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    Friday, May 12, 2017

    PM, chief ministers travel to China to attend Belt and Road Forum

    Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is traveling to Beijing to attend a two-day international gathering promoting China's plan for a vast trade network, a spokesman said Friday.
    The Prime Minister's Office said in a statement that the premier leaves for China later Friday at the invitation of the President Xi Jinping to attend the event which is part of “Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road” initiative, which was launched by Xi in 2013.
    Sharif will be accompanied on the visit by a high-level delegation and chief ministers of the four provinces, the statement said.
    The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation opens Sunday and will be attended by 27 countries.
    During the summit, Sharif will address a high-level dialogue and the 'leaders' roundtable', the PM Office said.
    Besides attending the forum, the prime minister will hold bilateral meetings with President Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.
    "A number of agreements/ MoUs related to CPEC projects are also expected to be signed on the occasion," the statement said.
    Sharif will also hold bilateral meetings with several other heads of state on the sidelines of the forum. He will also visit Hangzhou and Hong Kong where he will interact with business leaders and attend investment conferences.
    Xi has championed what China formally calls the “One Belt, One Road” or OBOR initiative to build a new Silk Road linking Asia, Africa and Europe, a landmark programme to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure projects including railways, ports and power grids.
    China has dedicated $40 billion to a Silk Road Fund and the idea was the driving force behind the establishment of the $50 billion China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

    Global friend

    While China has portrayed the New Silk Road as a genuine effort to share the bounty of China's economic development and to fund infrastructure gaps, many Western countries are concerned about a lack of detail and transparency in the project and are suspicious about China's broader political intents.
    Diplomatic sources said the presence of Putin and other leaders from countries with dubious human rights records, like the Philippines and Central Asian states, had contributed to a reluctance among Western leaders to attend.
    “What Western leader wants to sit on the same stage as Putin?” said one senior Beijing-based Western diplomat who is familiar with the planning for the summit, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    Still, at a time of uncertainty about the US place in the world following President Donald Trump's pledges to put America first, China sees an opportunity to become more of a global leader and has found a receptive audience for its New Silk Road.
    Leaders from countries that would appear to have little, if any, connection to the plan are coming to the summit, including Chile and Argentina.
    “Everyone wants to be China's friend now with Trump in office,” said a senior Asian diplomat in Beijing. While China says the New Silk Road is not political, it has run into opposition from India due to a section of it in Pakistan, known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, where some projects run through the disputed Kashmir region.
    China has dismissed those concerns, saying CPEC had nothing to do with the dispute and India was welcome to participate in the New Silk Road.
    Anaklysing everything in its correct perspective is a great gift; the loss of perspective is akin to losing one’s way in a forest. Keeping perspective helps one walk on the straight and narrow path. Ordinary citizens normally give undeserved credit to their governments for their actions and decisions, assuming that they are the outcomes of careful considerations.
    The word ‘minister’ (or wazir) conjures up the image of famed wazir, appointed to the courts of kings; the unmatched wisdom of their advice prevailing with their leaders. So what the huddle of wazirs, also known as the cabinet, decides is beyond any reproach. Governments sometimes have perspective and sometimes do not. But they have the enviable choice of presenting their case to their constituents with or without perspective. The toiling masses do not have the time to investigate further. Those with lives of ease do not care beyond massaging their baser selves. The intellectuals react depending on which side of the powers-that-be they are responding to.
    China, no doubt, has remained a friend to Pakistan. It is their geopolitical compulsion as well as ours — there is no more to it. Countries’ relations are subject to change depending on the state of international affairs. During state visits, leaders describe their mutual relations in hyperbole but this is just to sound warm and sweet. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is one such example of a narrative fed to the people without any perspective.

    China’s friendship is based on geopolitical compulsions.

    Putting it into perspective, CPEC is part of China’s grand vision, known as the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative. This vision extends from the Baltics in Europe to Southeast Asia and from China to Africa. Trace it on the map and the road traverses all the countries in between. It is not a physical road like the Silk Road, that historic trade route from China to Europe. That old Silk Road was not like Sher Shah Suri’s road from Peshawar to Kolkata, but caravans meandering on different routes from one caravanserai to another, carrying both goods and ideas. China has accumulated $3.2 trillion in foreign exchange. It can be used both for investment and to buy influence around the world.
    This is what OBOR is about.
    As an official policy, OBOR is overseen by China’s powerful National Development and Reform Commission and the ministries of foreign affairs and commerce, as sanctioned by the State Council, the nation’s chief administrative body. OBOR has become the ‘in’ thing to be associated with in China’s global economic strategy. As the word ‘road’ itself implies, projects (especially those involving construction of physical infrastructure) that facilitate commerce between China and the wider global community reflect the basic spirit of OBOR. The principal difference is that China’s belt-road is not based on aid or even FDI, but on loan financing. This underscores the importance, for creditors and debtors alike, to carefully factor in risks with OBOR projects.
    The recipients of OBOR initiatives in Africa are Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Eastern Europe presents the farthest geographic stretch of OBOR, and of China’s reach in historically more advanced capitalist economies. In Poland, a railway project was inaugurated in 2013. Hungary has become the first EU member-state to initiate a Chinese high-speed rail project under OBOR. Russia and China are collaborating on the massive Power of Siberia gas pipeline project. In Southeast Asia, one of the most recent OBOR rail projects to be launched is the high-speed railroad (costing $6 billion) connecting the Laotian capital of Vientiane to China. A rail project has also been completed in Indonesia.
    Unsurprisingly, China has won the feasibility study for two other railway projects — Mumbai to New Delhi and New Delhi to Chennai.
    Pakistan’s resource-starved government ogled at the offer of CPEC. It gloated over it as the one unmatched gift to Pakistan. Politics always overrule economics. The ruling party was, therefore, in a great hurry to negotiate these projects under secrecy, much to the chagrin of KP and Balochistan, as spending will now affect outcomes in the 2018 national elections. Despite the mad rush for project initiation and completion, it is widely understood that economic analyses for various projects have yet to be conducted. Lending under CPEC is short-term — it will have serious consequences for the current account when it is time to repay them in the not-too-distant future.
    CPEC, a part of OBOR, offers great strategic advantage to China as it gains physical access to the Indian Ocean and closer proximity to Middle Eastern oil resources. Other OBOR projects around the world do not offer such advantages to China. This is a shrewd global strategic move. China’s global rivals will, of course, factor this in their countermoves.
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