No final word on Colombo Port City Project yet

Now, USD 46 bn China-Pakistan project under a cloud

From Shamindra Ferdinando in Islamabad

A major Indo-Pakistan crisis is rapidly developing over the go-ahead for a mega USD 46 billion development project called China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) strongly opposed by Premier Narendra Modi’s government.

Several Chinese funded projects in Sri Lanka are also under a cloud with the new government suspending Colombo Port City Project pending a fresh assessment. In September last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping, the first Chinese president to visit Sri Lanka in 28 years, inaugurated USD 1.5 billion project to reclaim land the size of Monaco for a luxury real estate development.

A conference jointly organised by Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) and Hanns Seidal Foundation (HSF) of Germany was briefed on the developing scenario with both Pakistan and China asserting their right to go ahead with a range of projects meant to strengthen the economy of the region.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Special Assistant Tariq Fatemi at the conclusion of the two-day conference, on Wednesday (June 3) declared that China-Pakistan collaboration did not threaten the interests of any country. Veteran diplomat Fatemi addressed the conference after having participated in a meeting between Premier Sharif and Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit to discuss state of Pakistan-India relations.

The Indian media quoted External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj as having said that during his visit to China, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had raised "very strongly" the issue of the CPEC to Beijing and told them that it was "unacceptable" to India.

She has also said that India had summoned Chinese envoy to register protest over the multi-billion dollar project, while Indian ambassador to China had also lodged a protest with China.

Expressing disappointment at India’s opposition to CPEC, Fatemi said; "How could India object to a bilateral project." Fatemi also referred to foreign agents engaged in terrorism on Pakistani soil. Mentioning the entire range of Chinese funded projects in Pakistan, Fatemi asserted that China could transform Pakistan. One major benefit would be Chinese investments could address unemployment.

Chinese representative Ye Hailin censured India’s stand while explaining the great benefits of the project. Chinese President Xi Jinping last April launched the project meant to build a 3,000-km corridor between Pakistan`s southern Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea to China`s western Xinjiang region. The conference was told that the economic corridor comprising a network of roads, railways and pipelines, would pass through Pakistan’s southern Baluchistan province.

The corridor is part of China`s plans to create a new "Silk Road" to markets in the Middle East and Europe.

Fatemi explained large scale on-going military action aimed at neutralizing terrorists operating in the country. Annihilation of terrorists was necessary to attract foreign investment; Fetemi said adding that the military had paid a heavy price to create a stable environment, though on occasion incidents continued to take place.

The conference was told that the dispute over CPEC could further exacerbate the situation, particularly in the absence of direct talks between the two-nuclear armed SAARC nations.

Former Pakistan Foreign Secretary Inam ul Haque alleged that India had undermined efforts to bring the two governments back to the negotiating table by always setting pre-conditions. Haque, who is also the Chairman of IPRI said that Pakistan was ready to resume negotiations but any pre-requisites weren’t acceptable under any conditions.

IPRI President Ambassador Sohail Amin regretted the absence of two Indian representatives, who informed him of their inability to attend the conference at the eleventh hour. Had they been here, they could have responded to issues raised at the Islamabad forum, Ambassador Amin said.

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