Don’t ‘underestimate’ China’s relations with Pakistan: envoy

Days ahead of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s maiden trip to China, the message from Chinese officials is loud and clear: Beijing will do whatever it can to help Pakistan in difficult times and will work on increasing its export potential via the manufacturing sector.
In an emphatic rejoinder to the detractors of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Ambassador Yao Jing Friday attempted to inject renewed confidence in the bilateral relations and put all the speculation around the multi-billion initiative to rest. “We should guard against negative forces out there which don’t want to see China prosper and which are also opposed to the close and exemplary Pakistan-China relations,” he said at a press briefing. He emphasized that Chinese capital as well as technology will be put to use to reinforce and expand Pakistan’s manufacturing capacity, which he said is key to increasing exports.
The ambassador said Prime Minister Imran Khan will lead a delegation to China from November 2-5, during which both countries will sign several agreements on diverse fields. Khan will also be the keynote speaker at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai. The CPEC is just one dimension of the comprehensive Pakistan-China brotherly relations which are based on mutual respect, goodwill and confidence in each other, the ambassador underscored.
On the occasion, Deputy Chief of Mission Zhao Lijian explained the status of the $19 billion that has so far flowed into Pakistan as soft loans and commercial investments, leading to the completion of 22 energy and infrastructure projects. “Of the $19 billion, $6 billion are a soft government-to-government loan at 2% mark-up. The rest is Chinese direct foreign investment with a one-time 7% insurance cost. The total cost for this loan would stay hardly at 6.3% on the average during the 20-year repayment period, including several years of a grace period as well. The repayment on all loans and investments will begin in 2022,” he explained.
Ambassador Jing also took a swipe at those who tend to project the Chinese loans as ‘easy money’. “This money is not from the sky, it has been hard earned by the Chinese people. We worked hard (to earn it). In China, we still have 30 million people who live under the poverty line and it is a very big challenge for us,” he said. “Why China has invested such a big amount in Pakistan? Only because we take Pakistan as a brother … we take Pakistan as our future partner in prosperity,” he underlined.
Both Chinese officials brushed aside speculation about China being concerned about the ‘concerns expressed by PM Khan or his colleagues on CPEC’ as a non-story. “The talk to this effect is totally irrelevant since the bilateral relationship as well as the entire CPEC process rests on mutual consultation, understanding and coordination. We are determined to invest more in Pakistan and buy more from it,” the ambassador said, in what appeared to be a forceful snub to western media reports casting doubts on the future of CPEC-related projects.
The ambassador said China was celebrating the year 2018 as the Year of Reform and Openness that began under Deng Xiaoping in the late 70s. “PM Khan espouses the similar vision on reforms and restructuring and there is a lot of common ground to tread for both countries,” Jing said, adding that the ground-breaking later this year of the first of the nine special economic zones near Islamabad will mark the second phase of CPEC, which will not only usher in a new era of development in Pakistan but also serve as a platform for regional trade cooperation.
The ambassador explained that the next phase of CPEC would not only prioritize special economic zones as engines of Pakistan’s economic development but also focus on the social sector development including health, education, agriculture and skills development. “CPEC will not only strengthen and accelerate Pakistan’s growth but serve as a critical hub for regional trade and connectivity,” he said, and left a bemusing thought with journalists saying “you will hear good news at the end of PM Khan’s visit.”

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