Is China really Pakistan’s friend?


By Manzoor Ahmed

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) under which China is believed to invest about 46 Billion Dollars in Pakistan is widely regarded and extensively propagated by people in the government of Pakistan that it is the best thing to have happened to Pakistan and to Pak-China relations in a long time. However, there are a number of learned people in Pakistan who have time and again expressed serious concerns and have questioned the intensions of China in showing such generosity.  Many experts have openly voiced their concerns and have opined that CPEC will benefit China more than Pakistan.

As an “all weather friend” it is natural for Pakistan to expect China to assist and support and bail it out during testing times.  Every time there was some issue at the UN, say for example initiating some action against the likes of Hafiz Saeed, Azhar Masood, etc., China has always been on the Pak side, extending it the much needed moral support, behaving like an all weather friend.

While Pakistan has no option but to dance to the tunes of whoever fills its bowl like China, Saudi Arabia, the US, etc., the motive of China in pampering Pakistan with such huge investments, as questioned by experts, does call for some serious thinking. There have been, for some time now, speculations and concerns that China would not stop its investments with the CPEC and would gradually penetrate into every aspect of Pakistani society, to the extent that Pakistan would almost lose its identity and would merely be reduced to nothing more than a colony of China.

Well, the fears of the experts seem quite practical given the speed at which China has been trying to infiltrate into Pak businesses, of late. If recent reports are to be believed, Chinese companies are in talks to acquire more land and businesses in Pakistan following sealing of two major deals in recent months.  The Chinese are very intelligently targeting the spine of Pakistan’s nearly Dollars 300 billion economy, i.e. the cement, steel, energy, textile sectors, etc. for extensive penetration.  The Shanghai Electric Power acquired one of Pakistan’s biggest energy producers, K-electric for about Dollars 2 Billion and a Chinese-led entity acquired a strategic stake in the Pakistan’s stock exchange, recently.  There are also talks about China’s steel giant Baosteel Group looking to get a thirty year lease of the state-run Pakistan Steel Mills.

The Chinese initiative for extensive investments also raises concerns primarily due to the fact that Pakistan has been deliberately avoided by Western investors despite a 5% economic growth.  The CPEC is expected to connect China’s Western region with Arabian Sea Port of Gwadar of Pakistan through rail, road and pipeline projects.  The funds for these will be in the form of loans from China and the businesses that will take place will be done through Chinese enterprises.  The question that Pakistan has to ask itself is “who ultimately gains in this”?  Pakistan will have loans to repay on its head and the Chinese will also make huge earnings through their enterprises in the region using Pakistani land for their business advancement.

In Pakistan’s financial centre, Karachi one can see more Chinese than Westerners in airports, restaurants and hotels.   There has been a construction boom in the city and business houses are seen printing Chinese language brochures and there is a fresh demand for Chinese speaking Pakistanis.  The Chinese are also planning to invest in telecom and auto sectors in Pakistan with Foton Motor Group and FAW Group evincing keen interest.

Contrary to the claims made by the government of Pakistan by highlighting only the pros of the CPEC, trade unions are not too optimistic about Chinese role in Pakistan primarily due to the past experience of local workers in Africa alleging mistreatment by Chinese companies. There have already been numerous complaints about the difference in wages paid to a Chinese national and a Pak national involved in the CPEC.

Analysts also question the commitment of the Chinese as experience shows that the projects undertaken by the Chinese are either compromised in quality or delayed in completion as seen in Nepal, Sri Lanka, etc.

While Pakistan may be upbeat due to the flow of funds into their country from China, experts feel that given the adverse security environment in Pakistan it will not be easy for China to ensure the success and benefit that it aims to achieve through the CPEC.  CPEC can be expected to teach a lesson or two to both China and Pakistan about each other. Pakistan could end up learning that there are no free lunches in the present world and China could ultimately understand that bad terrorists to a friend can be bad for them too. Only time will tell if CPEC assists in relations between Pakistan and China improving or will result in making the two countries “all weather enemies”.