By Aamir Latif
Pakistan has denied reports of renegotiating the terms of China's multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, but the controversy refuses to die down.
On Sunday, the Financial Times reported the new government in Pakistan is concerned that the $64-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project unfairly benefits Beijing.
The CPEC project includes expansion of the Gwadar port in southern Pakistan, power plants, and road and rail networks.
The report quoted Abdul Razak Dawood, advisor on commerce and investment to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, as saying: "Chinese companies have received tax breaks, and have an undue advantage in Pakistan. This is one of the things we are looking at because it’s not fair that Pakistani companies are disadvantaged.”
Dawood, who had expressed his reservations on the project even before joining the new government last month, backtracked saying he was misquoted by the newspaper.
In a tweet, Dawood said he had assured Chinese authorities that CPEC “is a national priority”.
But his denial further simmered the controversy, following a series of hard-hitting statements from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leaders accusing the previous government of jailed ex-premier Nawaz Sharif of receiving kickbacks from the Chinese government.
“Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif have received kickbacks in CPEC-related projects. That’s why they were unduly inclined and hospitable towards Chinese [officials],” Usman Dar, a central PTI leader, charged at a live talk show on local broadcaster Geo News.
He, however, declined to specify any further details.
Khan, in the recent past, himself accused the previous government of lacking transparency on the project.
- Game changer
Nawaz Sharif's party Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), which now forms the main opposition in the country, has accused the current government of acting against "national interests".
Shehbaz Sharif, PML-N chief and Nawaz Sharif's younger brother, said his party would frustrate attempts to halt the project.
“CPEC is a game-changer. Halting this project will deal a major blow to Pakistan’s economy. We will not allow the government to roll it back," he told reporters outside the National Assembly.
- No effect
Political and economic commentators do not see any effects of the ongoing controversy over the future of the project.
“The CPEC is not between two governments but two states. I don’t think that the change of government can affect it," Khaleeq Kiani, an Islamabad-based analyst who frequently writes on commerce and energy, told Anadolu Agency.
“On top of all, Pakistan army is the guarantor of the project rather than the PML-N or the PTI," he added.
Pakistan army has already created a 10,000-strong force to provide security to hundreds of Chinese workers, technicians and experts associated with the economic corridor.
But Kiani predicts some CPEC-related projects may be reviewed by the present government.
Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, a professor of international relations at the Islamabad-based Quaid-I-Azam International University, agrees.
“The CPEC is a state-to-state project. Nothing is going to happen," Jaspal told Anadolu Agency.
He also agreed that the PTI government might review a few CPEC-related projects as per its understanding and policy.
“Naturally, the new government reviews the previous government’s policies if it does not deem them fit. There is no harm in it,” Jaspal added.
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