The outgoing US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Alice Wells, while addressing a farewell news briefing through a video link attended by journalists from South and Central Asia, hurled scathing criticism at China for burdening Pakistan with a heavy debt through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor saying “ At the time of a crisis like the covid-19 pandemic, it is really incumbent on China to take steps to alleviate the burden that this predatory, unsustainable and unfair lending is going to cause to Pakistan” Reacting to her remarks the Foreign Office of Pakistan maintained that the remarks about debt obligations of Pakistan relating to CPEC were contrary to the facts as it was a flagship project of the Belt and Road Iniative, which was contributing positively to Pakistan’s national development. The Chinese Embassy in Islamabad also strongly repudiated Ambassador Wells’ statement, saying it was a totally baseless attempt to defame Sino-Pak relations and the CPEC.
Anbassador Wells has not made such remarks for the first time. Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson forum for Scholars in Washington in late November 2019 she had also made similar observations. The US tirade against CPEC and its attempts to sabotage it along with India are known to everybody. The opposition to CPEC actually stems from the contain-China policy of the USA, meant to thwart the burgeoning Chinese influence in the region and beyond, which is considered as a threat to the US position as a world leader.
The reality is that its assumption that the CPEC would ultimately land Pakistan into a debt trap is a travesty of facts. The major portion of the CPEC projects relating to infrastructure and energy, costing well over $40 billion out of the total projected cost of nearly $60 billion, pertains to direct Chinese investment. The Chinese loans constitute less than 10 percent of the total public debt of Pakistan and in no way can jeopardize the reform agenda of the incumbent government.
The other falsehood regarding Chinese debt that Ambassador Wells blurted out was that the Chinese debt burden would start showing its impact within the next four to six years, which again was against the real situation. The Chinese loans have a maturity period of 20 years and the interest rate is 2.34 percent, and if grants are included, the value slides down to 2 percent. As is evident the claims made by Ambassador Wells are nothing but a well orchestrated propaganda to malign and denigrate relations between Pakistan and China and create doubt about the benefits that are likely to accrue to Pakistan with the implementation of CPEC. Pakistan government had then rightly expressed disappointment over her remarks and vowed to continue with the project, which is a game changing initiative not only for Pakistan but the entire region.
CPEC is in fact is a monumental initiative for changing the economic profile of the entire region and a nationally owned undertaking by Pakistan, and there is no difference of opinion on its importance, efficacy and benefits among political leadership of all shades and state institutions. No wonder that about 150 countries and international organizations have signed agreements on BRI cooperation with China. It is pertinent to mention that even the UK has expressed interest in joining the CPEC. One could ask the USA, if it was so concerned about the economy of Pakistan, why has it not helped Pakistan in overcoming the energy crisis and building the much required infrastructure, in spite of being her ally?
The Chinese embassy in Islamabad, while rejecting the claims made by Ambassador Wells, reminded the USA that since the commencement of the implementation of CPEC, it had brought $25 billion direct investment in Pakistan and created more than 75,000 jobs. It maintained that China has been the major source of foreign investment in the country during the last five years, as against US investment of $1billion between 2012 and 2019.
The reality is that in the current fight against Covid-19 China has stood by Pakistan and donated medical equipment and materials worth more than $55 million. It is lending unqualified support to Pakistan’s own model of development. In the next phase of CPEC both the countries aim to strengthen cooperation on healthcare, industrial development, agriculture and education.
China is a time-tested friend of Pakistan and, as against frequent betrayals by the USA, it has played a monumental role in her development and supported her on all issues of concerns, including Kashmir, at the global forums. Over the years China has supported the Kashmir cause and extended liberal economic and military assistance to Pakistan. When Pakistan was abandoned by its ally, the USA, during the 1965 war with India, China was there to help Pakistan as it did in each and every subsequent crisis.
Pakistan is indebted to China for her role in the economic progress of the country. The construction of the Karakoram Highway, the Heavy Mechanical Complex at Taxila and the Chashma Nuclear Plants are the monuments of the ever-growing relationship. In the backdrop of the US-India deal for the transfer of civilian nuclear technology which Pakistan regarded as discriminatory act, China exhibited the strength of the friendship between the two countries by agreeing to help in the construction of two more nuclear power plants at Chashma.
Pakistan and China also have very strong defence ties. The Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, in collaboration with the Chinese aviation industry, conceived the co-development and co-production of JF-17 Thunder aircraft in 1999 which, for Pakistan, was a big stride towards attaining self-sufficiency in the field of aircraft production, dictated by the turn of the events and the gravity of threats to its territorial integrity. The PAC has already completed the production of 50 aircraft under the Block-I project and is currently working on the Block-II project.
Considering the astronomical prices of the modern combat aircraft, the JF-17 offers a highly cost effective solution with cutting-edge capabilities. A number of countries have shown their interest in purchasing JF-17 aircraft, and in view of this development PAC and CATIC have also signed an agreement for the joint sale and marketing of the aircraft which is likely to accrue substantial economic benefits to Pakistan besides further cementing defense ties between Pakistan and China. The induction of the JF-17 in the PAF has made our air defence impregnable and enhanced its operational readiness manifold, making our skis safer than before.
China has also helped in strengthening the air defense system of Pakistan Army by providing Chinese built Low to Medium altitude Air Defence System, capable of tracking and destroying a variety of aerial targets at long ranges flying at low and medium altitudes.
The USA must understand that Pakistan is a sovereign country and knows well how her economic and security interests are best served. The CPEC in fact has imparted eternity to the bonds between the two iron-brothers and nobody can detract anything from it through false propaganda.