CPEC continues rather augments to be of significant importance for Pakistan. The change of CPEC lead in Islamabad becomes of huge importance amid the economic implications of COVID-19 pandemic and regional geopolitical transition due to Afghanistan.
According to the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects report, the global economy probably shrank by 4.3% in 2020 due to the ongoing pandemic.
Additionally, the world is also focused towards a post-US withdrawal Afghanistan and its possible impact on regional economies.
The challenges for developing countries are multiple as they struggle to eliminate poverty, bring economic growth and in combating the threats of the pandemic.
In these challenging times leadership high-performance expectations are growing. At this crucial juncture, Mr. Khalid Mansoor steps into the shoes of his predecessor to navigate the affairs of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor at a time when 10th Joint Cooperation Committee meeting is about to take place.
The interaction this time is happening when Pakistan and China celebrate their 70 years of strong friendship and showcase CPEC as a “model of collaboration, partnership, connectivity and shared prosperity” with industrial and agriculture cooperation entering the Period of Maturity and an endogenous mechanism for sustainable economic growth being put in place.
The Special Assistant to the Prime Minister has the experience required to steer CPEC in its second phase, however, will immediately be confronted with a challenge to address the negative campaign by naysayers who become active as JCC approaches.
This happens each year since China announced its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Pakistan commenced CPEC.
CPEC is now the principal vehicle for the pursuit of bilateral ties at renewed and heightened ebb of engagement.
This time the focus will be on populating the priority SEZs through industrial cooperation which is entering vital stage with immediate steps required to encourage private sector participation and creating enabling environment reducing risks and promoting complementary policies can help share the gains including policies to strengthen sustainable trade, logistics and business cooperation and improve business-to-business (B2B) links as attracting investment requires a proactive approach for nurturing their long-term success.
On the IC front the challenge is growing to attract investment that brings export led industry with new technology at a time when economies are getting insulated as an immediate response to the pandemic and investors are becoming risk averse.
We may have a deep study of Chinese expert’s report given in 2017, wherein incentives were discussed and an incremental start from labor intensive industries (shoe making etc) followed by modern hi-tech industries was suggested.
It was suggested that continuity of policies, productivity of labor, cost of land and provision of utilities are the key bottlenecks which are being addressed through various initiatives of the government.
An active CPEC business forum can help in establishing B2B linkages that are critical in this regard.
While this year the focus may be on new areas of cooperation including Agriculture, Maritime and Research and Development sectors, the projects like ML-1 railway line will be the main deliverables.
Entering into the second phase, the government is gearing up to lift less developed areas of Pakistan and promising greater regional integration.
Under the Agriculture Joint Working Group, the establishment of Centers of Excellence in the fields of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cotton Research and Establishment of FMD Free Zones are in the advanced stages of discussion.
Similarly, there are several projects that can be viable on a BOT (Build, Operate and Transfer) basis to find ways to optimize the cost-to-benefits ratio and ensure that the advantages of CPEC are experienced and shared by all in Pakistan.
In Pakistan, linkages through CPEC are leading towards a true inclusive growth and the impact of development initiatives is visible from the fact that Pakistan is transforming into a better place for foreign investors.
The Chinese experts on socio-economic development may be invited on priority as we move forward recovering from the pandemic and reimage what we want to do in phase II and III of socio economic projects of the Chinese grant.
The Joint Working Group on third party cooperation would also need to focus on forging partnerships with friendly countries to build on the successes of the Belt and Road Initiative and create a solid foundation for deepening cooperation.
Similarly, where required, sub groups supported by Chinese sector specialists may be formed to progress key work streams and tasks supporting the high-quality growth of CPEC.
The CPEC project can also be projected as a model of development for Afghanistan as stable and prosperous Afghanistan would in turn offer unprecedented opportunities for regional cooperation and development.
In support of a stable and peaceful Afghanistan, necessary cooperation in capacity building of experts in Afghanistan for infrastructure development through BRI may be extended as the transport infrastructure construction under CPEC has been an important part of the initiative and plays an important role in the development of bilateral cooperation.
Under the CPEC planning (monographic study of CPEC approved in 2015) it was endeavored to establish a convenient, unblocked, safe, highly efficient and comprehensive transport channel with large capacities and coordinated development of numerous transport corridors by 2030 including building new roads and railway connectivity from China and improve safety, traffic capacity and service levels on the basis of achieving comprehensive connection of the Kashgar-Islamabad Section and on the east and westerly corridor and making Gwadar the trans-shipment hub for the entire region.
According to the World Bank’s report, China’s next transformation is well under way, and a “New Economy” is emerging, all set to make global impact through innovations and economic initiatives leveraging its demographic and economic diversity.
In order to accrue the benefits of this transformation, Team CPEC has to now mobilize all resources for accomplishing the daunting task of timely implementation of CPEC projects and maintaining synergy amongst the stakeholders.
We also need to have an aggressive strategy to address the false narrative campaign. We may continue to use technology to showcase our strengths with a clear plan of action to thwart any threat to CPEC.
Of course, there are many challenges ahead and in the face of such challenges, we will need to work together in partnership and across a range of fronts through a pragmatic joint action plan that will require hard work and commitment while adapting to the consequences of situation in Afghanistan as well as pandemic which if not handled adequately has the potential to be a hampering challenge to regional economic integration.