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Prospects of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor after Nawaz Sharif's exit
Chinese President Xi Jinping, during his ever first visit to Pakistan in April 2015, had described Pakistan as "Iron Brother" and had asserted that Pakistan's economy had the capability to transform into an 'Asian Tiger'.

His visit was hailed by the then Pakistani Prime Minister as "historic" as during the visit, China had offered US$ 45 billion for fifty one developmental projects in Pakistan relating to road-rail infrastructure, communications, energy, power and development of Gwadar sea port in Balochistan, under China's ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.

While President Xi had claimed that the CPEC project would benefit not only the region but every citizen of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif had described the CPEC as a "game changer" for Pakistan. President Jinping had also described the CPEC as a "historic development opportunity" for Pakistan and hailed Nawaz Sharif for crafting the vision of Pakistan as an "Asian Tiger" through CPEC.

After launching of the CPEC, Nawaz Sharif had directly or indirectly attributed the success of CPEC to himself and wanted to make it as a major issue during the next general election in Pakistan, due in June, 2018. However, Nawaz Sharif's plans were interrupted mid-way when he was toppled (July 28, 2017) by Pakistan's Supreme Court for being involved in the Panamagate scandal.

Although China has described Nawaz Sharif's removal as an "internal affair" of Pakistan, but his removal hasraised diminutive anxiety and discomfort in China over the future and success of the CPEC in a volatile political situation prevailing in Pakistan. It is feared that some CPEC projects might also be investigated for corruption.

However, China swiftly disseminated worries over the fate of CPEC after Nawaz Sharif's removal and Lu Kang, the spokesman of China's Foreign Ministry asserted (Beijing, July 29, 2017) that the changed situation in Pakistan would not affect China-Pakistan strategic partnership. He described Nawaz Sharif's removal as an internal matter of Pakistan and urged political parties to maintain unity and stability and focus on the economic and social development of the country.

China's anxiety after Nawaz Sharif's removal can be gauged from the fact that China's ambassador to Pakistan, Sun Weidong was the first foreign envoy in Pakistan who called on Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi (Islamabad, Auust 3, 2017) and congratulated the latter on assuming office. He also conveyed the congratulatory message of the Chinese premiere to Prime Minister Abbasi. During the meeting, Prime Minister Abbasi reiterated that he would work to implement CPEC as it was being previously implemented, and he would also personally supervise the speedy completion of all the projects under the CPEC. Meanwhile, Pakistan's new government was also planning to send a high level delegation to Beijing in August 2017 to renew its commitment to the CPEC.

On the other hand, Pakistan too, reacted in a positive manner over the fate of CPEC after Nawaz Sharif's ouster. While chairing the first meeting (Islamabad, August 4, 2017) of his cabinet, Pakistan's new Prime Minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi declared that all projects under CPEC would be executed on priority basis.

Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, while addressing a gathering (Islamabad, August 1, 2017) at the Chinese embassy had also asserted that CPEC had further strengthened Pak-China relations. Earlier, General Bajwa had reiterated the army's commitment to ensure security for CPEC and the workforce of 30,000 Pakistanis and 15,175 Chinese professionals working in different projects under CPEC, which also included 7,036 Chinese working in Punjab; 3,134 in Balochistan; 2,654 in Sindh; 1,912 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and another 439 in and around Islamabad. They were being provided security cover by 14,503 Pakistani security personnel.

Meanwhile, Project Director for Development Communication at Planning & Development Ministry of Pakistan, Mohammad Asim Khan, in a detailed interview (July 29, 2017) to a local Pakistan daily claimed that change of government in Pakistan would have no adverse effect on the implementation of projects under CPEC as Pakistan and China had evolved an institutionalised mechanism for CPEC's monitoring and implementation. He also informed that every month, the concerned Pakistani federal minister and China's Deputy Chief of Mission in Islamabad, Zhao Lijian attended a detailed progress review meeting on projects under CPEC. Asim Khan also added that since the ruling party in Pakistan is the same, it would ensure smooth progress of CPEC. Incidentally, in Pakistan, the CPEC was headed by Ahsan Iqbal, Minister for Planning and Development in the Sharif government, who is also a close aide of Sharif.

However, as for the new government under Prime Minister Abbasi, it is unlikely that there would be a complete smooth sailing for the CPEC due to some controversies and differences which had erupted during Nawaz Sharif's regime between China and Pakistani on some important issues like collection of Karakoram toll tax and fixing of power tariff by the Chinese for 17 coal power plants being constructed in Pakistan under CPEC. Incidentally, these two major issues had turned irritants in Sino-Pak relationship during Nawaz Sharif'stenure. In addition to it, allegations against Nawaz Sharif and his family of corruption in some CPEC projects would also cause discomfort to the Pakistani government led by Prime Minister Abbasi, who had to make additional efforts to iron out differences with China on said issues.

In China too, some apprehensions have been expressed about the future of CPEC and it is being felt that CPEC might be hit due to Nawaz Sharif's ouster. Lan Jiang, a professor with the China West Normal University, Nanchong in Sichuan, in his article (August 5, 2017) published by the state-backed Global Times, feared that removal of Nawaz Sharif would likely create some uncertainties to the CPEC. The various reasons cited by him include disagreement between political parties on the project; some political parties casting doubts on specific items; and CPEC coming under investigation and bringing more uncertainties to the execution of CPEC if the ruling party loses the next election in 2018. Apparently, these assertions made by Prof Jiang are against the claims made by the Chinese foreign minister by saying that unseating of Nawaz Sharif would not affect the CPEC.

Meanwhile, US-based prominent Pakistani analyst Arif Rafiq, who is a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute – a US think tank – asserted that removal of Nawaz Sharif had put China in a "peculiar situation" as it was the first time that China had invested so much during a civilian regime in Pakistan. Arif Rafiq further opined that while China was "deeply leveraged" in Nawaz Sharif government, military to military relations between the two countries had also been strengthened. He, however, feared that some CPEC projects like Port Qasim Coal Power Project would be investigated because of allegations of corruption against Nawaz Sharif and his family members.

Notably, although China is upset over the situation in Pakistan after Nawaz Sharif's removal, itis not about his future. Even if Nawaz Sharif-led ruling PML(N) fails to come back to power in June 2018, or in case of a military coup, it is unlikely that CPEC would get hampered as China is ready to cooperate with any political party in power and with the Pakistan army too, which is in favor of successful completion of CPEC and has committed for the security of CPEC as well as work force involved in it. However, if any opposition party comes to power after the next general elections, possibility of changes in certain significant priorities in execution of CPEC cannot be ruled out.

CPEC is being used as a political implement by Pakistani politicians to appease the masses in the name of country's development. They have intentionally ignored to inform their countrymen that Pakistan would be paying $90 billion back to China over a span of 30 years against the loan and investment portfolio worth $50 billion under the CPEC. Who will bear the burnt? Of course not the Pakistani politicians but only Pakistani citizens! The day is not far when CPEC would be used as a tool by China to subjugate Pakistan, politically, economically and militarily too.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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