Islamabad spurns US envoy’s claims on CPEC


ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has rejected US diplomat Alice Wells’ claims that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is financed solely through loans or non-concessional financing with sovereign guarantees. During the weekly media briefing on Thursday, Foreign Office Spokesperson Aisha Farooqui sought to set the record straight about a growing impression that Pakistan’s economy is under tremendous burden from Chinese debt. “The CPEC debt amounts to $4.9bn which is not even 10 per cent of the country’s total debt,” she explained. Farooqui said that the 7,000MW CPEC power projects worth $12.4bn “have reached completion” and that the completion of all other CPEC projects were the government’s top priority. The spokesperson reminded the media that the CPEC “has helped Pakistan to address development gaps in energy, infrastructure, industrialisation and job creation”, reported Radio Pakistan. According to the national broadcaster, she stressed that it should be viewed in terms of “enormous economic benefits for the people of Pakistan and social economic development”. She also highlighted its benefits for “regional connectivity and prosperity”. The Ministry of Planning also issued a response to Wells’ remarks. According to a statement by the ministry’s spokesperson, “the projects completed so far in Phase-1 have already brought relief and started yielding dividends and tangible socio-economicbenefits”. The statement said that the CPEC projects will accelerate development in the country, boosting its economic growth and ushering in prosperity for the people. “Pakistan being a sovereign state exercises the right to chose economic partners from around the globe on mutually beneficial basis,” read the press release. According to the statement, “all related projects are being pursued as per laws and regulations of Pakistan and through an institutional mechanism wherein transparency is a priority consideration”. “Necessary due diligence with all financial implications is being undertaken before finalisation of any projects,” the statement added. It highlighted that the country’s “debt sustainability strategy has an endorsement of International financial institutions”. Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that when it comes to the CPEC, Pakistan has to look out for what is in the country’s best interests. “We will continue to do what is beneficial to us,” the foreign minister said in a statement released by his office Thursday morning. Pakistan’s response comes a day after China issued a strongly-worded statement following allegations levelled by US diplomat Ambassador Alice Wells who had said there was no transparency in CPEC projects. Claiming that Pakistan’s debt burden was growing due to the Chinese financing, Wells had alleged that companies blacklisted by the World Bank had got contracts in the CPEC. Speaking at an event in Islamabad on Tuesday, Wells had insisted that Chinese money was not assistance. By getting Chinese financing for the projects, Pakistan was buying expensive loans and as a buyer it needed to be aware of what it was doing as this would take a heavy toll on its already struggling economy, she had contended. A day later, taking strong exception to the senior US diplomat’s remarks, the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan had emphatically warned the US against meddling in Pak-China ties and the CPEC. “We would be more than glad to see the US develop its relationship with Pakistan, but we strongly oppose the US interference in China-Pakistan relations and the CPEC.… we have to make our position clear and reject the negative propaganda by the US. We must not let the truth be distorted and the lies run wild,” the embassy had said in a statement. “The comments hold nothing new,” the embassy had said and reminded that both China and Pakistan have repeatedly rejected similar insinuations in the past. “However, the US side still ignores the facts and is obsessed with the story it made for the CPEC,” it had added. Noting that China “puts Pakistani people’s interests first” in CPEC projects, the embassy had underscored that China and Pakistan staunchly adhere to “principles of mutual consultation and cooperation” for shared benefits. The embassy had asked the US to let people of Pakistan decide whether or not CPEC suited them instead of judging by itself. It said the 32 CPEC early harvest projects completed over past five years have significantly improved local transportation infrastructure and power supply, created over 75,000 jobs directly and contributed up to two per cent of Pakistan’s GDP growth in Pakistan. “It shows that CPEC is playing an important role in boosting Pakistan’s socioeconomic development and improving people’s livelihood,” China had asserted. Pakistan on Thursday rejected criticism of the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), after a visiting U.S. official was quoted expressing apprehension over the plan. While Pakistan has continuously defended Chinese investment, it has also attempted to mend relations with the United States. Prime Minister Imran Khan and U.S. President Donald Trump have held at least three one-on-one meetings over the last six months, the latest on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday. U.S. officials have repeatedly criticized CPEC, under which Beijing has pledged about $60 billion for infrastructure in Pakistan, central to China’s wider Belt and Road initiative to develop land and sea trade routes in Asia and beyond. Washington says the project is not sufficiently transparent and will saddle Pakistan with the burden of expensive Chinese loans. Pakistani newspaper media reported that Alice Wells, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, had made similar remarks at a closeddoor think tank event in Pakistan on Tuesday. Asked about the U.S. official’s comments, Pakistan’s foreign office spokeswoman, Aisha Farooqui, said CPEC was a transformational project for Pakistan, and completing it was the government’s highest priority. “To claim that CPEC is always in the form of loans and other forms of financing often non-concessional with sovereign guarantees is not based on facts,” Farooqui said during her weekly briefing. Before coming to power, Khan had also questioned the transparency of CPEC projects and expressed concern over Pakistan’s rising debt burden. Since winning the 2018 election, he has tended to avoid such remarks, although some ministers in his cabinet have spoken of the need to renegotiate some deals. The Chinese Embassy in Islamabad, in a statement on Wednesday, said: “The U.S. is obsessed with the story it [has] made for CPEC.” “If the U.S. truly cares about the development and prosperity of Pakistan and this region, it should bring cash and funds, promote win-win cooperation on the basis of mutual respect, fairness and justice, rather than act as a world policeman, spreading rumors and provoking China-Pakistan relations.” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Thursday that Pakistan will ensure its interests regarding the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and will continue to take measures in this regard. Shah Mehmood Qureshi said in his statement that Pakistan is resolutely trying to present its viewpoint in front of the world that there will be negative impacts over the regional economy if any conflict erupts in Kashmir or South Asia. He stressed that it is our responsibility to highlight the Kashmir and other local issues which Prime Minister Imran Khan has done. The foreign minister said that President Trump has assured to visit Pakistan soon to strengthen mutual ties. Trump has also expressed concerns over the escalating unrest in Indian-occupied Kashmir, he added.