This is a review of CPEC and CPEC-related news and analysis for the week of April 30 – May 6, 2018.
- Top CPEC official in Pakistan shot: Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan’s federal interior and planning minister, was shot on May 6 in his home constituency of Narowal, a city in central Punjab. As planning minister, Iqbal heads the chief coordinating body on CPEC in Pakistan and regularly interfaces with counterparts in China. The attempted assassination had no connection to CPEC. The suspected gunman reportedly lives in Iqbal’s National Assembly constituency and is linked to a Sunni Barelvi extremist organization that has protested against the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) government. Iqbal is not in critical condition and is expected to recover. The attack on Iqbal is an ominous sign as Pakistan heads toward general elections this summer.
- Son of business partner emerges as suspect in February killing of Chinese national, reports Naimat Khan for the Pakistani edition of Arab News. Karachi police claim that Saqib Ahmed, the marketing director of the Karachi subsidiary of COSCO Shipping and the son of a company manager, ordered the killing of Chen Zhu, the managing director of COSCO Saeed Karachi Shipping, after Zhu identified “financial irregularities” in the company’s operations.
- The Pakistan Army-run National Logistics Cell signs Mercedes truck assembly plant MOU with Daimler AG, reports The Express Tribune. The 2016-2021 Automotive Development Policy has incentivized the entry of new automobile and truck manufacturers in Pakistan. Investment in road networks and overall economic growth, both partly driven by CPEC, are fueling demand for a range of motor vehicles. Truck production in Pakistan is presently modest, but growing. In the 2016-17 fiscal year, around 7,700 trucks were assembled or manufactured in the country. Production grew by around 40 percent in each of the previous two fiscal years and is on pace to exceed 9,000 units in FY 2017-18.
- Senior opposition party official says Pakistan’s two smallest, provinces, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, are being ignored under CPEC. Saleem Mandviwalla, the deputy chairman of Pakistan’s Senate and a top figure in the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), told party supporters in the remote Upper Dir region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province that the Punjab province has been the only beneficiary of CPEC under the PML-N government. Mandviwalla held finance and investment portfolios in the previous PPP government.
- Gilgit-Baltistan traders shut down Khunjerab Pass, reports Pakistan’s Dawn. Sino-Pak cross-border trade has been suspended for over a month, due to local opposition to WeBOC, a paperless, automated customs system implemented on the Pakistani side of the border. Traders in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region find the digital system to be cumbersome given their lack of training and poor local internet service. WeBOC has been operational at Pakistan’s major sea ports for years. Recent attempts to implement it at the country’s border crossings and dry ports have come under resistance. Traders at Pakistan’s border crossing with Afghanistan in Torkham protested in late February after Pakistan’s Federal Board of Revenue implemented WeBOC there.
- Pakistan’s assertive Supreme Court chief justice calls for “serious dialogue” to assess CPEC’s impact, reports Dawn. Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar made expansive remarks on CPEC before a judicial conference on Friday. He recommended the use of alternate dispute resolution methods to facilitate cost-effective commercial arbitration relating to CPEC projects. The activist judge also discussed the need to assess CPEC’s environmental impact, maximize of the impact of FDI through CPEC, and protect intellectual property rights.
- China is now the top destination for Pakistani foreign students, according to the Associated Press of Pakistan. Over the course of the past five years, the number of Pakistani students studying in China has grown from 5,000 to 22,000.
- Pakistan’s national security advisor says his country is ready to integrate India into CPEC. Retired Lt. Gen. Nasir Khan Janjua told a public gathering last week: “Through the CPEC we can take India to China and Central Asia. We can serve half of northern India as it is largely covered from Bombay.”
- U.S. defense official lists the Gwadar port project as among China’s “predatory economic activities,” reports the South China Morning Post. Joe Felter, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia, said: “What China is doing … we don’t think it’s out of interest of the rule-based order we are promoting with our strategy.”
The Belt and Road
- Is China a colonial power? James A. Milward, a China scholar and Silk Road historian, says no. He argues in the New York Times that it’s best to judge the Belt and Road Initiative on a project-by-project basis. He writes: “One Belt, One Road, with its many faces, is neither a nefarious plot for world domination nor the answer to all the world’s problems.”
- Sri Lanka’s Board of Investment approves LNG power plant near struggling China-operated Hambantota port, reports the Reuters news agency. The $500 million liquefied natural gas plant will be constructed by the state-owned China Machinery Engineering company.