Pakistan keen to start CPEC’s next phase

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CPEC
CPEC route. PHOTO: AFP
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ISLAMABAD:  Pakistan plans to give a new push to slow-moving projects being executed under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) during the upcoming visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to China.

Islamabad may also request Beijing to sign agreements for the next phase of the multibillion-dollar cooperation between the two countries.

“The Cabinet Committee on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CCOCPEC) on Friday started deliberations on the deliverables of PM Khan’s visit to Shanghai, which is scheduled for November this year,” said officials at the Ministry of Planning and Development.

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Minister for Planning and Development Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar chaired the first meeting of the committee in which the projects located in Gwadar that could be taken to their next implementation stage were discussed.

Also Read: As Financial Hurdles Hit CPEC, What’s In Store For Pakistan?

The Chinese government has invited Prime Minister Khan to attend the China International Import Expo. Pakistan is the guest of honour at the conference to be attended by members of the Belt and Road Initiative.

It will be the prime minister’s second foreign visit, and the government wants to make it a success. The prime minister is leaving for Saudi Arabia on coming Tuesday in his first foreign visit.

The planning ministry officials said the next phase agreements of 300 megawatts coal-fired Gwadar power project and socioeconomic development schemes could be signed during the prime minister’s visit. More deliverables would be worked out during the joint working groups of CPEC meetings.

The cabinet committee instructed the conveners of all the groups to submit a detailed agenda till the 30th of this month for approval, according to a handout issued by the planning ministry after the meeting.

It added that the joint working groups meetings were planned to be convened in October. There are five working groups: planning, energy, transport, Gwadar and industrial parks.

Planning Secretary Zafar Hasan gave an overview of the ongoing projects and rundown of the schedule of the upcoming events, leading to the 8th Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC).

The cabinet committee endorsed the government’s new priority list of CPEC. The committee decided to prioritise development of Gwadar, Special Economic Zones, Pakistan Railways $9 billion Main Line 1 project, inclusion of social sector development and third-country participation in CPEC, according to the official handout

The committee – the highest bilateral decision-making body – has planned to hold its 8th meeting in the first week of December in China, declared the planning ministry.

The PTI government has undertaken an internal review of CPEC aimed at making it more representative of the aspirations of the people.

Also, the Chinese ambassador on Friday met PM’s Adviser on Textile and Industry Razak Dawood. Both the sides agreed to work more closely to build a brighter and prosperous future for the region, according to a statement issued by the minister’s office after the meeting.

The meeting was held days after The Financial Times reported that Pakistan was considering a review of the CPEC agreement with China. The newspaper quoted the adviser as saying that CPEC should be halted for at least one year.

Meanwhile, the 8th JCC will review progress on the implementation of decisions taken during the 7th JCC that was held in November last year.

The officials said progress could not be made on most of the issues that had been decided in the last JCC meeting.

At present, 22 projects worth $28.6 billion are under various phases of implementation under CPEC. They include energy projects estimated at $34.8 billion, road projects at $5.8 billion, ML-1 at $9 billion and Gwadar port and city projects.

The 7th JCC meeting had agreed to resolve the issue of the revolving fund, which was to be set up to make energy payments to Chinese investors. However, the issue remains unresolved till date.

In a related development, the Pakistan Private Infrastructure Board extended the deadlines of a few projects that were falling behind schedule.

The deadlines on ML-I project could not be met. Both the sides agreed to finalise the preliminary design of the project by November 2017 that remains outstanding.

Foreign investors seek review of CPEC, free trade deals

The framework agreements on two Balochistan road projects could not be signed.

Progress on four provincial road projects – Mansehra-Muzaffarabad-Mirpur Motorway, Gilgit-Shandur-Chitral Road, Naukundi-Mashkhel-Panjgur Road and Keti Bandar port development – could not be made either.

The greater Peshawar Mass Transit Circular Rail and the Quetta Mass Transit projects also remained on papers during the past one year.

The resolution of the Gwadar Water supply scheme of five million gallons per day had been declared an urgent priority by the 7th JCC. So far, no tangible progress has been made.

Bottlenecks to the construction of 300 megawatts Gwadar coal-fired power plant could not be removed, and Pakistan now wants to address it during the prime minister’s visit.

China and Pakistan had also agreed to start construction on the New Gwadar International Airport within six months of signing of the implementation agreement. But work on the project has yet to be started.

However, a Chinese delegation is expected to visit Pakistan soon to discuss the airport project, the officials said.

Similarly, four out of nine prioritised Special Economic Zones have also remained stuck for the past one year.

(This news/article originally appeared in The Express Tribune on September 15th, 2018)

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