China’s ‘all-weather’ friend Pakistan seems set to be the latest country to promise to review the agreements of projects under Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pet Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), of which the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a critical part. A senior member of Imran Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI), has said the new government would judge which of the projects are not in Pakistan’s interests.
“After the formation of the government we will review the projects’ agreement and decide about those which are not in the country’s interest,” PTI senator Syed Shibli Faraz was quoted as having said in an interview. Faraz’s statements on the matter carry weight since he is a member of the new Pakistani Senate’s Standing Committee on Planning, Development and Reforms.
If the PTI does follow through with this statement, it would mark a radical departure from the previous PML-N government’s portrayal of CPEC as a bed of roses with a Midas touch. “The PML-N government did not share the details of the CPEC agreements they signed with China, with parliament and concerned stakeholders,” Faraz was quoted as saying.
The lack of transparency over the CPEC agreements has been a regular feature of the criticism against the project. The opacity, critics argued, prevented any realistic internal assessment if CPEC is indeed the magic wand solution for the Pakistani economy that it was made out to be.
Faraz however hedged against making a clear warning. “We will honour the agreement but would request friendly countries for ‘further improvement’ to create a win-win situation,” he reportedly said, making use of the Chinese government own line about BRI being a win-win for all involved.
Making the CPEC documents public could open up the project to criticism over the terms of agreements. Concrete information on the agreements is hardly available, and the little that has made its way into the public domain has sparked outrage. An example of this was the revelation that Pakistan would only receive less than 10 percent of the revenues of the Gwadar Port, which has been portrayed as the most important part of CPEC.
Imran Khan is now officially the Prime Minister of Pakistan, and has made positive noises about his views of Islamabad’s ties with Beijing and CPEC since he emerged as the PM-elect. But he seems to be using his party to raise the pressure on Beijing into offering better terms to a Pakistan that is staring in the face of an economic crisis.
Pakistan is not the only country to bring Chinese BRI projects under the scanner following a change in government. This has so far happened in Sri Lanka, Djibouti and Malaysia.
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