Paving the Road ahead for CPEC
Internal Obstacles in the Implementation and Policy Recommendations from a Chinese Perspective
In the historic event of Chinese president Xi’s state visit to Pakistan in April 2015, leaders from both countries reached an agreement to further upgrade the bilateral relation between China and Pakistan from an already unique and exemplary All-Weather Strategic Partnership one step further to an All-Weather Strategic Cooperative Partnership, entailing a transition of our bilateral relation from a securitycentric strategic partnership into a more comprehensive and sustainable bond underlined by substantial economic cooperation. One key embodiment of the boosted China Pakistan economic cooperation is the CPEC. Now three years into its conceptualization and one year into full implementation, rapid progress is being made and a shape, yet there is no room for complacency and lying on the road of a smooth implementation of CPEC are numerous obstacles, some being external ones like the terror threats coming from regional powers hostile to Pakistan in general and CPEC in particular, some being internal ones, including but not limited to the inter-provincial disagreements about the geographical distribution of CPEC projects, lack of clarity on the key issue of what is the criterion of CPEC project, and loss of sense of priority on both sides and a retreat back to slow moving bureaucracy. Without the slightest intention of ignoring the external obstacles and in full acknowledge and appreciation of the gallant effort of Pakistan to defend CPEC against such threats, this paper argues that the internal obstacles are the bigger and longer-term threat to a smooth implementation of CPEC, and tries to give a brief analysis to each of those obstacles, leading to a policy recommendation from a Chinese perspective. Taking into consideration the enormous difference in political system and culture between China and Pakistan, the paper limits its policy recommendation to the sphere of academic discussion, without arguing that Pakistan should make policy changes as favored by China.
1. Inter-provincial disagreement:
The top-down rather than bottom-up decision making related to CPEC with most of negotiations with Chinese side carried out by the federal government has its pros and cons just like anything else. While it brought a good amount of only on which further elaboration would be possible, it also came with the risk of failing to bring provincial stakeholders the issue of secret change of “original plan” surfaced and the discontent of all provinces other than Punjab about inadequate share of CPEC projects gradually dominated the national debate about this 46 billion dollar mega project. At the height of this route controversy, paralleled was made to the Kalabagh dam and access to land was threatened to be denied for CPEC projects. Efforts have been made by the federal government to cool down the raging discontent and despite some limited effect, the inter-provincial disagreement has never died down, instead, it is taking on new dimensions as the CPEC moves forward and now we are in a situation where the CPEC related inter-provincial disagreement is no longer limited to the route controversy, but also extends to the geographical distribution of SEZs and welfare projects. It would be unrealistic to expect such a mega project as the CPEC not to stir up any ripples in a political environment where provincial governments are theoretically speaking fully entitled to make decisions about economic development within their own jurisdiction and all the political parties running those provincial governments aspire to gain as much political credit from the CPEC as possible in preparation for the next general election, but the disturbances and delays such disagreements cause to the CPEC implementation have already raised some eyebrows in China, which itself has been too much familiar with and even taken for granted a highly centralized decision making mechanism and speedy execution of the decided projects. For more than once China has asked Pakistan to properly solve its inter-provincial disagreements and to create a favorable environment for the smooth implementation of CPEC, yet despite their good faith and sincere effort, such a trouble-shooting and road-paving is indeed a tall order for the federal government of Pakistan, which stands at the epicenter of the controversy accused of bagging too big a share of CPEC projects in Punjab province, the vote bank of the ruling PML(N). Also disturbed by this inter-provincial disagreement is the who offered their solution by proposing the establishment of a more centralized and powerful entity named CPEC Authority. Putting aside the popular yet groundless conspiracy