–Beijing and Islamabad deny Financial Times report that claimed Pakistan is reviewing CPEC
–PM’s Adviser Dawood says parts of his interview on CPEC were taken out of context
–Chinese Foreign Ministry says Beijing and Pakistan have agreed to accelerate work on CPEC
–No action taken by either of two stakeholders against Financial Times yet
BEIJING/ISLAMABAD: China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is not under any review contrary to a recent report in the international media while both countries have not only rejected the notion but also reaffirmed their stance of strengthening the strategic partnership.
Reacting to a report in the Financial Times (FT), which claimed that Pakistan has mulled over ‘reviewing CPEC’, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday that both countries agreed to strengthen bilateral ties in all fields, adding that Beijing will continue its support to Islamabad and both countries have agreed to accelerate the CPEC plan.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Pakistan was mainly aimed to renew the traditional friendship, promote mutually beneficial cooperation in various areas and elevate the China-Pakistan, all-weather strategic cooperative partnership to a new high.
Geng mentioned that Wang Yi reached an important consensus with the Pakistani side on accelerating the construction of the CPEC and the achievements made by both sides in promoting the plan are obvious to all.
“China will support the Pakistani side to continue to firmly fight against terrorism in accordance with its national interest,” Geng remarked.
He further said that during the visit, Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with Pakistani President Dr Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan, Pakistani National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and with his Pakistani counterpart Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Islamabad. The two sides exchanged in-depth views on comprehensively deepening China-Pakistan all-weather strategic partnership and international and regional issues of common concern and reached consensus.
“China is willing to work with the new elected Pakistani government to make China-Pakistan relations a model of good-neighbourhood and friendship, a pillar of regional peace and stability, and a benchmark for building the Belt and Road Initiatives.”
‘CHINA BELIEVES IN MUTUAL TRUST’:
He also mentioned that the two sides agreed to further deepen strategic mutual trust, strengthen strategic cooperation, and more firmly support each other’s core and major interests, and communicate and coordinate more closely on major issues of common concern, while economically, the two sides will focus on people’s livelihood and strengthen development cooperation.
“China will encourage its aid to Pakistan in the areas of agriculture, education, healthcare, drinking water and other areas of people’s livelihood so that more people can receive tangible benefits,” he commented.
He said that the two sides will jointly promote the construction of the CPEC. At the same time, according to the next economic and social development priorities of Pakistan and the needs of the people, the future development path and cooperation direction of the corridor will be determined through consultation. Focus on accelerating industrial cooperation and construction of people’s livelihood projects, and gradually extending to the region, so that more Pakistani people can benefit from the corridor.
Geng said that in terms of safety, the two sides decided to strengthen defence and security cooperation.
“We will promote exchanges between the military and law enforcement agencies of the two countries and resolutely crack down on the terrorist forces like “East Turkmenistan Movement” he added.
The new Pakistani government has repeatedly stressed that it will continue to respect relations with China as the cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy.
“China has also continued to place Pakistan in the priority position of China’s foreign policy and neighbouring diplomacy,” Geng mentioned.
He further said that China and Pakistan are all-weather strategic partners. The friendship between China and Pakistan is not only reflected in the political field but also fully demonstrated in the field of economic cooperation.
‘PAK’S COMMITMENT UNWAVERING’:
Though both the countries have not taken any action against the newspaper so far, terming its commitment to CPEC under China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) as ‘unwavering’, Pakistan has called it a national priority, stressing that no propaganda could hold back the project.
An official statement issued by Ministry of Commerce stated that Pakistan has rejected the FT article, especially its title which is misquoting Adviser to Prime Minister on Commerce Abdul Razzaq Dawood.
“The article published in Financial Times entitled ‘Pakistan rethinks its role in China’s Belt and Road Plan’ is based on a statement taken out of context,” the statement said.
“Pakistan-China relations are impregnable and the government’s commitment to CPEC is unwavering,” the statement reads.
The statement added that Pakistan reassures the Chinese government that CPEC is a national priority for the government and the Chinese side also heightened the significance of CPEC for both sides.
“There is complete unanimity between the two sides on the future direction of CPEC,” the official statement said.
Referring to the recent visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the statement added that the two sides reiterated the ‘all-weather strategic cooperative partnership’ between Pakistan and China. Both governments also reaffirmed their commitment to CPEC, the statement said, adding that the statement attributed to Adviser to PM on Commerce and Textiles has been taken out of context and distorted.
Abdul Razzaq Daud also told journalists earlier in the day that his comments were published out of context.
‘CPEC BEING RECONSIDERED’:
Earlier, international business magazine Financial Times reported on Sunday that Pakistan is mulling over a review of the CPEC agreement with China, citing Islamabad’s unease with what it claims is unjust benefit being enjoyed by Beijing-origin companies.
According to the FT’s claim, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, who was in Pakistan over the weekend, indicated his country’s willingness to have discussions pertaining to the CPEC again. In this regard, options to extend the loan repayment period, among other plans, are being pondered upon.
Renowned economist Abdul Razzaq Dawood, who is also the advisor to prime minister Imran Khan on commerce, textiles, industries production and investment, is of the view that for the time being, all CPEC-related projects must be halted for at least a year. Deals that are giving illegal benefits to the Chinese companies need to be revisited and made anew, he added, since Pakistani companies are at a disadvantage.
Issuing a clarification, Dawood emphasised that Pakistan’s commitment to CPEC would not change. He added that during the recent visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, both countries decided to take their strategic partnership forward, stressing that commitments to CPEC would be honoured.
“The previous government did a bad job negotiating with China on CPEC — they didn’t do their homework correctly and didn’t negotiate correctly so they gave away a lot,” Dawood noted, as per FT.
“I think we should put everything on hold for a year so we can get our act together. Perhaps we can stretch CPEC out over another five years or so,” he added.
However, Dawood refuted the report later in the day, saying that the parts of his interview on CPEC were taken out of context.
“I will issue a detailed statement in the evening,” he said.
Michael Kugelman, the deputy director of the Wilson Centre’s Asia Programme, commented that slowing down the CPEC would be a major change against the policies of the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif-led government.
“A decision to slow down the #CPEC process would be a major change from the previous government’s policy,” Kugelman, a specialist on South Asian countries’ relations with the US, tweeted.
Several ministers and advisers, according to the FT, believe that the government should review CPEC-led investments in order to renegotiate the trade deal since it has unjustly benefitted the Chinese companies.
“Chinese companies received tax breaks, many breaks and have an undue advantage in Pakistan; this is one of the things we’re looking at because it’s not fair that Pakistan companies should be disadvantaged,” he told the FT.
Pakistani economists and officials agree that it was a better option to pause and spread CPEC projects over a lengthier time period, instead of ditching the deal altogether — something that may attract anger from Beijing.
Finance Minister Asad Umar, on the other hand, said Islamabad should be wary of not insulting China while an analysis of the CPEC deals in the last five-year period is carried out. “We don’t intend to handle this process like Mahathir,” Umar had said in light of Malaysia’s new premier who cautioned against Bejing’s “neo-colonialism”.
The minister noted that he was reviewing an option to circumambulate the need to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout package — but that may mean new liabilities that Pakistan would owe to China and Saudi Arabia, its longtime partners.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, the newly-elected head-of-state, has constituted a committee to reevaluate the CPEC projects. Dawood, the economist, commented that it would “think through CPEC – all of the benefits and the liabilities” during its first meeting, slated for some time this week.
During his visit, Yi said: “CPEC has not inflicted a debt burden on Pakistan. When these projects get completed and enter into operation, they will unleash huge economic benefits.”