China Reaffirms All Weather Relations with Imran Government
China has rapidly established communications with the PTI government in Islamabad after some initial hiccups, but review of CPEC projects is on the cards. With the changeover of a democratically elected government in Pakistan led by Imran Khan there were possibly some qualms in Beijing given that the Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) pre-elections posturing was not favourable towards important projects as the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
However China has rapidly established communications with the PTI government in Islamabad and after some initial hiccups it appears that both countries have reaffirmed their commitment to the All Weather Partnership, a much clichéd phrase.
In fact two days after Mr Khan was sworn in as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Li Keqiang, Chinese Premier called Prime Minister Imran Khan to felicitate him on the assumption of the office on 20 August. “Premier Li said that Pakistan and China are all weather friends. He expressed the desire to work closely with Prime Minister Imran Khan to further strengthen Pakistan-China bilateral relations. He hoped that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will be completed as per schedule. Premier Li Keqiang extended an invitation to Prime Minister Imran Khan to visit China”.
Prime Minister Khan reaffirmed that “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a project of national significance and will remain a priority during his government. He lauded the services of Chinese workers in the development of Pakistan”.
On 09 September, four days after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Islamabad on his way to the 2 + 2 Strategic Dialogue in New Delhi, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Mr. Wang Yi called on Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad.
Once again the Foreign Minister underscored the significance of CPEC for the mutual benefit of the people of both countries. He also conveyed the invitation of Premier Li Keqiang for an official visit to the Prime Minister.
Apart from the initial apprehensions of the PTI not fully supporting CPEC including possibly investigating corruption in various projects the Chinese may have seen red after a Financial Times London report headlined, “Pakistan rethinks its role in Xi’s Belt and Road plan”.
The report quoted Abdul Razak Dawood, the Pakistani member of cabinet responsible for commerce, textiles, industry and investment, saying, “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.” More over he added, “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”.
Responding to a query on the Report and the Wang Yi visit to Pakistan China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Geng Shuang during a routine Conference on 11 September highlighted once again the all weather friendship of the two countries and indicated that all was well.
The Chinese Foreign Office Spokesperson said that, “On September 10, the Ministry of Commerce of Pakistan issued a statement, saying that what the Financial Times cited has been taken out of context and distorted and the Pakistani side rejects the article. The statement also pointed out that during the recent visit of State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the Pakistani side made it very clear that CPEC is a national priority for its government. The Pakistan-China relations are impregnable and the government’s commitment to CPEC is unwavering”.
Defending the CPEC the Spokesperson said, “As is known to all, CPEC is a major economic cooperation project initiated to meet the needs of the Pakistani side, and its building has contributed to the social and economic development of Pakistan. There is a total of 22 cooperation projects under the framework of CPEC, of which 9 have been completed and 13 are under construction. The total investment amounts to $19 billion, raising Pakistan’s economic growth by 1 to 2 percentage points per year and creating 70,000 jobs. These tangible outcomes are there for all to see”.
Geng Shuang indicated that, “During State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Pakistan, the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the new Pakistani administration all said that CPEC is a landmark project for economic cooperation between the two countries, which has delivered and will continue to bring tangible benefits to the Pakistani people. The new Pakistani government is committed to fully deepening the building of CPEC and is ready to make full efforts with China to ensure its sound development’.
In a statement, the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad also refuted the Financial Times Report and said, “We have taken notice of the report in Financial Times regarding remarks by the Honable Adviser Razak Dawood on the CPEC as well as the clarification by the Ministry of Commerce and Textile Pakistan.” “It is a firm consensus between China and Pakistan that CPEC is a mutually beneficial project and both the governments will carry it forward according to the needs of Pakistan and for the development of Pakistan. Such ill-intentioned reports based on distorted and misquoted information only demonstrate that the report contributor has total ignorance and neglect of the CPEC or China Pakistan traditional partnership”.
On the Nine Member review committee the Chinese Spokesperson Geng Shuang accepted that this was established but only, “to better coordinate with the Chinese side to accelerate CPEC building and deliver more benefits to the Pakistani people, rather than spread CPEC projects over a lengthier period”.
Whatever be the spin that has emanated from Islamabad and Beijing, a review of some of the CPEC projects is on the cards but Chinese fears of a total repealing of the grand scheme seem to have been dispelled with Wang Yi visit.