On January 9th, the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan expressed China’s concern on the split views of Pakistan parties regarding the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CEPC) and its hopes for a quick resolution.
“China hopes that the concerned parties in Pakistan can strengthen coordination and join hands to create favorable conditions for the CEPC,” said the Embassy in a statement.
In an interview with Global Times on January 10th, Wang Dehua, Director of the Institute for South and Central Asia Studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, a Chinese think-tank, said that the contention within Pakistan is mainly focused on which route, the Eastern or Western, should be built first.
According to Dawn News, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces are in favor of the western route, which will connect Kashghar with Gwadar Port. The Pakistan segment of the route starts from Khunjerab Pass and stretches along Karakoram Highway to pass through Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province before coming to an end in Gwadar Port, Balochistan.
However, the Pakistan federal government favors the Eastern route, which passes through Punjab, over the Western one, triggering a domestic debate. In a conference attended by several parties towards the end of last month, participants urged the federal government to drop its preference, citing strong opposition from the public in areas along the Western route, according to Dawn News. An Express Tribune article published on January 9th quoted former Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, as having said on the 8th that he hoped the federal government will not turn a deaf ear to the voices supporting the Western route. “Just Bbilding the road is not enough. West route construction should also include development of infrastructure, rail tracks, natural gases and uninterrupted power supply,” he said.
Director Wang Dehua said that while Punjab is a relatively rich province, the economies of areas along the Western route are weak. Local governments and people hope these regions can benefit from the CEPC project. An article on Pakistan Herald reveals that Punjab province is the birthplace of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother is the incumbent Chief Minister of Punjab. Your correspondent has learned that Punjab is also home to quite a few number of major energy projects.
“China hopes that the concerned parties in Pakistan can resolve their differences over CPEC, “the Chinese Embassy said in a statement cited by The Nationon January 10th. China further stressed that the CPEC is the consensus reached between China and Pakistan. Shah Mehmood Qureshi said earlier in an interview: “The dispute over the CPEC is not about China. The project has the support of Pakistan.”
Initiated by Punjab province, an All Parties Conference (APC) of the parties concerned with rhe CPEC and its route was held in Islamabad on January 10th to discuss the differences. Express Tribune reported that a seven-person committee was set up at the APC to study the regions that the economic corridor passes through. A few days earlier, the committee announced in a statement that it will go directly to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and discuss how to address the concerns of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “No province or region will be left out in the CPEC project,” said Ashan Iqbal, Federal Minister of Planning, Development and Reform, in a recent quote.
During a state visit in 2013, Li Keqiang, Chinese Premier of the State Council, reached a consensus with the Pakistan government on strengthening interconnectivity and creating a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. In an interview with Global Times on January 10th, a Pakistani official from Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform said that Pakistan supports and pays close attention to balanced development among provinces and will resort to consultation to address relevant issues in due course of time. He also said that recently, an agreement has been signed between Pakistan National Highway Authority and Chinese companies on a phase II project for upgrading of Karachi-Lahore highway (from Sukkur to Multan) and Karakoram Highway. In addition, the construction of several other clean energy projects, including wind, solar and hydro, has already begun.