By Malik M Ashraf
China has played a significant role in the economic progress of Pakistan ever since the establishment of diplomatic ties between them. The first major initiative in this regard was the setting up of Heavy Mechanical Complex at Taxila.
The construction of KKH Highway, termed as the eighth wonder of the world not only laid the foundation for an infallible and eternal friendship between the two neighbours but also generated tremendous economic activity in Gilgit-Baltistan besides boosting trade between the two countries. Currently China is working on a plan for the up-gradation of KKH at an approximate cost of $500 million.
Besides these projects, China is also helping Pakistan to tide over the energy crisis. Apart from the power producing projects that will be undertaken under the umbrella of CPEC, the Chinese are working on 15 projects in the energy sector in Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir. A very significant project in hand is the upraising of the Mangla Dam reservoir by sixty feet and resettlement of the people affected by the project. The International Water and Electric Corporation (CIW&EC) of China is also working on the construction of a bridge over Jhelum River in the same area. Another very vital project is Neelum-Jhelum Hydroelectric Power Project which aims at diversion of the water of river Neelum through a tunnel into river Jhelum.
The construction of Kohala power project with a power generating capacity of 1050 MW of electricity is also entrusted to be built by China. China’s Three Gorges Project Corporation is also participating in the construction of Diamir-Bhasha Dam on the river Indus. In addition to these undertakings, the Chinese firms are also working on six other power projects in Gilgit-Baltistan that include : US$7.8 billion Dasu Hydropower Project, US$ 70 million Phandar Project, US$ 40.01 million Bashu Hydropower Project, US$ 44.608 million Harpo Hydropower Project and US$ 6 billion Yulbo Hydropower Project. China is also investing an amount of US$ 300 million in housing, communication sectors. The Indians are very wary of Chinese involvement in development projects in Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir.
China is also helping Pakistan in the nuclear power sector. A nuclear power plant at Chashma with a power generating capacity of 330 MW of electricity has already been completed and integrated with the National Grid recently and two more similar plants are scheduled to be completed by 2016-17. The US raised objections on the nuclear cooperation between the two countries but China brushed aside the apprehensions on this account by informing the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) during its meeting at Christchurch, of its decision to build Chashma IV and V in Pakistan. In the backdrop of US-India agreement for cooperation in the field of civilian nuclear technology, which Pakistan views as a discriminatory act, Chinese help assumes a great significance and reflects the strength of friendship between two countries.
These two plants are part of the PAEC programme to generate 8800 MW of nuclear power for the country to supplement other sources of power generation. An arrangement for soft Chinese loan to fund the construction has also been inked. The participation of China in exploiting copper reserves at Sandak and the development of Gawadar Port in Balochistan, though not liked by some regional and international powers, are undertakings of immense economic benefit to the people of the province and the overall development of Pakistan. Through Pakistan-China Joint Economic Forum plans are also on the anvil for setting up of Chinese banks and relocating industries to special industrial zones in Pakistan.
The bilateral trade between the two countries has also been expanding continuously and reportedly has touched US $16 billion mark. A number of Chinese companies are working in the oil and gas, IT, Telecom, Engineering, and mining sectors in Pakistan. As is evident, China has made an unfathomable contribution to the economic progress of Pakistan. CPEC, has been instrumental to an exponential expansion in economic relations between the two countries.
The enhanced economic cooperation through this mega project will not only contribute to the well being of the two people and countries of the region, but would also help immensely in promoting peace and security in the region by building economic linkages and connectivity. It is an irrefutable reality that relations between Pakistan and China have been growing from strength to strength irrespective of who was in power in both countries. Pakistan can rightly aspire for an era of sustainable economic growth in country.