Much has been said and written about various aspects of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) since its inception in 2013 and not all had been based in truth and accuracy. There has been a huge disinformation campaign against the project by many within Pakistan and outside.
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A simple but detailed study of the project and its implementation can easily cast away the doubts and misperceptions but that has not been the intent of many who have only wanted to criticize and hamper the progress. Take upon some critics, for example, who mix up short-term power generation projects with tax-free industrial zones which are part of a long-term plan and will be functional by 2030. The critics object that little work and progress has been made free-trade zones but in reality, those zones are to be operational by 2030 and work done so far has been deemed satisfactory and on course by all the stakeholders.
Energy and power generation projects, on the other hand, are part of the short-term plan and are already at different phases of completion with most already functional. Critics mix these two and start blaming the slow speed for completion and how it is a toothless giant. Others consider security and employment aspects and by baking half-truths, play with the minds of the rather less-informed general public. Casting these doubts and sowing the seeds of contention among the common public based upon wrong and untruthful information and on ethnic and economic grounds has not served the project well, neither for the country nor the province/s. One such huge drawback emanating from this disinformation campaign has been the doubt among common Baloch people and the distrust of the project. China, on the other hand, has also been severely impacted by all these misinformation campaigns and started doubting the ability of Pakistani authorities and administration to undertake what is necessary for the completion of the project.
On the economic front, there have been claims that it is sort of a debt trap for the country but these apprehensions are misplaced and based on conjectures, not on facts. Out of a total commitment of $50 billion, 70per cent or $35 billion would be coming to Pakistan in the form of foreign direct investment. The Chinese companies are following the established IPP policy of the government which applies to all domestic and foreign investors under which they are allowed a 17 percent return on equity in US dollar terms. Infrastructure projects would be financed by long-term concessional loans averaging an interest rate of two percent and grants which is an actual international standard for development loans.
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So, what does all this criticism and subsequent apprehension warrant for CPEC? A mere disinformation campaign from within for political gains for different political actors and from abroad for geopolitical gains. Sadly, most of this disinformation and misinformation campaign has been successful so far and there is a dire need for both China and Pakistan to come together to establish a platform for the truthful and favorable dissemination of information of all sorts related to CPEC.
The world is undergoing profound changes and the international stage is becoming increasingly complex, unstable and uncertain. Therefore, Pakistan and China should step up to build strategic communication on sensitive issues to further strengthen bilateral cooperation. Pakistan and China should stick together in a time of difficulty and advocate solidarity and cooperation. Both sides should uphold the vision of a community of public good for mankind and firmly oppose all attempts to politicize, label and stigmatize Chinese investment in Pakistan and the region. This maligning disinformation only disrupts international cooperation and both countries should find ways to counter denigrating campaigns effectively. There should be a local community-based initiative in Pakistan, especially in the Balochistan region, to shun all misinformation and win common people’s hearts along with strict anti-terrorism operations against the likes of BLA and BLF which are foreign financed terror outfits. Strengthening Pakistan-China cooperation among media, universities, and think tanks as well as strengthening exchanges of experience in state government such as anti-corruption, poverty alleviation, economic reform and social governance will also enhance the chances of success for China-Pakistan mutual development projects. There is a need for Pakistan’s political parties and forces to shun the practices of finger-pointing based on wrong information to score political points which would dent national interest in the end. A strong local, national, mutual, and effort regional to curb misinformation is needed for the success of projects like CPEC and many other such initiatives.