Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s newly elected government plans to renegotiate the agreements reached under China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as it “unfairly benefits Chinese companies”, according to a media report.
The projects concerned are part of the multi-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) plan – the most ambitious part of the BRI, which seeks to connect Asia and Europe along the ancient silk road, The Financial Times reported.
The ministers and the advisors of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government said the agreement “unfairly benefits Chinese companies,” the paper reported.
The CPEC, launched in 2015, is a planned network of roads, railways and energy projects linking China’s resource-rich Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region with Pakistan’s strategic Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea.
Prime Minister Khan, who was elected on a platform of anti-corruption and transparency, in the past had criticised jailed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif for the lack of transparency and corruption in the CPEC projects.
Khan has pledged to publish details of existing CPEC contracts whose details remained closely guarded secrets.
“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, Prime Minister Khan’s Adviser on Commerce, Textile, Industry & Production and Investment, was quoted as saying by the UK-based paper.
“Chinese companies received tax breaks, many 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.
Prime Minister Khan has established a nine-member committee to evaluate the CPEC projects and the committee is scheduled to meet for the first time this week, said Dawood, who sits on the new committee.
The committee will “think through CPEC – all of the benefits and the liabilities”, the paper quoted him as saying.
“I think we should put everything on hold for a year so we can get our act together,” he said.
“Perhaps we can stretch CPEC out over another five years or so,” said Dawood, who is a leading businessman.
Newly-appointed Finance Minister Asad Umar has promised to bring about transparency to the CPEC projects.
“Several other officials and advisers to the Khan government concurred that extending the terms of CPEC loans and spreading projects out over a longer timeframe was the preferred option, rather than outright cancellation, the paper said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Islamabad at the weekend amidst reports of unease in Beijing over how the new Pakistan government would approach the USD 50 billion Chinese investments in various projects under the CPEC.
During his meeting with Prime Minister Khan, Wang conveyed the desire of Chinese leadership to work with the new government for further enhancing the strategic partnership between Pakistan and China.
Talking to reporters in Islamabad Saturday, Wang had said that the CPEC has “not inflicted a debt burden” on Pakistan.
“…When these projects are completed and enter into operation, they will unleash huge economic benefits…creating considerable returns for Pakistan’s economy,” the Chinese foreign minister had said.
Wang, who is also a state councillor, had rejected concerns about CPEC projects’ transparency, insisting that such worries were “false” as all projects had been initiated after securing necessary approvals.
However, Pakistan’s second thoughts follow other recent setbacks for BRI, the pet project of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Governments in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and elsewhere have already expressed reservations over the onerous terms of Chinese BRI lending and investment.
Malaysia’s new government headed by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has cancelled three China-backed pipeline projects and put a showpiece BRI rail link under review.
Pakistan is facing a financial crisis and it must decide in the coming weeks whether to turn to the IMF for its 13th bailout in three decades.
Finance Minister Umar said he was evaluating a plan that would allow Islamabad to avoid an IMF programme, which several people close to the government say would involve new loans from China and perhaps also from Saudi Arabia, the paper reported.
Umar and Dawood both said Pakistan would be careful not to offend Beijing even as it takes a closer look at the CPEC agreements signed over the past five years, the paper said.
“We don’t intend to handle this process like Mahathir,” Umar said, referring to the newly elected nonagenarian Malaysian prime minister who has warned about the risk of Chinese “neo-colonialism”.