizing any mega projects under CPEC. Serious negotiations on technical and commercial aspects of all projects should be conducted. While considering any project, environmental and social impact assessment should be studied properly. We must strive to make all projects fruitful at all costs in all aspects. Proper management of CPEC projects is desired at all stages to achieve its full benefits.

Till date, the focus was on early harvest projects, which were our immediate need and to some extent, it was a political requirement of PML-N. They were interested to focus only on such projects which could be completed before the 2018 Elections and could obtain political mileage.

The Way Forward

However, now we need to focus on long-term and medium-term projects. The short-term measures would meet the current economic situation immediately, and provide immediate relief to the public. The medium-term projects may produce results in the next ten years’ time. Maybe the current leadership is not in power, but whatever they sow, the benefits will be reaped by the people of Pakistan. The long-term projects are necessary for keeping Pakistan’s sustainable growth and maybe our next generation will be the beneficiary. Anyhow, we have an obligation to hand over a prosperous Pakistan to our children and grandchildren.
Under early harvest projects, Pakistan has overcome its electricity shortage to a great extent and hopefully, after completion of ongoing projects, the issue may be resolved completely. Road networks along the length and breadth of Pakistan have been greatly improved. The ongoing projects of roads will be completed within the next couple of years, and Pakistan may become the most developed country in this part of the world. The ML-1 project is almost ready to take off and once completed, the railway system in Pakistan may stand among the best in the region.
Gwadar deep-sea port is partially functional and work on its completion is being undertaken at a fast pace. Upon completion, it will be the biggest sea-port of the region with a capacity of 500 million tons of cargo per year. It will serve as a commercial hub and connection point for all major routes between the Middle East and rest of the world.

The true potential of CPEC can be achieved by the industrialization of Pakistan. Pakistan is blessed with almost all types of natural resources, agriculture, minerals, and mining etc. Pakistan’s additional strength is its youth, which comprises 70% of its population that is under the age of 35 years.
However, we need to educate and train our youth to be productive and become an active contributor to the socio-economic development of the nation.
China is facing a shortage of workforce and labor cost is increasing rapidly. Chinese products may not be competitive anymore, and the international market may not accommodate them. China, being a close friend of Pakistan, is willing to shift its labor-intensive industry to Pakistan immediately. A labor-intensive industry may provide jobs for Pakistani youth and provide them with a platform to develop various skills to grow further. Once this trend is established, Pakistan may enter into medium and hi-tech industry too.


China, being a close friend of Pakistan, is willing to shift its labor-intensive industry to Pakistan immediately. A labor-intensive industry may provide jobs for Pakistani youth and provide them with a platform to develop various skills to grow further. Once this trend is established, Pakistan may enter into medium and hi-tech industry too.


Pakistan has identified 9 Special Economic Zones (SEZs) already and three of them are at an advanced stage of completion, but Pakistan has a bitter experience of SEZs in the past; whether it was Gadoon, Hattar, Nooriabad or any other, most of them did not produce satisfactory results. It is time to identify the problems and issues and learn lessons from the previous mistakes. New SEZs may be conceived carefully and the Government should ensure their success through liberal policies. As a guideline, I may recommend that SEZs should not be allowed to turn into real estate projects, the tax policies may be long-term or forever, and incentives should be guaranteed for reasonable durations. Sustainable policies and facilitation in the long-term may become the key to their success.
Only industrialization can kick-start Pakistan’s rapid economic development, as it will solve the ethnic, political and social issues. Pakistan can be a united, tolerant and stable state if industrialization succeeds in this country.
It is not the committees or councils, which can run CPEC. It is the right choice for the right job which really matters. The success of CPEC depends on how we utilize our experts on China. There is a dire need to understand CPEC in its original spirit like the Chinese perspective. It needs to be planned well based on our national needs and priorities. We must negotiate each and every project with the Chinese side to make it beneficial for both countries. Execution of CPEC should be efficient and within the timelines and scope. All deals should be transparent and merit based. CPEC will definitely elevate Pakistan’s position to join the club of prosperous countries of the world. Pakistan has all such potentials and China will play its role as the catalyst. We need to work hard and stand on our own feet, and China will assist us.

I would suggest to form a CPEC Commission on the same lines like strategic organizations, with a mixture of civil-military leadership and may act independently or more autonomously, without having any effect of change of political leadership. It will be a more sustainable and productive way of managing CPEC in the long run.


The writer is a sinologist (ex-diplomat), Non-Resident Fellow of Center for China and Globalization, National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Islamabad.
E-mail: [email protected]

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