Corruption, not India, is biggest threat to CPEC, says expert

Corruption, and not India, is the biggest threat for the multi-billion-dollar project, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), says an expert.

“The project is facing both delays and costs overruns, due to corruption on both sides of the partnership: on the China side, which plans and constructs the project, and on the Pakistani side, which oversees the execution of the project,” said Panos Mourdoukoutas, a professor and the chair of the Department of Economics at LIU Post in New York, in an article, published in the Forbes.

Emphasising that the ambitious project on both ends of the partnership – China and Pakistan – looks like a ‘sand castle’, Mourdoukoutas said that the CPEC’s delays and cost overruns have left Pakistan heavily indebted, heading to the door step of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as it did back in 2001.

“Foreign investors have been already casting a wary eye on the situation, especially after the recent shift in U.S. policy towards Pakistan that roiled the country’s markets,” he said.

Mourdoukoutas, who teaches at the Columbia University, also noted that the cost overruns of the CPEC have been making Pakistan more indebted to China, at a time when the “country is living beyond its means and is already suffering from persistent current account deficits, government debts, and external debts in the face of declining foreign currency reserves.”

He added that the situation would become worse as the “U.S. interest rates rise, and capital flows to emerging markets like Pakistan reverse course.”

“Once again, projects like CPEC may bring Islamabad back to the doorsteps of IMF, an institution that doesn’t have a reputation for being friendly to China’s friends,” he said.

Mourdoukoutas said that there was an ongoing concern that the CPEC, together with a string of other projects in the Indian Ocean, was a part of China’s grand plan to encircle India.

“But so far, New Delhi has done very little to slow down the project, other than participating in joint exercises with America and Japan to counter the China-Pakistan alliance. The joint naval exercise in the Malabar in the Bay of Bengal last July was an example of that,” he added.

The writer is also of the opinion that the CPEC is lifting Pakistan out from the bottom of the world competitive rankings, but that progress may not be sustainable.

“That’s why Beijing and New Delhi announced the creation of a ‘transparency’ commission last year to address these issues. The problem is that such commissions rarely solve corruption – especially when it comes to projects, which are constructed and executed by the governments of countries that suffer from corruption,” he further said.

The CPEC project comprises a network of railways, roads and pipelines that would connect Pakistan’s port city of Gwadar in the province of Balochistan, with the Chinese city of Kashgar in landlocked Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

The human rights activists have time and again spoken about and highlighted growing atrocities in Pakistan and particularly on the indigenous people of Balochistan as a result of the CPEC.

Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi recently alleged that India was unleashing a baseless propaganda against the CPEC.

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