A leading daily of Pakistan has, in an opinion piece, criticized the over 50 billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), describing it as a “one-way street” venture that is more about expanding China’s growth rather than benefiting Pakistan.
According to the Dawn, which spoke with several Pakistani businessmen living in the border areas of Pakistan and China, before arriving at its definitive conclusion, frequent talk of the CPEC being a blossoming partnership, nourished with tens of billions of dollars of infrastructure investment is anything but that.
A majority of Pakistani businessmen living and working on the Chinese side of the border; rubbished Beijing’s claim of the CPEC enhancing its friendship with Pakistan once completed.
One businessman, Murad Shah, who has a precious stones shop in Tashkurgan, 120 kilometers from the mountain pass that links up with the 1300-kilometer-long China-Pakistan Friendship Highway that leaders to the western Chinese city of Kashgar, told the Dawn, “There is no benefit for Pakistan. It’s all about expanding China’s growth.”
The remote town of Tashkurgan with a population of around 9,000 is at the geographic heart of Beijing’s plans to connect Kashgar to Gwadar Port through the CPEC.
The CPEC is being promoted as the crown jewel of China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, a massive global infrastructure programme to revive the ancient Silk Road and connect Chinese companies to new markets around the world.
While both countries say the project is mutually beneficial, data reveals a different story.
According to the Dawn, Pakistan’s exports to China fell by almost eight percent in the second half of 2016, while imports jumped by almost 29 per cent. In May this year, Pakistan accused China of flooding its market with cut rate steel and threatened to respond with high tariffs.
The daily quotes “There are all of these hopes and dreams about Pakistan exports,” said Jonathan Hillman, a Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, as saying, “But if you’re connecting with China, what are you going to be exporting?”
According to the daily, only small consumer goods such as medicines, toiletries, semi-precious stones, rugs and handicrafts would be traded and brought into Xinjiang.
Pakistani businessmen in Xinjiang see few benefits from CPEC, complaining of intrusive security and capricious customs arrangements.
One trader said taxes on goods could vary from five percent to 20 percent in times to come.
The Dawn quoted Lahore University of Management Sciences political economy professor Hasan Karrar, as saying that “independent Pakistani traders have benefited little from CPEC.”
Alessandro Ripa, an expert on Chinese infrastructure projects at Ludwig Maximilian University Munich, said the highway “is not very relevant to overall trade” because “the sea route is just cheaper and faster”.
“The project is a tool for China to promote its geopolitical interests and help struggling state-owned companies export excess production, he adds.
The CPEC, it seems, is also being used to introduce unwarranted and oppressive security-related restrictions, such as walking through to through metal detectors at check points, showing of identification cards, frequent checking of mobile phones and computers for “illegal” religious content etc.
Security drills take place four times a day in Xijiang and stores are closed for several days if shopkeepers refuse to participate.