Once again, the propaganda against CPEC and Pak-China cooperation will fail as it has happened many times in the past. Whenever, opponents dream about the failure of CPEC or accelerate their propaganda against CPEC, CPEC always emerges stronger. In fact, it gives a new impetus to CPEC.
Before the announcement of date of 10th Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC), a campaign was going on for some time that CPEC’s pace has decreased and China is not happy with Pakistan. The delay of 10th Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) was always quoted as proof, without understanding the dynamics of cooperation. Although COVID-19, in initial stages, impacted the pace of CPEC but soon after it picked up pace again. Rather, China-Pakistan enhanced the cooperation under the umbrella of CPEC. For example, China and Pakistan signed two new MoUs on Agriculture and Science and Technology. Moreover, many new initiatives were launched at Gwadar.
The visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to Gwadar further accelerated the work. Prime Minister inaugurated many projects and witnessed signing of MoUs. The important projects, which were inaugurated were Gwadar Expo Centre, Gwadar Fertilizer Plant, Gwadar Animal Vaccine Plant, Henan Agricultural Industrial Park, Hengmei Lubricants Plant, Gwadar Free Zone Phase-2. Federal Minister Asad Umar claimed that Gwadar Free Zone Phase-2 is 35 times bigger than the phase-1 free zones. Two implementation agreements of 1) 1.2 million gallons per day desalination plant and 2) solar generators grant from China for south Balochistan, were also signed. These initiatives will create hundreds and thousands of jobs for local people. The jobs are direly needed in Balochistan as there are not many job opportunities.
Unfortunately, opponents did not look at this progress but kept on propagating against CPEC and they used the delay of 10th JCC as a proof. However, they could not see that both governments were working tirelessly to develop concrete projects which can help Pakistan. They were also devising instruments which put industrialization on fast track and finding new opportunities for the modernization of agriculture.
The announcement of the date of JCC has disappointed the opponents and propaganda is slowing down. Thus, it is time to move forward and look at the expected outcome of 10th JCC.
It is expected that the main agenda of the 10th JCC would be:
1) to find means to foster industrialization in Pakistan,
2) modernization of agriculture, and 3) ML.
3) Industrial cooperation is not a new subject, both governments are working hard on it since the inception of CPEC. During the first phase of CPEC required infrastructure for industry was built. Second phase also started with building infrastructure required for industrial development. Pakistan sped up the work on the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), which are pre-requisite to build industrial base. Allama Iqbal Industrial City (AIIC) started to entertain the industry and business community. The groundbreaking ceremony of Rashakai Special Economic Zone (REZ) was also conducted. It is encouraging to note that Rashakai Special Economic Zone (REZ) has received more application than its capacity. Dhabeji Special Economic Zone (DSEZ) is also in advanced stages. It is expected that the construction work will start soon. The work on Bostan SEZ has also been speed.
The establishment of SEZs is a clear indication that both governments were working to speed up the process of industrialization. Now it is expected that 10th JCC will provide opportunities to both sides to materialize concrete projects and industrialists will also be encouraged to start establishing industry in Pakistan. Although industry from China already started to work in Pakistan, it is expected that the JCC will give a new impetus to work.
The second most important area of discussion would be agriculture. Both governments are prioritizing the investment in agriculture sector. China is already encouraging investors from China to invest in agriculture sector of Pakistan. China embassy has established a specialized platform to facilitate the investment in Pakistan. Chinese companies are especially interested to invest in agriculture machinery, inputs and food industry. Chinese companies also run a pilot project on the production of chili and export to China. The results of the project are very encouraging. It is expected that the cooperation will be expanded to other crops. It is really good to note that Chinese private sector has shown great interest to invest in diverse fields of agriculture and livestock.
It is expected that 10th JCC will help to open new areas of cooperation. CPEC Authority was working hard to make agriculture a success story. The Authority has devised many programs and initiatives to strengthen the cooperation. In a briefing, Gen Asim Saleem highlighted many areas, especially for private sector to enhance the cooperation. He proposed the initiative of model farms to create success stories for replication. It is expected that the new Chairman would be adding to the previous list and the food industry will also come under discussion. Pakistan direly needs investment and technical cooperation in food industry. Moreover, Pakistan is also interested in enhancing cooperation for the development of agriculture supply chain. Pakistan needs huge investment and modern technologies to upgrade the supply chain. It is expected that both governments will devise some instruments to enhance the cooperation in diverse fields.
Third area of discussion would be ML-1. It is a much awaited project, as Pakistan wants to modernize the rail network of Pakistan. In principle both governments have agreed to work on it. Now they are working on to finalize the modalities. It is expected that during the 10thJCC the modalities will be decided, and mechanisms of work will be finalized. Besides, the financing modalities will also be finalized. It would be a game changer project for Pakistan. It will not only help to improve domestic transportation network; it will also help to improve the regional connectivity.
It will boost the scope of Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul (ITI) railway line, which has been launched recently. ITI railway line can also be extended to Afghanistan and Central Asian States. ML-1 will also help to create new means of connectivity of Gwadar with region, especially with Afghanistan. China-Pakistan are already working to extend the CPEC to Afghanistan. ML-1 can play a vital role in the extension of CPEC to Afghanistan.
Fourth, there is also a possibility that 10th JCC will also be deliberating on other areas of cooperation. It is expected that there will also be discussion on social sector cooperation, especially in the areas of skill and capacity development. Pakistan direly needs assistance for the skill and capacity development. China has already provided support to Pakistan. Chinese companies like Huawei, COPHC, China Power, ICBC, Zong etc. are also assisting Pakistan. However, it is expected that the decision at 10th JCC will give a further boost to such efforts.
Fifth, there is a strong possibility that both sides will also discuss the extension of CPEC to Afghanistan. It is the right time to extend the cooperation as Afghanistan is in dire need of economic cooperation. Any initiative to launch CPEC in Afghanistan will be welcomed by the people of Afghanistan.
It can be inferred from the above discussion that CPEC is moving at a good pace. The JCC meeting will give a new impetus to CPEC and CPEC related projects.
However, China and Pakistan should jointly develop mechanisms to counter baseless propaganda. There is a need of robust mechanisms of information sharing to tackle the propaganda from the very beginning.
The writer is a political scientist and defense analyst