Islamabad and Beijing are unlikely to welcome other countries to become part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) before 2020 as they will wait until energy and industrial projects are completed, say officials.
Pakistan and China are developing energy projects of $35 billion under CPEC and want to complete them first before opening the door to Middle Eastern states, Iran and Central Asian countries for joining the gigantic economic corridor.
Some of the power projects like Sahiwal coal power plant have been completed and some others are expected to be ready next year.
According to officials, Pakistan has not officially invited these countries in writing to join CPEC as Islamabad and Beijing have agreed, in principle, that they will not make other countries part of CPEC till 2020.
Apart from energy projects, China is also working on communications and industrial schemes. It is also interested in investing in duty-free zones along the economic corridor in Pakistan.
Under CPEC, 37 duty-free zones will be built, of which Pakistan has prioritised nine zones that will be offered to China.
During the visit of a Chinese delegation, a meeting was held in this regard with officials of Pakistan’s Board of Investment (BOI), Petroleum and Water and Power Divisions.
In the meeting with BOI, the Chinese delegates sought some more incentives from Pakistan. They also demanded pieces of land on a 99-year lease, which surprised many Pakistani officials.
They cited the example of Cambodia and Belarus that had given land on lease for 99 years, saying Pakistan should follow that model. However, Pakistani officials did not respond, saying only that it would trigger a wave of criticism in the country.
Following the discussions, expert groups were formed to assess China’s demand and work on the duty-free zones.
Officials disclosed that China could take control of one out of nine prioritised zones on an experimental basis where it would work either independently or enter into joint ventures with the private sector.
They said China wanted complete control over these projects and did not want other countries to join CPEC.
China desires to develop the industry itself in Pakistan and will give CPEC access to other countries when industrial units start working. This will help China to export its projects to other countries like Central Asian states and Russia.
In the meeting with officials of the Petroleum Division, the Chinese side was informed that not a single project of the oil and gas sector had been made part of CPEC.
The Petroleum Division officials said the oil and gas industry had been ignored in CPEC as the entire focus of China was on electricity, road and railway schemes. Some oil and gas projects should be included in the economic corridor, they emphasised.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 23rd, 2017.