The CPEC Project is Neither a Panacea nor the Gam- Changer for the Pakistan's Economy,

The CPEC project is an ongoing Economic Corridor, that is being built between China and Pakistan and it is seen as one of the integral components of China's ambitious One Belt, One Road initiative, also known as the Belt and Road initiative. This ambitious connectivity project and Economic Corridor, which is funded by China seeks to connect the Xinjiang province of China, with the strategic port of Gwadar, and even Karachi in Pakistan. This project was initially proposed back in 2013, and the construction of the project began nearly five years ago and today it has become partially operational. This ambitious project of China and Pakistan involves the construction of a series of modern transport networks, including highways railway networks, and development and expansion of strategic ports, along with the establishment of industrial corridors special economic zones, and several power plants along the entire stretch of this corridor. Through this Economic Corridor, China's plans to bypass its strategic weakness, over the Strait of Malacca, because the Strait of Malacca near Singapore happens to be a chokepoint for China. The narrow opening of the Strait of Malacca near Singapore is very vulnerable to a possible blockade maybe a naval blockade, in case of hostilities, and hence, China is extremely concerned about its strategic weakness over the Strait of Malacca. Because a large part of China's trade that has its imports and exports, pass through the Strait of Malacca, and also the majority of its oil shipments that come from the Middle East, also happens to pass through the Strait of Malacca. Just like India, even China is heavily dependent on oil imports to the West Asian countries and currently, these oil shipments of the Gulf reach China by passing through the Strait of Malacca. So to bypass its weakness and dependency on the Strait of Malacca, China has envisioned the CPEC corridor as an alternative route that will help China connect directly with the Arabian Sea, and then with the Persian Gulf.

However, the alignment at the root of this project has been highly controversial and it has been strongly opposed by India, because the route alignment of the CPEC corridor passes through Pakistan occupied Kashmir, including several areas of Gilgit Baltistan, and some of these projects also stretch to the Shaksgam Valley, which Pakistan has illegally ceded to China through 1963 agreement. So for India, the root and alignment of the CPEC project violate its sovereignty and its territorial claims as India considers the entire J&K region to be an integral part of its territory, which is currently under the illegal occupation of Pakistan. So since the CPEC project violates India's sovereignty and territorial claims. India has not only opposed the CPEC corridor, but it has also boycotted the Belt and Road initiative, despite having been invited by China.

Recently officials from both China and Pakistan held a review meeting to mark the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the construction of this project. So the joint working group of China and Pakistan over the CPEC project. They met recently and carried out a thorough review of this project. During this review, both sides have appreciated the progress that the project has made despite the hurdles of the challenges, created by the Covid-19 pandemics. As we discussed several sections of the project have already been made operational, including a few roads, railway networks, a few power plants, and as well as a few industrial corridors. However, some of the developments at the review meeting bring out the limitations of this project as well.

See ever since this ambitious project was conceived by China in Pakistan. It has invited a lot of extreme criticism, and as well as a lot of extreme praise. The proponent of this project in China and Pakistan always labeled the CPEC corridor, as a panacea or a game-changer for the Pakistani economy, which has been under a lot of stress and has been facing a lot of challenges of late. But contrary to these high expectations, the limitations of China Pakistan's economic partnership has become very evident at the latest review meet. Because during the review meeting the Pakistani side was expecting more concessional loans and funding to provide for cheap capital for financing the project. But contrary to these expectations of Pakistan, China, on the other hand, has expressed concerns about the slowdown in the Pakistani economy, and it has sought additional guarantees from Pakistan. Before sanctioning any new loans, considering the weak financial position of the Pakistani economy. So this concern being expressed by China highlights the economic limitations of the project and it may not be the panacea or game-changer for Pakistan's economy that the proponents were hoping for. When the project was initially conceived China had proposed an ambitious $62 billion investment in the project. But now, after realizing the economic crisis that Pakistan is going through, China might cut down on some of these investments, and some of the grant projects that were initially proposed may not materialize. The careful evaluation of the ongoing project shows that some of the ambitious initiatives have been scaled down, and currently, China has restricted its focus only to the strategic Gwadar port to the establishment of a free trade zone to the creation of energy transport and industrial corridors and apart from these four focus areas, China might cut down investments in the other projects. Then, on the other hand, the opponents of this project, particularly Western strategic experts. They were referring to the CPEC corridor as a part of China's debt-trap diplomacy. China is often accused by Western governments and by Western media of pursuing a predatory investment strategy in weaker countries that they refer to as debt-trap diplomacy of China. According to Western strategic experts are the debt-trap diplomacy of China. China deliberately picks out economically and commercially unviable projects that are of strategic value in weaker nations, and under the disguise of providing cheap concessional funding, it pushes these weak economies into a debt burden. Eventually, these small countries who are not able to repay the loans they end up surrendering these strategic projects to Chinese companies on long term lease such examples have been seen in Sri Lanka, about the Hambantota port project. Similar instances can also be found in the Maldives, and several other East African countries as well, and Western experts and Western governments, refer to this predatory investment strategy of China, as its debt-trap diplomacy. However, available evidence on the CPEC project shows that this project has not turned into a debt trap or a debt burden for Pakistan, and the proposed scaling down on some of the projects, and the shrinkage in the overall ambitions of the project helps the weak Pakistani economy, and it reduces the debt burden on the country. So, the CPEC project is neither a panacea nor a game-changer for the Pakistani economy, nor is it debt-trap diplomacy as predicted by the opponents.

However, one thing is very clear that despite these limitations of the project. The CPEC corridor has ended up deepening the China-Pakistan relationship. It's a well-known fact that China and Pakistan already share an all-weather friendship and they share a very close military and strategic relationship, and they have even successfully formed a joint Nexus against India, which they perceive as a common threat. So this deepening of the China Pakistan relationship that has been enabled by the CPEC project, and the massive investments that China has been making under the project in territory that has been claimed by India, ends up making China, an indirect stakeholder in the Kashmir dispute, which India has always seen as a bilateral dispute with Pakistan alone. This is one of the reasons why China has been taking a stand against India of late against India's decisions related to Jammu and Kashmir. The revocation of special status objectives, under Article 370, or the reorganization of the state into two union territories China has taken a stand against India, and especially at the UN, China has even given diplomatic support to Pakistan to raise the Kashmir issue. So this deepening of the China Pakistan Nexus is a result of the CPEC project. Represents a strategic threat to India, and its interest, in the Kashmir dispute.

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