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A top Chinese diplomat Friday expressed satisfaction over the progress made on projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), saying that a number of projects are set to be completed in the next few months. Speaking at a seminar on ''Belt and Road Initiative and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: Impact on Developments in South West Asia,'' organised by Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), Chinese embassy''s deputy chief of mission Lijian Zhao said the work on CPEC projects is progressing satisfactorily of which some will be completed in next few months.

Referring to some major projects, Zhao said Sukkur-Multan M-5 Motorway, which is the largest project under the CPEC worth $2.9 billion, is scheduled to be completed by June, whereas Thakot-Havelian section of Karakoram Highway is likely to be ready by the end of this year.

The 1320 MW coal-fired power plant set up in Hub, Balochistan, would likely be functional by the end of April, he said, adding that the first 660 MW unit of the power plant has already been connected to the national grid, while the second one would come online shortly. Besides, he added that Hub Power Plant is being completed at a cost of nearly $2 billion.

Furthermore, he said progress has been made on the projects such as Karot and Sukki-Kinari hydro-power plants and Gawadar Port Free Zone. Since the launch of Belt and Road Initiative six years ago, he pointed out that China has invested $28.9 billion in 82 economic zones in countries which are part of the initiative with 3,995 Chinese companies setting up businesses in these countries. However, he said Pakistan has not received investment under this head, as economic zones are yet to be started in the country.

Zhao also underscored the need for strengthening people-to-people contacts to complement strong bilateral political, economic and strategic relations between the two countries. He pointed out that currently Chinese universities are hosting over 22,000 Pakistani students, adding that this number is higher than the number of Pakistani students studying in the universities of the US and UK.

Prof Shahram Akbarzadeh, professor at Deakin University, Australia, in his presentation said Middle Eastern countries see China as a partner as unlike Western countries it does not insist on political openness and maintains business like relations. According to him, China is presenting alternatives to the leadership in Middle East, adding that China''s weakness lies in its inability to exert soft power in the Middle East. Dr Baogang He, professor at Deakin University, Australia, in his presentation said China has global ambitions and it is exporting infrastructure in addition to building production networks and supply chains.

He said that China has accumulated knowledge, technology, raw material, and wealth for its economic agenda. However, he urged China to address issues related to labour, land acquisition, and scale of investments.

Dr Zahid Shahab Ahmed, research fellow at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University, Australia, noted that there has been political consensus within Pakistan on CPEC. This, he said can be used as a model to evolve consensus on other issues of national importance.

Dr Zafar Iqbal Cheema, President SVI, in his remarks said critics of BRI and CPEC look at the projects through the geo-strategic lens and from the perspective of power politics.

He said the ascendancy of a geo-strategic perspective precludes the understanding of its desired objectives and undermines an informed and balanced discussion and discourse.

From an overriding security perspective, CPEC being viewed as a challenge rather than a cooperative enterprise while from the geo-economic angle, it is promoting regional connectivity, infrastructure growth, trade and development, he added.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019

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