CPEC: A decade of shared progress and enduring partnership
Editor's Note: The writer is a freelance columnist on international affairs based in Karachi, Pakistan. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of Gwadar Pro.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – is celebrating its tenth anniversary this month. Over the past decade, the unfolding narrative has been a testament to China's steadfast commitment to elevating Pakistan's economic horizons, forging an unshakable alliance between the two nations.
July 5, 2013, when the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for CPEC was signed, it has been etched as a pivotal moment in China-Pakistan’s “all-weather friendship”. CPEC marked the commencement of a sweeping vision, binding Pakistan and China in their resolute pursuit of shared prosperity, connectivity, and lasting camaraderie.
CPEC was widely perceived as a catalyst, poised to engender a transformative impact on Pakistan's economy. Over the past decade, a whopping $25.4 billion in direct Chinese investments has infused diverse sectors like transport, energy, and infrastructure, integral to the transformative Belt and Road Initiative project driven by Beijing. China's unwavering solidarity with Pakistan is exemplified by the substantial RMB 30 billion in loans and currency swap arrangement, acting as a robust shield to preserve Islamabad's financial stability, bolster debt management, and ease debt repayment obligations.
Additionally, this strategic partnership has enabled Pakistan to diversify its trade dealings, reducing reliance on the dollar and bolstering its foreign exchange reserves. By means of its expansive network of roadways, CPEC has adroitly interwoven the fabric of rural and urban landscapes, cultivating a harmonious synergy that reverberates with the transformative force of progress.
The strategic positioning of nine Special Economic Zones (SEZs) along the motorway network links is a calculated move to attract investment to Pakistan, holding the promise of economic revitalization. Anticipation builds as four out of the nine designated SEZs under CPEC prepare for the final stages of take-off, with the remaining five SEZs projected to be fully operational by 2030.
The impact on Pakistan has been substantial, with CPEC serving as a potent catalyst for change, unveiling a wide array of opportunities for both countries. Recently, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, told the media in his daily news briefing: “The projects are creating 192,000 jobs, generating 6,000MW of power, building 510 km (316 miles) of highways, and expanding the national transmission network by 886 km (550 miles).”
CPEC's contribution to Pakistan's Blue economy stands out as of particular importance. Gwadar port, a key player in this ambitious endeavor, has undergone a remarkable transformation, developing into a fully operational maritime hub, facilitating trade and commerce for Pakistan on a global scale. As the Gwadar port gears up for full operational capacity, it holds the potential for tangible growth benefits for both nations' economies. Additionally, the forthcoming completion of the Gwadar new international airport amplifies its strategic significance, ushering in a multitude of opportunities.
Originally envisioned as a grand undertaking to link Gwadar Port in southwest Pakistan with China's northwestern Xinjiang region, CPEC has evolved into a multifaceted project, encompassing energy, infrastructure development, industrial cooperation, and the elevation of Gwadar as a pivotal trade hub. Its impact extends beyond borders, fostering regional integration and trade, and serving as a vital linchpin in the BRI initiative, enhancing connectivity between China, Pakistan, and neighboring countries. Improved transport infrastructure, such as the Karakoram Highway and Peshawar-Karachi Motorway, has been instrumental in accelerating travel and facilitating smooth movement of goods and people. Amid swift progress in nine Special Economic Zones (SEZs), especially the vibrant Gwadar Free Economic Zone, CPEC emerges as an increasingly alluring investment hub in the region. Chinese companies eagerly partake, registering in significant numbers to establish production facilities.
Media reports indicate that the second phase of CPEC will witness the culmination of 63 additional projects valued at an estimated $35 billion by 2030. This encouraging development showcases China and Pakistan's steadfast dedication to realizing the corridor's vision, reinforcing regional connectivity and opening pathways to Afghanistan and Central Asian nations.
Not surprisingly, CPEC has also confronted its fair share of obstacles and challenges, ranging from security threats to negative propaganda aimed at undermining the Pak-China partnership. External forces have tried to fuel doubts, casting a shadow of a potential debt trap over the project. However, over time, many of the controversies surrounding this monumental initiative have eased, giving rise to a more nuanced understanding. Reassuringly, both countries have effectively tackled and largely surmounted these challenges.
Acknowledging these challenges and obstacles, it is vital to acknowledge the resolve demonstrated by Pakistan and China in surmounting them. The steadfast dedication to CPEC vision fuels progress and cooperation, propelling the initiative toward its transformative potential. As CPEC enters its second phase, Pakistan's economic revival stands at a critical juncture, poised to seize opportunities through collaboration with China.