A new government in Pakistan has brought in a new set of players steering and influencing CPEC.
Khusro Bakhtiar has been appointed planning minister. In that capacity, barring any changes in how CPEC is administered, he will also serve as the chief coordinator of CPEC in Pakistan.
Bakhtiar joined PTI shortly before the elections. He’s a rural notable elected on tickets from three different center-right parties since 1997. Bakhtiar lacks experience in economic affairs, but served as minister of state for foreign affairs during the Musharraf era. Since assuming the role of planning minister, he’s described CPEC as a means to “eradicate poverty” and “create job opportunities.” Bakhtiar also heads a new cabinet committee on CPEC established by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The nine-member committee will include the cabinet secretary; the adviser to the prime minister on commerce, textile, industry and investment; and the ministers of:
- foreign affairs
- law and justice
One of those committee members — commerce adviser Abdul Razak Dawood — triggered a controversy during Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Islamabad when he told the Financial Times that CPEC needs to be renegotiated and recommended a year of breathing space. The statements were consistent with ones he’s made in the past. But he claims his words were “taken out of context and distorted.”
Dawood’s statement triggered defensive clarifications from a range of actors, including the Chinese embassy in Islamabad and the Pakistan Army. In a meeting with the Chinese ambassador, army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa asserted that CPEC is Pakistan’s “economic future” and its “security will never be compromised.”
Beijing appears prepared to make some modifications to CPEC as a result of Pakistan’s deteriorating macroeconomic situation and in line with the priorities of the new government.
Foreign Minister Wang met with his Pakistani counterparts for six hours. In his subsequent official statement, he emphasized that China will broaden market access for Pakistani goods, (especially agricultural products), and provide aid to less developed areas in western Pakistan — i.e. where the new ruling party is based. A new subgroup has been added to the Sino-Pak coordinating committee on CPEC focused on socio-economic (or human) development.
Planning Minister Bakhtiar held a four-hour meeting with his counterpart, Ning Jinzhe, the vice chairman of China’s NDRC. They agreed to give renewed attention to the Gwadar port, invite third-country investors into CPEC, and expedite development of CPEC special economic zones.