Is Pakistan having second thoughts about CPEC?

The PTI has been a staunch critic of the way the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor agreements were signed and the lack of transparency surrounding it.

Since the party is now in power, it plans to review the agreements and might even renegotiate some of the contracts.

According to the ministers and advisors, the trade agreement signed more than a decade ago unfairly favours Chinese companies.

“The previous government did a bad job negotiating with China on CPEC. They didn’t do their homework correctly and didn’t negotiate correctly so they gave away a lot,” Abdul Razak Dawood, PM’s Advisor on Industries and Production, told the Financial Times.

Dawood said that Chinese companies have been getting tax breaks and have an undue advantage in Pakistan. “This is one of the things we’re looking at because it’s not fair that Pakistan companies should be disadvantaged,” he said.

Pakistan is not the only country that is having second thoughts about China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Recently, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad warned about ‘new colonialism’ and announced that the country is China-financed projects worth billions of dollars.

“It’s about pouring in too much money, which we cannot afford, cannot repay, and also because we don’t need these projects for Malaysia at this moment,” Mahathir said.

Governments in Sri Lanka and Myanmar have also expressed reservations over the onerous terms of Chinese BRI lending and investment.

Dawood said that the nine-member committee formed by the prime minister is scheduled to meet this week and will “think through CPEC — all of the benefits and the liabilities.”

He is of the opinion that all the projects under the CPEC agreement should be on hold for a year. “Perhaps we can stretch CPEC out over another five years or so,” he added.

However, both Dawood and the new Finance Minister Asad Umar are careful about not upsetting Beijing. “We don’t intend to handle this process like Mahathir,” said Umar.

Following Dawood’s interview with the Financial Times, the planning commission also said that the agreements under the CPEC will be renegotiated. The authorities admitted that the implementation of CPEC agreements has been slowed down.

‘Won’t let the government back off from CPEC’

Reacting to Dawood’s statement, PML-N leader and former planning and development minister Ahsan Iqbal termed it an attempt to play with Pakistan’s future.

The new government wants to sabotage CPEC, Iqbal said, adding that, “We will not let the government back off from CPEC.”

PML-N president and Opposition Leader in the Parliament Shehbaz Sharif said that freezing CPEC projects will be unfair to the public. “CPEC is a game changer,” he said.

‘Taken out of context’

After receiving backlash from the opposition, the ministry of industries issued a rebuttal on Monday saying that the statements attributed to the advisor to the PM were “taken out of context and distorted.”

“Pakistan-China relations are impregnable and the Government’s commitment to CPEC is unwavering,” the statement read.