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The year 2023 marks ten years since the inauguration of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as the flagship project of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Out of more than six land corridors envisioned under the initial scheme of BRI, CPEC is the only corridor hosted by one country, Pakistan. The grand scheme aims to connect China’s Western Xinjiang region to the port of Gwadar in Pakistan’s Northwestern Balochistan province through a network of highways, railways, oil and gas pipelines, and optic fiber cable.

In addition, dozens of industrial zones, Information Technology (IT) Parks, and energy projects are part of the short and long-term plans of the CPEC. The deep-sea port of Gwadar acts as an anchor to CPEC and, owing to its prized positioning at the crossroads of different geographical zones, has the potential to elevate the once small fishing town to a bustling industrial and business hub.

Since its launch, CPEC has made noteworthy strides by attracting an investment of around $30 billion from China in a range of sectors, but primarily in infrastructure and energy projects. The auspicious results of the grand scheme are visible on the ground in Pakistan. Road infrastructure in Pakistan has undergone massive upgradation: under CPEC, 510 kilometers of highways and 932 kilometers of roads have been built, which have massively improved connectivity of the distant areas with major urban centers thereby contributing to uplifting the socio-economic standard of these regions. The investments in energy projects have led to the addition of 8,000 MW to the national grid, thereby assuaging the energy crisis that once mired Pakistan. The laying of 820 kilometers long optic fiber cable to enhance digital connectivity and the creation of more than 200,000 jobs are other dividends of CPEC.

Despite the discernible benefits of CPEC, the scheme has been the subject of adversarial and cynical commentary from domestic and international naysayers. The international players, especially the US, have sought to discredit CPEC as part of their larger campaign against BRI, which they consider as the harbinger of the Chinese-led economic order to rival the existing global economic architecture dominated by the US. CPEC (and other projects of BRI) were framed as a “debt trap” — a characterization that ignores the factual reality that Pakistan owes more than 70% of its debt to Western countries and institutions and that CPEC remains primarily an investment-oriented scheme.

On the domestic front, although CPEC enjoys a national consensus, it has fallen victim to vested political interests. To discredit their political rivals, the top echelons of the last government made erroneous claims that CPEC has been either rolled back or has been slowed down by their predecessors — a claim that starkly defied the reality on the ground. Such was the intensity and frequency of such motivated claims that Chinese officials had to reject the impression of CPEC slowing down and emphasize on multiple occasions that CPEC has been making steady progress — notwithstanding the occasional hiccups caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and security challenges.

In July 2023, the Chinese Vice Premier traveled to Pakistan to attend 10-year celebrations of CPEC. During the visit, Islamabad and Beijing expressed satisfaction with the remarkable achievements of CPEC and affirmed their resolve to further build upon the milestones of CPEC achieved during the last decade.

Recently, during a media talk, Pakistan’s Caretaker Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani firmly rejected the rumors that CPEC could be rolled back. The veteran diplomat added that CPEC has entered into Phase II, which would usher into a new era of multidimensional cooperation between Pakistan and China. Phase II of CPEC includes the upgradation and expansion of the railway network in Pakistan, the modernization of the agriculture sector, the operationalization of industrial zones, cooperation on combatting climate change and green development, and the development of science and technology and IT sectors.

To put it succinctly, the steady progress on CPEC projects discernible on the ground in various parts of Pakistan and the categorical statements from Pakistan and China rejecting any notions of the scheme slowing down provide enough ground and reasons to cast off the unfounded rumors about the grand scheme. CPEC never slowed down and has made noteworthy progress during the past 10 years, thereby contributing to the socio-economic development of Pakistan. Moreover, with the commencement of Phase II, the CPEC is expanding to cover many new areas, which would further deepen the cooperation between Pakistan and China and would consolidate the position of CPEC as a symbol of the Pakistan-China all-weather strategic partnership.

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