Beijing: President Xi Jinping has sought to project an upbeat picture of the impact of the CPEC projects in Pakistan, saying the China-funded venture is a “vivid testament” to their “ironclad friendship” and vowed to stand firmly with its all-weather ally.
China will continue to work with Pakistan to take their strategic ties to new heights, Xi said as the two countries celebrated the 10th anniversary of the launch of the ambitious CPEC infrastructure projects in Islamabad, a day after a major suicide bombing took place in the restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
In his congratulatory message to the ‘Decade of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’ (CPEC) celebrations event held in Islamabad on Monday, Xi said the USD 60 billion CPEC infrastructure programme is an “important pioneering project” of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The CPEC, which connects Gwadar Port in Pakistan’s Balochistan with China’s Xinjiang province, is opposed by India as it is being laid through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
The event was attended by Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng, who is on a three-day visit to Pakistan.
“China will work with Pakistan to aim for high-standard, sustainable and livelihood-enhancing outcomes and further build the CPEC into an exemplary project of high-quality Belt and Road cooperation,” Xi said.
“Since its launch in 2013, China and Pakistan have been advancing CPEC under the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, and have achieved a number of early harvests,” he was quoted as saying by the state-run Xinhua news agency.
Xi, also the General Secretary of the ruling Communist Party of China, said the CPEC has added new impetus to the economic and social development of Pakistan and laid a good foundation for regional connectivity and integration.
He said the project is a “vivid testament to the all-weather friendship between China and Pakistan”, and provides an important underpinning for building an even closer China-Pakistan community with a shared future in the new era.
Stressing that China and Pakistan will continue to improve overall planning and expand and deepen cooperation, Xi said no matter how the international landscape may change, China will always stand firmly with Pakistan, the report said.
“China and Pakistan will continue to work hand in hand and forge ahead in solidarity to carry forward the ironclad friendship, coordinate development and security,” Xi, also the general secretary of the ruling Communist Party of China, said.
He said the two countries will continue to “pursue the cooperation of higher standards, broader scope and greater depth, and take the China-Pakistan all-weather strategic cooperative partnership to new heights, so as to make an even greater contribution to peace and prosperity in the two countries and the broader region”.
The key agreement for the CPEC projects was agreed in 2013 but it was formally launched when President Xi Jinping visited Pakistan in 2015.
The BRI was launched by Chinese President Xi in 2013. It aims to link Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a network of land and sea routes.
The BRI is seen as an attempt by China to further its influence abroad with infrastructure projects funded by Chinese investments all over the world.
The initiative also led to allegations of smaller countries reeling under mounting Chinese debt after Sri Lanka gave its Hambantota port in a debt swap to China in 2017 on a 99-year lease.
The expansion of CPEC, which President Xi has described as an “exemplary project” of the multi-billion-dollar BRI, is at risk because of an uptick in terrorist attacks in Pakistan, according to analysts.
Pakistan officials say Chinese companies have built about USD 25 billion worth of mostly power generation and logistical infrastructure and the overall value of projects scheduled for completion by 2030 is estimated at USD 62 billion.
Ahead of the celebration of the 10th anniversary, Pakistan witnessed a surge in terrorist attacks, with the latest being a suicide bombing at a political rally on Sunday that killed 54 people, raising concerns in Beijing.
The CPEC’s 10th-anniversary celebrations on Monday were kept simple to mourn those who lost their lives in the terrorist attack in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Bajaur district on Sunday and cultural events planned for the event were cancelled.
“The Zhob attack was connected to CPEC. That’s why the [Pakistani] army chief of staff reacted by rushing to Quetta,” Afrasiab Khattak, a former member of Pakistan’s Senate told Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post newspaper on Tuesday.
“The situation in Western Pakistan has deteriorated since the Taliban took over in Afghanistan,” Khattak said.
President Xi and Chinese officials have been consistently raising concerns over attacks on Chinese workers in Pakistan despite multi-layered security cover provided by the government.
The CPEC development “will continue alongside terrorism”, said Abdul Basit, a senior associate fellow of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
“The Chinese know what they have gotten themselves into, and are learning the ropes on how to muddle through,” he told the Post.
He also suggested that Chinese security agencies could take a more direct approach in dealing with the militants responsible for killing Chinese nationals, instead of relying solely on Pakistan.