US takes step back as CPEC debate still rages

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SOURCEThe Express Tribune
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LAHORE / BEIJING: The United States appeared to take a step back from its criticism of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), following a strong reaction and point-by-point rejection of “wrong analysis” of Washington’s top diplomat for region by Beijing and Islamabad last week.

The US Ambassador to Pakistan, Paul W Jones, said during a visit to the Punjab capital that Acting Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells had intended to generate a debate on the matter and that it was the “sovereign right” of to decide about its future.

It was very “thoughtful speech”, and the idea of her speech was to generate debate, Jones told the media in Lahore. “We do not expect everyone to agree with us or agree with every aspect of her speech,” he said, while responding to a question.

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A heated debate was generated last week, after Wells, speaking at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said Pakistan faced long-term economic damage with little return if China keeps pursuing its giant infrastructure push.

Hours after her speech in Washington, Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Yao Jing, gave a point-by-point reply to Wells assertions, stressing that the CPEC was win-win cooperation for the benefit of the two countries.

And on Saturday, a day after a rare public slugfest between top Chinese and American diplomats, Planning Minister Asad Umar jumped into the fray, brushing aside US concerns as “wrong analysis” and called CPEC a “blessing” for Pakistan.

On Monday, China’s foreign ministry responded to the US reservations over CPEC, saying Beijing would work with Islamabad to advance their strategic cooperative partnership to bring more benefits to Pakistani people and deliver more benefits to the region and beyond.

“No matter what the US says or does or how it tries to spoil the CPEC development, we will work together with Pakistan to develop CPEC and advance our all-weather strategic cooperative partnership,” foreign ministry’s spokesperson Geng Shuang told a daily briefing.

The US ambassador, while visiting the Wazir Khan Mosque to review the ongoing restoration work of some historic houses under the ‘US Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation’ (AFCP), said that there should be plenty of debates, which her (Wells) speech was meant to contribute.

However, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson observed that Wells’s remarks had nothing to add anything. “She just copied what certain people in the US said to smear the CPEC and BRI,”Geng Shuang said, adding that certain individuals in the US repeated their accusations.

The spokesperson opined that the US did not allow others to do what it had failed to do, adding the US ignored the facts and continues to use the so-called debt issue to disrupt CPEC development and drive a wedge between China and Pakistan. “This is so malicious and ill-intentioned,” he added.

“I am afraid, the problem is with certain people in the US with evil intentions… If the US wants to help Pakistan in its national development, we hope the US will honour its commitments with tangible and concrete funding as well as aids, instead of paying lip services alone.”

The US ambassador told reporters that not only in Pakistan but in other countries as well the path to development was critical for the prosperity of people, therefore, it should be transparent and discussed openly.

Meanwhile, the opposition also joined the debate on the mega project, with Pakistan Peoples Party Senator Sherry Rehman saying: “These are issues [Chinese debt] for Pakistan to decide on, no one else. It is for the people of Pakistan to ask the questions not anyone else.”

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Rehman said regretted that the statement of Alice Wells only created potential hurdles in bilateral ties between Pakistan and the US after the government ministers came out in defence of CPEC and reinforced their commitment to the corridor.

“Pakistan wants to maintain good relations with both the US and China as both are big markets for us. It is certainly not a zero-sum game. We believe CPEC has the potential to transform not only Pakistan’s economy but the region’s as well,” said the senator.

“As far as debt is concerned I am told that we have never seen China calling in Pakistan’s debt,” she said. “The Chinese ambassador has asked in the past, ‘when has China called in Pakistan’s loans?’ and rightly so. China’s government loans to Pakistan have usually come with easier repayment conditions than other loans that Pakistan has to repay,” she added.

(This news/article originally appeared in The Express Tribune on November 26th, 2019)

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