Opinion

Do CPEC’s benefits outweigh its costs?

Officially launched in 2015, CPEC, has without a doubt strengthened ties between neighbours Pakistan and China, and reinforced the idea of finally utilising our strategic location to pave the way to becoming a transit economy.

The project is well planned and is divided into various phases of development. The first phase predominantly deals with increasing the capacity of energy generation and establishing an extensive road network. Projects in this phase are also referred to as ‘Early Harvest Projects’ and most were completed in 2019.

The second phase focuses on and aims to establish Special Economic Zones. This phase deals with upgrading Pakistan’s industrial sector and in turn modernising the economy.

Despite the benefits the project is expected to bring, the world is divided on CPEC’s future.

What is the future of CPEC?

Being subject to severe criticism, both by national and international agencies, the project leaves some hopeful and others skeptical about what the future may bring. International media often question the financial aspect of the project and claim that it’s nothing more than an eyewash for both the Pakistani government and people.

Claims of CPEC being a debt trap, and that China has imperialist ambitions have been associated with the entire Belt and Road Initiative.

In the future, CPEC is likely to bring benefits, but they come at a cost. The project is expected to bring destruction of agricultural land but simultaneously promises improvement in the industrial sector. For a country like Pakistan, which is not a purely agrarian economy anymore but still has a poor industrial set up, a project of this magnitude and category raises questions. What will be the impact of the project on the agricultural sector? What will happen to the traditional livelihoods of local people in the area?

It will benefit many but what will happen to the unskilled and illiterate people in the region? Will they not be deprived of their share?

Another concern, which is not given primary importance, is the environment. Is the project environmentally friendly? The answer is not what most people might want to hear.

This project is going to leave a negative footprint in terms of environment. The destruction of various flora and fauna to build tunnels and lay road networks is just one such example.

Besides this, increasing rice cultivation on Pakistani agricultural land is another major problem. Rice is a staple for the Chinese and will, without any doubt, be sold at an economical rate, but what long-term problem does it bring to Pakistan? Rice being a water intensive crop is likely to make an already water stressed country, a water scarce country.

Industrialisation can never be disassociated from environmental degradation. This project will become a classical manifestation of the idea of Earth Extractivism.

But if we look at this project from another perspective, i.e. the economic benefits linked with industrialisation, road connectivity and transit economy, the project depicts a rosy picture. So, one may say that the future of this project is both glowy and gloomy. It will bring prosperity but at a cost, and that is the very nature of all past initiatives and will be the same for future ones. Time will tell if its benefits outweigh its costs.

Momina Moin has a BA from Kinnaird College and is currently undertaking an MS in Public Policy from the University of Management and Technology.

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