Chinese concerns about CPEC: some musings

Chinese concerns about CPEC: some musings

“Chinese investments in Pakistan’s media, both in cash and kind, seem to have proven counterproductive. Mainstream media houses that are not beneficiaries of these investments often express their frustration through reports that may not always be unfounded but are invariably negative from the Chinese perspective”

Ansar M Bhatti

Minister of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (IDCPC), Liu Jianchao, last week acknowledged the support provided by Pakistan’s armed forces in ensuring the security of Chinese nationals and development projects in Pakistan. However, he expressed serious concerns about the ongoing attacks on Chinese nationals, stating that the security situation in Pakistan remains a major issue for Chinese investors. The minister also emphasized the critical need for political stability in Pakistan and underscored the importance of achieving political consensus to help the country navigate its current crises.

The minister said, “In a turbulent world of rising uncertainties, stability within the country is essential for development. Faced with complex internal and external challenges, Pakistan is navigating carefully through turbulent rivers,”.

The security of Chinese nationals working on various projects in Pakistan has been a consistent concern for both Chinese authorities and the Pakistani security establishment. Since the launch of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in 2013, numerous Chinese nationals have been killed, particularly in Balochistan province, which is the focal point of CPEC activities. Minister Liu’s statements about the security situation, made in front of representatives from all major political parties, are highly significant. Such statements are typically not made publicly, suggesting that if a high-level Chinese dignitary chose this prestigious gathering to voice concerns, it indicates that all back-channel options have likely been exhausted. It is now widely known that during the recent visit of Pakistan’s Prime Minister and Army Chief to China, similar concerns were expressed emphatically.

To improve political stability in Pakistan, it’s important to understand that genuine political stability is crucial for addressing security concerns effectively. Political divides provide opportunities for miscreants to carry out subversive acts. China is likely aware of this, which is why their minister has called for political stability. The question, then, is how to achieve this stability.

The most viable way to achieve political stability is through free and fair elections, allowing the legitimate winners to govern. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, free and fair elections have often been elusive. Winning parties are frequently prevented from taking charge, damaging the democratic order in the country.

The Chinese minister rightly pointed out that China wants to work with all political parties in Pakistan, a rational approach. However, China’s apparent preference for the PML N over the PPP or PTI has been a source of concern for other political parties. Right or wrong, this inclination gives the impression that China feels more comfortable with PML N governments, which complicates the political landscape in Pakistan.

In 2018, when the Nawaz Sharif-led PML-N government was dislodged to bring in the PTI, spearheaded by Imran Khan, China did not welcome the change, fearing it might impact the well-being of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects. In this context, it took almost a month or more for the Chinese ambassador in Pakistan to call on the then Prime Minister Imran Khan and congratulate him on his election.

The delayed Chinese response was not well received within the ranks of the PTI, which had always viewed the CPEC projects with skepticism. During the PTI government, work on all CPEC projects was halted mainly because the government ordered a thorough audit of the projects, suspecting large-scale corruption. Although China did not have a role in the removal of the PTI government, the incoming PDM government was seen as a positive development in terms of reviving the CPEC projects.

Minister Liu also mentioned the ‘negative’ role of certain media outlets, accusing them of spreading ‘false’ information about the CPEC. While the minister may have grounds for his claim, it is crucial for the Chinese leadership to review and reassess their media policy. Problems arise when a one-sided media approach is adopted in dealing with the Pakistani media. Often, media officers in the embassy are unavailable, or their ranks are too junior to effectively interact with senior Pakistani journalists. This lack of coordination seems to be the primary source of the dissemination of misinformation whatsoever.

Most importantly, Chinese investments in Pakistan’s media, both in cash and kind, seem to have proven counterproductive. Mainstream media houses that are not beneficiaries of these investments often express their frustration through reports that may not always be unfounded but are invariably negative from the Chinese perspective. The Chinese government should reconsider its policy of financially assisting media houses directly or indirectly. This approach either needs to be eliminated or rationalized to ensure balanced and unbiased coverage.

Apart from media problems, another phenomenon that has adversely affected China’s image happens to be the “think-tank syndrome.” Since the launch of the CPEC project, there has been a mushroom growth of one-man or one-woman think tanks. Hefty sums are allocated to these think tanks, mostly run by pseudo-intellectuals. China needs to engage with genuine and reputable think tanks, which are abundant in Pakistan. This will certainly help augment efforts to strengthen the CPEC projects.

CPEC undoubtedly holds immense benefits and opportunities for both Pakistan and China. It has ushered in an era of significant infrastructural development in Pakistan. The project, therefore, must be protected, supported, and strengthened. A partnership with China can bring about a revolution in Pakistan. Islamabad must address the genuine security concerns expressed by the Chinese minister. Similarly, the Chinese side should reconsider its policies, particularly in the aeras mentioned above, to make this collaboration durable, trusted, and mutually beneficial.

The writer is the newspaper Editor