Beijing Diary

Why China is watching Pakistan elections closely

Beijing has said it will work closely with the new government in Islamabad.

 |  Beijing Diary  |  2-minute read |   25-07-2018
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China is watching closely as Pakistan comes out to vote on July 25 and counting happens on July 26 because Beijing believes its $62 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) could be at stake.

When China launched the "flagship" of its massive Belt and Road Initiative, it was banking on CPEC transforming Pakistan and providing a boost to the Nawaz Sharif government.

In fact, an internal assessment conducted before Sharif's dismissal by Renmin University of China concluded that a government under the former chief minister would best ensure the project's progress, expressing concern about his weakening domestic position after the Panama Papers revelations.

"If there are no exceptions, the chances for PML-N (Sharif's party) to reassume power are high, and the continuation of the government can guarantee the continuation and support of the government to CPEC," the 2016 report said.

That assumption, however, was proved wrong. During the campaign, Imran Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) criticised the outgoing government over lack of transparency in many CPEC projects and alleged corruption.

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Details that have come to light recently have underlined the extraordinarily favourable terms that Pakistan has agreed to. A Wall Street Journal  report on July 22 revealed that Chinese power companies had been given a guarantee of an astounding 34 per cent annual return on their investments in CPEC projects, to be paid by the Pakistan government in dollars.

This even as Pakistan's finances have teetered on the brink of a crisis, with suggestions that the new government will be forced to seek an International Monetary Fund bailout and its foreign exchange reserves dwindling.

On the eve of the election on Tuesday, China's Foreign Ministry said it believed no matter what the election results, it would work with the new Pakistani government closely.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said: "We believe the construction of CPEC will move forward according to the consensus reached by the two sides and will not be affected by other factors."

China would work with the new government to ensure that was the case, he said. "We would like to work together with the new government to deepen practical cooperation and move forward our all-weather strategic partnership," he said.

Beijing also defended the CPEC against the criticism. "The CPEC is a framework for strategic cooperation with eyes on long-term development of the two countries. It will help Pakistan develop and elevate cooperation between the two sides."

He added: "The corridor has played an important role in advancing the social and economic development of Pakistan. It enjoys the full support of Pakistani people and the government."

That, however, hasn't appeared to be the case during the hard-fought election campaign where China's projects, unusually, came under the spotlight.

Also read: Why Mamata Banerjee's prime ministerial ambitions could rip apart Opposition unity ahead of 2019

Writer

Ananth Krishnan Ananth Krishnan @ananthkrishnan

The writer is China correspondent for India Today.

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